SENATE President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, will lead other senators to a crucial meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari today to find a lasting solution to the 2016 Appropriation Bill logjam. The meeting, billed to hold last Friday, was shifted because one of the personalities key to the meeting was out of town. It was gathered yesterday that the meeting with President Buhari had become imperative as it would be an avenue to bring up grey areas identified in the budget and harmonize them in the overall interest of Nigerians. Also to attend the meeting are Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu; Senate Leader, Ali Ndume; Deputy Senate Leader, Ibn Na’Allah; Chief Whip, Senator Olusola Adeyeye; and Senate Deputy Chief Whip, Senator Francis Alimikhena. Others include Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio; Deputy Minority Leader, Emmanuel Bwacha; Minority Whip, Senator Philip Aduda, and Senate Deputy and Minority Whip, Senator Biodun Olujimi.
Also to be at the meeting are members of Appropriation and Finance Committees of the two arms of the National Assembly. According to a source, the Presidency is highly disappointed with the manner the 2016 budget sent by the executive was distorted, with figures allocated to projects reduced, thereby making it difficult for the government to perform if the budget was assented to by the President. After today’s meeting, the Senate is expected to softpedal on its bid to override President Buhari if he fails to sign the budget document into law at the expiration of the stipulated 30 days, in consonance with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. The source noted that the Presidency sent a 28-page budget document with every aspect of the figures changed by the National Assembly, just as the senators, especially chairmen of committees blamed Senator Danjuma Goje, Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, as the brain behind the mutilation of the budget.
A member of the Appropriation Committee, who spoke with reporters on condition of anonymity, said Goje and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Abdulmumin Jibrin, were the masterminds of the entire mess, having failed to carry other members along. According to him, members of the committee were not part of the appropriation process as Goje literarily left the work to Jibrin. He added that the action explained why last week’s closed door session was stormy and called for the removal of Goje as chairman of the committee.
The source noted that in the letter to the Senate by the Presidency, dated April 16, the President explained that there were some priority areas that were affected in the budget which must be addressed for effective governance. According to the source, the Presidency frowned at the housing budget which was put at over N200 billion, but was reduced to N99 billion. The source told Vanguard that today’s meeting with the President would resolve that the Presidency should send in a supplementary budget, indicating areas of differences, adding that the Senate would give them accelerated approval, rather than resort to constitutional way of resolving the quagmire which would not be good for the country. Padded budget Meanwhile, indications emerged, yesterday, that the National Assembly padded the 2016 federal budget by about N500 billion above the revenue projection and built-in deficit, thus making it impossible for the President to implement, going by the current fiscal situation in the country, if signed into law. Vanguard learned from sources close to the Budget Office that “federal lawmakers went over board to raise the budget by about N500 billion beyond the projected revenue and the deficit built into the 2016 budget”. Those who know about happenings in the budget told Vanguard that the budget, as presented to the President, was not “implementable”. “The budget can not be implemented as passed by the National Assembly,” a source said. Besides raising the budget figures, the National Assembly members were said to have included projects such as provisions of boreholes, town halls, football pitches as constituency projects to be funded by the Federal Government. This, it was learned, angered the Presidency as these are issues that states and local governments should be funding.
According to an official who knows about development in the budget, “the constituency issues can be overlooked or at worse not implemented but there are other fundamental issues in the budget as passed by the National Assembly. Vanguard also learned, yesterday, that the leaderships of the Senate and the House were not aware of these details until the President drew their attention to it. It was upon discovery of the frivolities and the undue transfer of funds from one budget head to another that the leadership of the National Assembly accepted to review the budget. The President was not ready to make any issue out of it but just requested understanding of members of the National Assembly to take a closer look at the provisions in the budget and review the unnecessary items and the undue transfer of funds from one budget head to another to make it easy for the executive to implement. Besides, the National Assembly may have begun reviewing details of the budget presented to the President last month, following his request that anomalies noticed in the budget document be amended to enable easy implementation. It was gathered that the two chambers of the National Assembly have decided to set up a small committee to quickly review the contents of the document and make necessary amendments in line with the request of President Buhari.
A senior lawmaker said the team was expected to work closely with another team from the executive to fast-track the process and hopefully complete work by this weekend. The leadership of the National Assembly was scheduled to meet with the President and some relevant members of the cabinet weekend but the meeting did not hold because of the absence of one of the senior members of the National Assembly. Although the House of Representatives was ready to reconsider the budget when the executive cried foul when the details were submitted, the Senate insisted that the President must first assent to the Bill as passed and thereafter bring forward areas of concern in a Supplementary Bill. This position was said to have put the President off, prompting his insistence that he could not sign a budget he would not be able to implement.
According to a source in the Presidency, “President Muhammadu Buhari insisted he made a pledge to Nigerians and would not go against that pledge, no matter the pressure. “He said he could not honestly implement the budget as presented, and that signing it would amount to not only deceiving himself but Nigerians because the budget is not implementable.” The source said the President’s position was based on his earlier experience with some officers of the National Assembly who would agree with him on some issues and later renege just to blackmail him. He cited two earlier issues on the same budget: “There was an agreement that since there are errors and omissions in the budget because of the shortness of time during which it was prepared, that it should be taken back and corrected. The next thing that was heard was that the budget was missing. “That development thoroughly embarrassed the President. It happened again when the corrected version was presented and they now claimed they had two budgets. “Ordinarily, the President would have just signed the budget and send a Supplementary Bill to them but because of the earlier experiences, he can no longer trust them to keep their word. “Besides, it is easier and time-saving to correct the contentious areas and send it back to the President without formalities than to go the way of Appropriation Bill which will take the formal protocol of Bill presentation, readings, committee work, eventual approval, passing by the joint chambers and presentation to the President.”
Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Femi Adesina, on his Facebook wall over the weekend had posted that the President would not be rushed into signing the budget unless it was delivered in a format that could be successfully implemented, in line with the administration’s strategic agenda.