Vanguard learned, yesterday, that besides geopolitical interests, the removal of the Lagos – Calabar rail project from Budget 2016 was done partly to spite Amaechi supposedly for distancing himself from his former colleagues in the Senate, notably senators Bukola Saraki and Danjuma Goje. “Amaechi was told by associates in the Senate that Goje was not happy with him and that he had teamed up with the Buhari people against his former colleagues in the Governors’ Forum,” a Presidency official conversant with the issue said. The source further revealed that on account of the information, Amaechi had to visit Goje to solicit his help on the passage of the budget proposals of the Ministry of Transportation. Amaechi and his key aides were part of the president’s delegation to China and efforts to reach his media assistant; Mr. Dave Iyofor were unsuccessful. A top presidency official stated that the Calabar-Lagos railway project alongside the Lagos – Kano rail project was included in the draft budget of the Ministry submitted to the Budget Office. The official challenged the House of Representatives and the Senate to produce the report of their respective submissions to the NASS if they insist that the project was not included in the budget. The officer said: “When the budget was collated by the Budget Office, and copies sent back to the respective ministries for perusal, it was noticed that the Coastal Rail Project was erroneously omitted at the compilation stage, although the total amount did not change. “The Transportation Ministry immediately, through a memo, drew the attention of the Budget and National Planning Ministry to the omission and it was corrected in the amended version which the Minister took to the National Assembly and defended,” he said. He insisted that it was the amended copy that the team from Ministry defended before the National Assembly and not the one that had the error. Another presidency official who spoke to Vanguard also confirmed that the issue over the erroneous submission made was trashed out between the president and the National Assembly leadership. The National Assembly leadership, the source said, asked the ministers to proceed to the committee levels to harmonise the differences between the initial submission and the corrected version, an issue that stoked the reports of a fake budget allegedly attributed to Senator Enang.
Vanguard learned that although members of the Appropriation Committee of the House of Representatives raised some issues about an assumed duplication of the project because both the Lagos – Kano and Calabar – Lagos had the same figure of N60bn each in the allocation, Amaechi explained that there were two different projects that would be funded through the assistance of the Chinese government. According to the ministry, the sum of N80bn was also provided in the same amended version for all other rail projects indicated. The source said Amaechi even met with the Chairman of the Appropriation Committee in the Senate, Senator Danjuma Goje, who was his colleague as state governor, on the two strategic rail projects; and also with the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, and the projects were clearly explained after which they were appropriately reflected in the Senate Transportation Committee report to the Appropriation Committee. “That may be reason the Senate Committee Chairman on Appropriation has been quiet since the controversy started because he cannot claim ignorance of the issue.” The source challenged the Senate to produce the Transportation Committee report that was submitted. The source also drew attention to the fact that the House of Representatives Appropriation Committee Chairman, Jibrin admitted that the Transport Ministry budget overshot by N54bn and queried if they were sincere, why the Ministry’s attention was never drawn to it during the several interactions they had with the National Assembly committees; but decided to distribute the funds to projects which were either not included anywhere in the budget nor provided for elsewhere. He also queried why the allocation for Kano Airport jumped from N60bn to the N92bn reflected in the details sent to the President. “Since Jibrin was referring people to the original budget, let him also show the people where either N60bn or N92bn was reflected in the original budget for the Lagos–Kano rail project?” he insisted. It was also noted that provisions were made elsewhere in the budget for the rehabilitation of major airports in the country and would not know why the legislators decided to take the money apparently meant for the coastal rail project to allocate for security and football fields, wondering what connection such projects had with the ministry of transportation. Meanwhile, a text message allegedly sent out by Jibrin to select committee chairmen to defend the extraction of the Calabar–Lagos rail project was, yesterday, in circulation. The text read in part: “To all Hon Chairmen and Dep Chairmen of Standing Committees: As you are aware, we have transmitted details of budget 2016. After consultation with the leadership of both Chambers, the reports of all standing Committees were sustained in the details. Though all items submitted by Committees were retained, you will see additional inputs that were necessary to be accommodated via little cuts. You are therefore enjoined to be prepared to justify reports both in media and elsewhere; in case, the executive arm disagrees. We are already justifying your reports, but you must join in doing so, especially in the media…”