President Muhammadu Buhari has rejected the Ajaokuta Steel Company Completion Fund Bill, which proposed the withdrawal of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account for the completion of the project.
The development will further heat up debate on the project, which though important for the country’s industrial growth, has been widely seen as a cesspool.
In a letter read to senators by Senate President Bukola Saraki yesterday, Buhari noted that amid competing priorities, the country could not afford such a huge amount at once.
He also argued that relevant stakeholders including the Ministries of Mines and Steel Development and Industry, Trade and Investment were not fully consulted.
Such appropriations, he said, should have been made through the “traditional” budgetary process with approval from the National Economic Council (NEC).
“I am declining assent because the bill, which seeks to make appropriation of revenues to fund public expenditure, should be consolidated in the annual Appropriation Act such that these proposals pass through the traditional scrutiny that budget proposals are subjected to by the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Budget and National Planning and the National Assembly.
“Furthermore, as the Excess Crude Account funds belong to the Federation, it would be proper to consult with the National Economic Council and the States,” the president said.
The Senate had in a bill in December 2018 approved $1 billion for the completion of the company. It said all money that may be appropriated and authorised by any tier of government should be part of funding for the objective. It also said all loans or grants made to the country for the purpose of completing the company should be accommodated.
The legislation stated that the money in the fund shall be applied for by the minister subject to appropriation by the National Assembly only for the construction, improvement, extension, enlargement and replacement of infrastructure and works, including the provision, acquisition, improvement and replacement of other capital assets required in respect of or in connection with the completion of the project.
It added that the cash shall be used for the acquisition of land and of any right or interest in or over land and in respect of the use of any invention; the carrying on of any survey, research or investigation preparatory to the undertaking of any such purpose as is referred to in Paragraph A and B or the formation of any plan or scheme for the development, improvement of Ajaokuta Steel Company project.
Also yesterday, the president declined assent to the controversial National Housing Fund Bill and seven others passed by the Assembly.