- Presidency reworks estimates
- Saraki in Villa, keeps sealed lips
Contrary to the reported ‘missing’ of the N6.08 trillion 2016 budget from the National Assembly where it was domiciled, Nigerian Pilot can authoritatively state that the said budget was not missing but was actually withdrawn last week from the Office of the Senate President by officials of the Presidency on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari. Presidential Liaison Officer for the National Assembly, Senator Ita Enang led the delegation that came for the budget which included Finance Minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun.
This exclusive information was confirmed by a top ranking senator and principal officer of the Senate who spoke to Nigerian Pilot last night on condition of anonymity. The withdrawal, according to our reliable source, was to enable the President make necessary amendments to the budget as well as correct observed lapses and mistakes. It was anticipated that ‘a fresh copy’ of the budget would have been brought back unnoticed to the National Assembly before the Senate resumed sitting yesterday, but those entrusted with the task bungled the assignment, leading to the present national embarrassment, said our source. It was further gathered that chairman, Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Babajide Omoworare, oblivious of the withdrawal of the budget, went ahead to schedule its consideration in the Senate Order paper for yesterday. The inability of the Senate leadership to present copies to members for consideration as scheduled led to the allegation that the document was missing, when in actual fact it was withdrawn, Nigerian Pilot investigations unearthed.
Observers said yesterday that they were not surprised at the action of government by withdrawing the budget which they described as full of inconsistencies. Nigerian Pilot yesterday reported on its front page the fact that provisions in the 2016 budget for the seat of government, the State House alone was N18.1 billion at a period when things are difficult for the country. This amount is N11.5 billion higher than N6.6billion the Jonathan administration budgeted for same office last year.
Even President Buhari is said to be uncomfortable with the budget as he was said to be ignorant of some of the estimates contained in the budget which he personally presented to the joint sitting of the National Assembly on 22 December 2015.
Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media, Mallam Garba Shehu, told newsmen recently that the Budget was not ready before it was presented to the lawmakers. He claimed that some of the figures in the document are strange to the President. He also said that majority of the allocations did not sum or add properly and urged Nigerians to be patient with President Buhari on the 2016 budget.
Indeed, it was a drama-like situation at the Senate following information that the 2016 Appropriation Bill presented to both chambers of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari was missing. Though information that the document had developed ‘wings’ was reportedly broken during a 90 minutes closed door executive session, the Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume denied the report when contacted on phone by the senate correspondents to clarify the issue.
Indications that the budget could actually be missing, came when against all expectations, the senators, who were supposed to commence the consideration of the N6.08trillion budget yesterday, failed to do so.
Rather, the senators considered only one motion titled, “The recent outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria”, sponsored by Senator Olanrewaju Tejuoso, while other items on the day’s Order Paper were stood down till today.
Worried by the situation, the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, hurriedly left the Chamber for the State House where he had a brief meeting with Buhari behind closed-doors.
Saraki, who came out from the President’s office about 30 minutes after his arrival, declined to speak to journalists on the missing budget.
Midway into the senate plenary, the members went into a closed-door session. It was gathered that at the session, Senator Ndume explained that deliberations on the budget could not begin until fresh copies of the documents were obtained from the Presidency, the Ministry of Finance or that of Budget and National Planning.
Based on this information, Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Muhammad Danjuma Goje, was subsequently mandated to lead a search for the documents and liaise with the Presidency, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang.
It was furthered gathered that the Senators also resolved that the matter be kept under wraps, saying making it public could embarrass the Presidency, the National Assembly and the country.
But some senators of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, accused the presidency of being behind ‘missing’ of the documents, an accusation rejected by their All Progressives Congress’ counterparts, who reportedly said it was too early to reach such conclusions.
Others, including some members of the House of Representatives, also accused the presidency of colluding with the management of the National Assembly to quietly withdraw the documents after detecting some discrepancies in them.
“Can you imagine this kind of national embarrassment?” one senator asked. “Documents that were presented to us with fanfare have been stolen.”
It was the first time in three years a Nigerian President would personally present a budget before the National Assembly. Copies were however not distributed to lawmakers before they proceeded on Christmas and New Year holidays.
However, Senator Ndume later made a u-turn and said the budget document could not be missing or stolen as it was not money, pointing out that some of his colleagues, who confirmed it to journalists, were mischievous and should not be trusted.
The Senate Leader, who maintained that the budget could not be assessed by ‘just anybody’, insisted that what transpired during the executive session was different from the issue of missing budget.
“Budget cannot be missing. One copy can be laid, it is a symbolic copy, the budget will be in custody of both chambers, it cannot be stolen, it cannot be missing. Once the budget is laid in the National Assembly, it has become the property of National Assembly.
“Saraki’s visit to Villa is for Senate to know President’s priority; we want to see how we can fast-track the passage of the budget before the end of February.
“What is before the Senate is proposal, once the president signs it, it cannot be amended, we can turn the budget upside down, it cannot be missing, if it is online you can produce the budget; how can it be missing”, he explained.
Spokesperson for the Senate, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, also denied the budget missing report, saying it was all rumours.
Senator Abdullahi, who is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, insisted that there was nothing like the issue of missing budget documents in the National Assembly.
He said copies of the document would be distributed to every senator for consideration by the upper legislative chamber before passage into law.