From Fred Itua, Abuja
Security challenges in many parts of the country has taken a toll on activities of members of the National Assembly, marring visits to states, especially for oversight functions ahead of the 2023 budget.
Ahead of the presentation of the annual budget, chairmen and members of the various standing committees have to embark on oversight visits to states to assess the level of performance of earmarked budget for projects for the previous year.
The lawmakers would thereafter invite heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to address certain grey areas or discrepancies noticed in the execution of capital projects.
The senators in the next circle of budget defence would reflect their displeasure. In some instances, they had to withhold the capital components of budgets for some MDAs.
Lawmakers who spoke to Daily Sun, however, said the trend has changed since 2021 due to worsening insecurity in many parts of the country and non-release of funds for oversight visits to states.
“Only six standing committees of the Senate are funded by the National Assembly though billions of naira is appropriated every year for the exercise, funds are seldom made available,” said one of the senators.
He listed Rules and Business; Public Petitions; Judiciary; Anti-corruption; Media and Senate Services committees as those still being funded.
Another senators, who heads a security committee, said aside the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Rivers States, chairmen and members of various standing committees have found it difficult visiting others states for oversight functions.
He said states in the North West and South East have become no-go zones to lawmakers.
“Lawmaker are often advised by security agents not to embark on oversight visits to states, pending when things will improve. This dwindling oversight visits to states to ascertain the level of budget performance started in 2019, before and after the election. If you recall, that year, there were no oversight visits by heads and members of the various standing committees before the budget for 2020 was presented.
“The excuse then was that it was an election year. It has remained so since then. Some of us don’t go out outside Abuja. Instead, they come to us here. When this thing started, it was not because of insecurity. Today, we can say insecurity caused it,” he said.
The lawmaker lamented that the Senate, vis-a-vis the National Assembly, has approved billions of dollars for the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration since 2019 to execute key projects, but find it difficult to visit states to bring them to account.
“We can’t authoritatively tell Nigerians how those funds have been spent because we have not properly visited the sites. Things became worse in 2021, when terrorists’ attacks in North West and unknown gunmen in South East, took over the two geopolitical zones. North Central is not exempted. Apart from Lagos, we cannot boldly say that the South West is safe, South South is not very safe. Except for Port Hacourt in Rivers State, nowhere is really safe in that geopolitical zone. So, we restricted our activities to Abuja, where we often invite heads of MDAs to brief us. The danger is that we only know what they want us to know. There is no other way of knowing. I must commend some of our colleagues who are bold. They still embark on these visits and that’s courageous. But many of us have since given up on that until security situation in States improve.”
Senate spokesman, Bashir Ajibola, said he was unaware of the development. The Osun lawmaker said senators were not expected to embark on oversight visits during their annual vacation. He claimed that many lawmakers like him were already out of Nigeria.
“Going on oversight during our annual recess is not part of our routine. Many senators who have engagements like me, are outside the country. So, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Bashir said.