John Ameh, Sam Awoyinfa, Olaleye Aluko, Leke Baiyewu and Theophilus Onojeghen
The South-East Caucus in the Senate, the Ijaw Youth Congress, the Centre Anti-Corruption and Open Leaders and an Afenifere chieftain, Femi Okurounmu, have opposed the alterations made by the National Assembly to the 2018 budget.
While the South-East caucus faulted the reduction in the funds allocated for the Second Niger Bridge and the Enugu Airport projects, CACOL said the National Assembly did not follow due process.
The IYC, on its part, berated the lawmakers for cutting budgetary allocations for the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko, and the East-West Road projects.
Enugu airport, 2nd Niger Bridge votes manipulated – S’East senators
The Senate South-East Caucus expressed surprise over the slashing of the N2bn allocated to the Enugu Airport Terminal to N500m.
The Chairman, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, told journalists in Abuja on Thursday that members of the caucus were shocked to hear that the initial amount, which was jointly adopted by the Committees on Aviation at the Senate and House of Representatives, had been reduced.
Abaribe, who is representing Abia South Senatorial District, said an emergency meeting by senators from the South-East had been called to unravel who made the cut and at what point was it made.
The lawmaker, who is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy, said the caucus was set to meet to find out what went wrong especially at what point the cut in the allocation was made.
He pointed out that budget documents were verifiable and “we are committed and determined to find out who made the cut.”
The senator recalled that the South-East lawmakers lobbied for the allocation to the airport to be increased to N3.5bn but were told by the Ministry of Aviation that it had an envelope budgetary plan, which would not allow an increment beyond the N2bn.
Abaribe alleged that N30bn was smuggled into the power budget without his committee’s knowledge.
According to him, the money was listed for expansion and re-enforcement of infrastructure in the distribution companies to reduce stranded firms.
The allocation, he said, “never passed through the Senate Power committee.” He asked, “Where did such huge sum of N30bn come from?”
“Let the Budget Office and other relevant bodies conduct a self-examination. Such self-examination will go a long way to clear certain grey areas,” Abaribe stated.
He added, “In the case of the Enugu Airport Terminal and the Second Niger Bridge, we want to find out at what point the cut was made.”
Abaribe said members of the caucus were collectively agitated. According to him, the geopolitical zone, which hardly receives a fair share of the national projects, had the little that came its way reduced.
He stated that no right thinking Igbo man would support slashing of allocation to projects in the South-East.
N’Assembly’s action, condemnable, says IYC
The IYC said the National Assembly showed that it was selfish by reducing the budget allocations to developmental projects including the Nigerian Maritime University, Okerenkoko and the East-West Road, and increasing its allocation.
IYC noted that a similar reduction in allocations to developmental projects was done under the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. This, it stated, led to the non-completion of the East-West Road.
The IYC, in a statement on Thursday by its President, Mr Eric Omare, described the reduction in allocations to major projects as retrogressive.
Omare, “We consider the action of the National Assembly as insensitive and retrogressive to the development of the country. It is utter selfishness for the National Assembly to reduce funds allocated to key developmental initiatives and increase its budget.”
He recalled the establishment of the Nigerian Maritime University, Delta State was one of the agreements reached between the leaders of the Niger Delta and the Federal Government to ensure peace in the region.
Omare stated that it was in furtherance of the agreement that N5bn was budgeted for the establishment of the university.
The youth leader called on President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately send a supplementary budget to the National Assembly to enable it to correct the anomaly in the interest of the Niger Delta.
He said, “The IYC is compelled to ask if the members of the National Assembly were elected to serve the interest of the generality of Nigerians or their personal interest. There is no single reason why members of the National Assembly would reduce funds allocated for key projects such as the Maritime University, East-West Road, Mambilla Power Project and the completion of Enugu International Airport and increase their own budget. This is, to say the least condemnable.”
N’Assembly’s action fraudulent says Okurounmu
Also, an Afenifere chieftain, Senator Femi Okurounmu has described the action of the National Assembly as fraudulent.
He said this in Abeokuta on Thursday while fielding questions from journalists on the sidelines of an event organised by a Yoruba socio-cultural group, Omoluabi.
Okurounmu noted that the lawmakers usually hide their allowances and other expenses.
Okurounmu, a former senator, said, “They are fraudulent; not only do they do a lot of budget padding, they introduce a lot of extra-legal amounts just to meet all those illegal allowances that they are getting.
“To now accommodate their own demands, they inflate the budget. The President doesn’t know how to deal with the National Assembly; so there is always a stalemate between the National Assembly and the Presidency and the President is always going along with them because every budget the National Assembly inflates must accommodate their own demands or needs.
“These are the things that people cry about; about the horrible, extraneous allowances of legislators – senators and members of the House of Representatives. This is where it comes from.”
He noted that there was a lot of corruption to be fought in the National Assembly, arguing that it was immoral for those who were corrupt to be making laws for the nation.
He, however, said the President had no choice but to sign the budget because there was a stalemate.
He said, “The National Assembly blackmailed him; he cannot dismiss all of them and he doesn’t have the courage to fight them. If he has the courage to fight them he can fight them but he doesn’t have the courage because he’s surrounded by corrupt people himself.
“So, just as the National Assembly can blackmail him, he too can blackmail the National Assembly. So, it’s a game of mutual blackmail.”
N’Assembly didn’t follow due process – CACOL
Also, a civil society organisation, the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, blamed the National Assembly for not following due process.
It said the padding of the 2018 budget was due to the power tussle between the legislative and executive arms of the government.
The CACOL Director, Debo Adeniran, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “The legislature has not followed the right procedures. The executive is supposed to put the budget estimates together. What one expected was that during the budget preparation, there should have been room for the legislature to send their projects to the appropriate ministries, departments and agencies, but there has been power tussle between the executive and the legislature.
“This tussle has left Nigerians in limbo because the interests of the people are not the reason why the two arms are quarrelling. This is a kind of power show which should not be accommodated. What ought to have been done was for the legislature to go back to their constituencies to carry out a needs assessment. The legislature is also to blame for delaying the budget.”
Senators, Reps clash over inserted 6. 403 projects
Meanwhile, some senators and members of the House of Representatives have expressed different views on the issues raised by the President.
The lawmaker representing Yobe East Senatorial District, Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, pointed out that Buhari should not be condemned if the 2018 budget was not fully implemented as it had always been impossible for successive administrations to do so.
Ibrahim stated this while addressing journalists in Abuja on Thursday.
Ibrahim asked, “When in Nigeria have we implemented a budget 100 per cent.” It will take us another 100 years, maybe, to do that. So, irrespective of whatever we put in there, he doesn’t necessarily have to implement all of them. Every year we talk about 50, 60, 70 per cent budget implementation; we have ever had 80 per cent. So, does it really matter if certain things were inserted?”
But Senator Dino Melaye said Buhari only tried to whip up sentiments against the National Assembly with his criticisms.
He pointed out that the legislature was not expected to be a rubber stamp to the executive proposals.
Melaye said, “I notice that PMB is trying to whip up sentiments against the National Assembly again by alleging that the 2018 budget was padded.
“What the President is authorised to do constitutionally is to present a bill to the National Assembly. A bill is a work in progress and not a finished work. The reason the constitution directs the bill to be submitted to the National Assembly is that it expects the National Assembly to vet it and make inputs into such a bill before passing it as the Appropriation Bill.
“The National Assembly is not just expected to rubberstamp whatever bill the President presents. If this was the norm, then there would have been no need for the constitution to direct that the bill is submitted to the National Assembly in the first place.”
The lawmaker stated, “ Mr President should, therefore, refrain from playing to the gallery and milking the naivety of the masses on the issue.
“In any event, he reserves the prerogative of refusing to append his signature to the bill passed if it meets with his displeasure. He is also free to return the bill to the National Assembly unsigned, with a note indicating his areas of disaffection.
“Therefore, Mr President should halt his chicanery and smear campaign against the National Assembly.”
On Wednesday night, Senator Shehu Sani said the National Assembly made adjustments to the 2018 Appropriation Bill to ‘slim fit’ the budget with his administration.
He said, “Baba took his cloth to the tailors and asked them to make agbada for him. They measured his frame and after six months, they made a kaftan for him. He angrily complained that they shortchanged his fabric (sic), made a wrong design and wasted his time. The tailors replied that the delay was because ‘you have been travelling a lot all this while’ and the size was because ‘you lost so much weight and now you have a slim fit.’
In the House of Representatives, some members, who spoke with The PUNCH also expressed different views.
The Majority Leader of the House, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, told The PUNCH that the matter was not for the two arms of government to take extreme positions, but to resolve it through a middle course.
He argued that the proper thing to do was to first examine the President’s observations.
Gbajabiamila stated, “The President has made some observations. The two arms of government will work it out in a way that is most beneficial to the Nigerian people for whom the budget is for.
“That is what democracy is all about.”
But, the Deputy Minority Whip, Mrs Binta Bello, disagreed with Gbajabiamila’s “diplomatic approach”, saying that the budget had become a law which Buhari was bound to implement.
She asked why in every budget year, the Executive would raise questions over the power of appropriation “vested in the National Assembly by the 1999 Constitution.”
Bello noted that the executive rarely admitted blame or accepted failure for non-implementation of the budget.
She added, “I think what the President is doing is to pit the National Assembly against Nigerians. He knows that elections are coming in 2019.
“When people ask him why there is non-implementation of the budget by his administration, he will blame it on the National Assembly or use insertions as the excuse.
“My advice to him is that he should implement the budget.”
The Chairman, House Committee on Financial Crimes, Mr Kayode Oladele, said under section 14 of the constitution, government’s primary responsibility remained the security and welfare of the citizenry.
He explained, “Government here means both the Legislature and the Executive, both contributing to the budget to address the security and welfare of the citizenry.
“The power of appropriation belongs to the legislature. In the US, it is called the power of the purse, where there is also frequent debates over insertions.
“However, at the end of the day, what becomes the budget is the law that should be implemented, else there will be government shut-down
We’ll speak on inserted projects worth N578bn today – N’Assembly
Meanwhile, the National Assembly will on Friday explain the 6,403 projects worth N578bn allegedly inserted by the lawmakers into the 2018 budget.
This was made known in a statement by Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi, in Abuja on Wednesday night.
“It should also be noted that the leadership of both chambers have directed the chairmen of our Committees on Appropriations to provide item by item, detailed explanations on all points raised by the President for the benefit of members of the public. They will, therefore, address a press conference on Friday, June 22nd, 2018,” the statement read in part.
Journalists at the National Assembly were on Thursday informed that there would be a joint press conference by the Chairmen of the Senate and House of Representatives’ Committees on Appropriations, Senator Danjuma Goje and Mr Mustapha Dawaki. (Punch)