A big crisis is budding in the Senate over plans to reject outright the inclusion of the Lagos-Calabar railway project in the 2016 budget.
The Senate had on resumption of plenary on Tuesday met behind closed door to discuss the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the 2016 Appropriation Act following the omission of the project in the final budget document sent to him last week.
The Senators at the end of the Tuesday executive session said the Senate had agreed to stand its ground that the budget as passed by the National Assembly must be signed by the president, after which he can then bring a supplementary budget containing the controversial project for passage.
However, less than 24 hours after the decision was taken, the Senate has been polarised along ethnic lines as Senators from the Southern part of the country are already having a rethink on the decision jointly taken by the Senate on the project.
Newsherald can authoritatively reveal that two different meetings were held on Tuesday night at different places by the Senators from the Southern part of the country with a decision taken that they must unite in ensuring that the project is included in the original 2016 budget.
While APC senators from the South West met at the home of one of their colleagues (name withheld), South-east and South-south senators met at a place yet unknown.
However, feelers from both meetings had it that the senators were of the opinion that sustaining opposition to the project will be a disservice to the people of the Southern part of the country whose interests they represent in the Senate.
The senators, it was learnt, are of the opinion that the decision of President Buhari to withhold assent to the budget over the controversial project should be applauded by them as he was being fair to the people of the Southern Nigeria who will be the major beneficiaries of the project on completion.
It was gathered that the main argument at both meetings was that the call for a supplementary budget for the inclusion of the railway project was an attempt to deny the South an opportunity to enjoy a viable rail project.
The suggestion for a supplementary budget for the inclusion of the railway project was allegedly mooted by a Senator from the North.
The Senators were said to have concluded that the signing of the budget now without the inclusion of the N60bn Calabar-Lagos rail project would not be in the interest of the people of the entire Southern Nigeria.
Speaking on the matter, one of the Senators from the South West who attended the meeting called by the APC caucus of South West on Tuesday night said “Personally, I see no reason why the funds in the Ministry of Transport should be moved completely to the Ministry of Works for the construction of roads which belongs to state governments without engineering design.
“We are seeking the reversion of this decision because the Calabar-Lagos rail project is very viable and it cuts across states in the South-South and South West, and it would galvanise the social and economic activities of the affected regions.
“Apart from this, the project is a joint venture between Nigeria and Japan and it is time bound. Any attempt to leave it out of the budget this year, will affect the execution of the project”
The Senator noted that the argument of the appropriation committees that they could not accommodate the Calabar-Lagos rail project, because it was not included in the budget presented by Buhari was not tenable because a supplementary provision was supplied.
He explained that similar situation happened in the committee of solid minerals when the rents on some of the ministry’s properties were omitted in the budget presented.
Another opportunity he said was given to the affected ministry and the right thing was done, and has become part of the budget which the Senate as a body did not oppose unlike the Lagos-Calabar railway project.
Another Senator told this our correspondent in confidence that the matter will be raised once again next week at the floor of the Senate should the issue have not get sorted out before the end of this week.