Daily Trust (Abuja)

Nigeria: FCT to Build N4 Billion Office for First Ladies Mission - It's Scandalous - Senators

Senators yesterday rejected a proposal by the Federal Capital Territory Administration to spend N4 billion on building the First Ladies Mission office complex in Abuja this year.

The proposal is contained in the FCTA's N253 billion budget for 2013, which came up for second reading in the Senate yesterday.

The African First Ladies Peace Mission, a non-governmental organisation, is headed by First Lady Patience Jonathan who was re-elected as its president in July last year.

Senators who spoke during a debate on the budget described spending the amount on the First Ladies Mission building as scandalous.

Deputy Senate Leader Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi Central), who queried the significance of the First Lady's office itself, said the proposal was ridiculous in a country yearning for development projects.

Senator Babajide Omoworare (ACN, Osun East) said it would be embarrassing for the Senate to approve the money as the office of the First Lady is not known to the 1999 Constitution.

"The N4 billion proposed for the construction of the first ladies mission office is scandalous. It is a misplacement of priority. Even in the United States of America and the United Kingdom, there is nothing like first ladies mission building. This money can be used for projects that could impact positively on the lives of Nigerians," he said.

Senator Babafemi Ojudu (ACN, Ekiti Central) said the Senate could incur the wrath of the public if it appropriates the money for the construction of the mission building.

"I'm worried that we can be voting N4 billion for the construction of the said first ladies mission building in a nation where millions of youths are roaming the streets without jobs, and infrastructure decaying. I hope this doesn't get to the public, otherwise all of us in this chamber would be castigated," he said.

"The office of the First Lady is in the president's bedroom. The office is not known to law. Nigerians would be angrier with us if we appropriate the money. Already, on social media, Nigerians are cursing us, calling us thieves and all sorts of negative names. That shows the way our people feel about the leadership of this country.

"Recently, the Federal Government released only N1 billion each to some universities that are expected to train our youths who are the future leaders of this country, but now a whole sum of N4 billion is being proposed for the construction of the first ladies mission office which is of no developmental value to the nation. N4 billion? It appears we have lost sense of money."

In their contributions, Senators Nkechi Nwaogwu (PDP, Abia Central), Domingo Obende (ACN, Edo North), Ayogu Eze (PDP, Enugu North), George Thompson Sekibo (PDP, Rivers East) and Helen Esuene (PDP, Akwa Ibom South) insisted that all funds budgeted for the FCT must be utilised for the development of infrastructure.

The African First Ladies Peace Mission (AFLPM) was established in 1996 to promote peace and harmony in Africa.

It came into being after the 1995 Beijing Conference on women, and following a formal declaration in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1996 during the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) summit.

First Lady Patience Jonathan is locked in a court battle with former first lady Turai Yar'Adua over the ownership of an 18,000-square-meters land in the Central Area of Abuja, on which the AFLPM headquarters is to be built.

N150m for VP's guest house renovation

Others details of the FCTA budget, presented yesterday by Senate Leader Victor Ndoma-Egba, showed that N5 billion is earmarked to address some of the social menace including rehabilitation of prostitutes and destitute.

The budget also provides N150 million for the renovation of the Vice President's guest house in Asokoro, Abuja; N50.5 billion for transport sector development; N48.65 billion for the completion and construction of roads in the city, and provision of infrastructure to some districts; and N24 billion for the provision of infrastructural facilities.

Others are N30 billion for education infrastructure and services; N12 billion for health services and infrastructure; N7.45 billion for the expansion and rehabilitation of Kubwa and Airport expressways; N5.7 billion for environmental sanitation; N2.4 billion for security; N7.5 billion for the management of the FCT and N1.6 billion for the construction of resettlement houses and compensation payment.

Summing up the senators' views on the FCTA budget, Senate President David Mark observed that priorities were wrongly placed. "The main problem with the budget is getting the priorities right because there are quite a number of things in the forefront that ought not to be in the forefront," he said.

"One key issue I want to emphasise is the completion period of development that we claim to introduce to Abuja. I feel it is haphazard at the moment and there is no real coordination. I'm wary of projects that are only 10 percent completed every year. It's better to take and complete a particular project than just taking several projects and complete them to a certain percentage and none of them is used."

The budget provides N155.66 billion for capital projects, N48 billion for personnel costs and N49.5 billion for overhead costs.

It passed the second reading stage in the Senate and was referred to the committees on Appropriation, Finance and FCT.

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