Senate President Bukola Saraki yesterday justified the slashing of the Lagos-Ibadan highway budget.
He also said he had stopped collecting pension as a former Kwara State governor.
He also spoke on why the Senate declined to clear Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the Economic and Fiancial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
At the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum in Abuja Dr. Saraki said there was the need to allow private sector participation in a road as important as the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
“Government alone cannot reduce infrastructure deficit,” he said.
Minister of Works, Power and Housing Babatunde Fashola raised the alarm that the National Asssembly slashed N11 billion off the N31billion approved in the 2017 budget.
He was attacked by the lawmakers. Senate Appropriation Committee Chairman Danjuma Goje asked Fashola to say if he was tired of the job given to him.
House of Representatives Media Committee Chairman Abdulrazak Namdas, said the National Assembnly slashed the road’s budget because the proposal by Fashola’s ministry was lopsided in favour of a section of the country.
But the Senate President yesterday said: “We are really pushing the idea of, particularly, the Lagos-Ibadan road, that appropriating that project from the budget does not show seriousness.
“This is a road that is very viable; that is centre of the commercial activity and we should see how private sector can participate.
“For example, even if you go by the budgetary allocation on that road, last year was N30 billion, this year, after back and forth, we took it back to N20 billion.
“This was done so that if they don’t find private funding, we will take it up,’’ he said.
According to him, even if the N30 billion was provided, it will not be enough because that road needs about N100 billion to be completed.
“So, the point I’m making, which I want to emphasise, is that it is the kind of laws and policies that we pass that will encourage private sector that will make the infrastructure deficit to reduce.”
On collection of salary and pension by some senators, Saraki said he wrote a letter to the Kwara State Government to stop the payment of his pension.
Civil society organisation Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) accused some former governors of receiving double pay from the government.
“No, I’m not collecting pension; the moment I saw that allegation, I wrote to my state to stop my pension.
“So, I speak for myself on that part; I’m not doing that, I am not receiving pension from my state,’’ he said.
On other senators accused of getting double pay, Saraki said: “I think I will leave everybody to their individual decision.
“Morally, if you have got another job, you should give it up until when you are truly a pensioner.
“Some of these oversights are not addressing the issues. What the states should do is to go and amend their laws to say that if you have another appointment then you are not entitled to that benefit.
“With this, we will just simplify the matter.”
Saraki explained that contrary to insinuations, the Senate had no pre-meditated plan to reject Ibrahim Magu as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
According to him, Magu’s rejection was prompted by report from the Department of State Services (DSS), among other issues, and the screening was aired “live’’ on national television for all Nigerians to watch.
“I think there is a lot of misunderstanding and blackmail and all is not in the interest of democracy.
“The rejection of candidates presented to the National Assembly is a process. It is a process that is not restricted to the EFCC chairman.”
Saraki maintained that the decision of the Senate to reject the confirmation of Magu was in the interest of democracy.
“When some people have particular interest, they will try and bring this down to individuals. There is nothing personal on the personality of the acting Chairman of EFCC.
“As an individual, I have had a personal experience with Magu, where he stood up for what is right.
“I remember during the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, where because we were fighting some of the issues then, some of us were sent to the EFCC.
“I remember I was sent to Magu’s Office. They were trying to get him to investigate something of 10 years, 12 years ago; I remember Magu said nobody was going to use him,’’ he said.
On allegations that Magu’s confirmation was stalled for fear that senators may be prosecuted by him, Saraki said it was far from the truth.
Saraki added: “we cannot belittle or weaken the institution because it is that institution that separates democracy from dictatorship.
“When you weaken the parliament, you have weakened democracy.
“If you think by so doing you are weakening Saraki, you are not, it is the institution.’’