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Nigeria senate dumps Education and health projects for Airport roads

ANOTHER controversial decision was taken yesterday by the Senate which approved the movement of funds from the education and health sectors to the expansion of the Abuja Airport and Zuba-Abuja city expressways to a 10-lane dual carriageway from a four-lane road.

The approval was, however, not without resistance from many of the lawmakers who considered it absurd that funds from the two vital sectors were being moved.

The resolution also came despite public outcry over the neglect of education and health by the Federal Government.
On the argument by the Senate Committee on FCT led by Abubakar Sodangi that all the funds for the two sectors could not have been expended before the end of the year, Senator Bassey Ewa-Henshaw, maintained that there were several unresolved issues facing Education and Health Care delivery in Abuja.

In his contribution, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Ahmed Lawanin, said: “While supporting this, I want to make some observation. Education and Health services are very basic and essential and cannot wait. We cannot afford to wait till 2010 Budget.
“I think we can afford to take monies from other sectors but taking money from Education and Health is not good enough. We cannot take money from Education and Health to pay for liabilities. Liabilities can wait for 2010 Budget.”

Senator James Manager said he was not opposed to the virement, adding: “There is already N6 billion provided in the 2009 Budget for the road projects. How much of the N6 billion have been used for down payment that you need additional N25 billion. I don’t think it is wise to remove money from Education and Health.”
Senator Lee Maeba from Rivers State said: “We should be very careful with virement. It caused problems in the last Senate. This virement has a lot of controversial components. What is the contract sum, what is the duration of the projects? I see this virement as controversial. They either give us the full details or we see it as supplementary budget.”

The Senate Deputy Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba, supported the expansion of the two roads but expressed reservations on where the money was being taken from.

His words: “But I am however lost, if you look at the areas where the money is being taking from, the report does not show whether what is left for those sectors would be enough for their projects and programmes for the remaining part of this year.

“I believe some projects are too critical. We cannot take money from Education and Health. Our masses come first. It is only a living being that can use the dualised roads.”

President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had last week sought the approval of the Upper House to vire (move) over N25.97 billion from some sub-heads under the Federal Capital |Territory 2009 budget.
The N25.97 billion that Yar’Adua sought for the roads was reduced by N3.18 billion by the Senate Committee on Appropriation, which Chairman, Chief Iyiola Omisore, said the funds moved from the FCT budget were drawn from funds previously set aside for 16 Departments and agencies in Abuja.
“The Senate Committee on Appropriation hereby recommends for approval the virement of N22.791 billion only from the FCT 2009 statutory Budget,” Omisore said.

From Education, N4.18 billion was deducted while from the budget for Health and Social Services, N2.1 billion was cut; and another N250 million for the purchase, among others.

Supporters of the decision to vire the amounts, like former Zamfara State Governor and Senate Minority Chief Whip, Senator Ahmed Sani Yerima, observed that sectors that lost funds could get from a supplementary appropriation.

 By Alifa Daniel, Guardian