- In this piece, Dozie Emmanuel looks at the controversies generated by the missing budget estimates and the eventual withdrawal by the President.
President Mohammadu Buhari has formally written to the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, asking for formal withdrawal of the appropriation bill to enable him make some critical adjustments. Perhaps, this move will no doubt douse the tension the issue has generated thus far.
Before now, the ugly and embarrassing situation the issue generated at the Senate was indeed a sad commentary on the APC led administration.
The Senators resumed plenary after three weeks Christmas and New Year break to commence debate on the budget, following its presentation to the joint session of the National Assembly on December 22, 2015 by President Muhammadu Buhari. But surprisingly, the absence of the budget document led to the failure of the Senate to commence formal deliberations on the budget. According to sources, the Senators were told that the official document as presented by the President could no longer be seen.
It was alleged that the controversy generated by the issue at the closed-door session of the Senate further divided the Senators along partisan lines. The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP Senators accused the Presidency of conspiring with the National Assembly bureaucracy to steal the budget document. They also accused the Presidency of silently withdrawing the budget to review downwards, supposedly outrageous items in the budget bill. On the other hand, some of the All Progressives Congress, APC Senators have dispelled reports that the 2016 budget proposal was missing.
Leader of the Senate, Ali Ndume said the budget cannot be missing. According to him, “the budget cannot be missing. A copy can be laid, it is a symbolic copy; the budget will be in the 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,” he said.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics and Privileges, Senator Sam Anyanwu confirmed that the search committee has unravelled circumstances that led to the missing budget.
According to him, “the committee has queried some people suspected to be involved in the missing document.”
“The document is missing. We want to find out. We have interviewed some people so far. We are continuing in the next few minutes with investigation. And we are almost at it. We will conclude in the next few hours because we have already known what is happening.
As expected, the media is not only awashed with news of the missing budget; it has also been feasting on the story. Regrettably, different version of the story has been in circulation. While some say the document has gone missing, others say the document has either been stolen or withdrawn.
Amidst all these controversies, the Senate spokesman, Senator Sabi Abdullahi has said no budget is missing and that the Senate has distributed copies of the budget to all the Senators so as to arm them to properly contribute to the debate.
According to him, “We have reeled out our timetable for working on the budget. So, how can the same budget be missing? The Senate President never said or admitted that the budget is missing and there was nothing that he said while presiding over the plenary that could be logically interpreted to mean that the budget is missing.
“The media should please avoid unnecessary sensationalism. We assure Nigerians that our timetable for completing work on the budget by February ending remains sacrosanct and we will work assiduously to achieve it”.
Similarly, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara has dismissed reports on the disappearance of the 2016 budget from the National Assembly.
Dogara however, described some of the media reports on the missing of the budget as unfounded. He announced that copies of the 2016 budget are ready for collection by lawmakers at the secretariat of the House Committee on Appropriation. Dogara, therefore, appealed to members to come for the collection of their own copies of the budget, adding that the House would commence consideration of the budget immediately.
Unfortunately, after days of confusion over the whereabouts of the 2016 appropriation bill, the Senate has finally disclosed that the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, smuggled “fake” copies of the bill into the National Assembly.
Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki announced that findings by the Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee, which investigated the allegation of missing budget, showed that Enang swapped the document presented by Buhari to the joint session of the National Assembly with a “fake” copy.
“We have received the report of the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions on investigations surrounding 2016 Appropriation Bill. Our finding is that Senator Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, printed copies of the 2016 Appropriation Bill and brought them to the Senate.
“We have discovered that what he brought is different from the version presented by Mr. President. We have resolved to consider only the version presented by Mr. President as soon as we receive soft copies of the original document from the executive,” Saraki said.
From all indications, it appears that the budget was actually withdrawn, doctored and smuggled into National Assembly. The allegation against the SSA to the President on National Assembly, Senator Ita Enang is turning out to be true as he has not come out to accept or deny the allegations. Investigation has further revealed that after presenting the 2016 budget to the National Assembly, President Buhari discovered that some of the figures proposed were incredibly high while some key areas were not accommodated. He subsequently asked his Special Adviser on National assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang to seek for ways and means of amending it. Ita Enang, in a bid to do his boss’s bidding, replaced the budget without due process, prompting hues and cries over a ‘missing’ budget.
The general perception was that the document was initially smuggled out because the budget estimates, as presented by the President, was replete with all manner of discrepancies and errors. Perhaps, this explains why it was smuggled out, doctored and smuggled in. It is now obvious to the leadership of the Senate that what the President presented to them was quite different from the one smuggled in.
Of course, having seen the lapses and loopholes in the budget, financial experts are of the view that the budget, as being proposed, should be withdrawn and re-tooled properly. Already, the budget has a deficit of N2.22 trillion to be financed by domestic borrowing of N984 billion and foreign borrowing of N900 billion. Again, one of the arguments also put forward by these experts is that the budget will make no sense if the federal government pegged the oil at a price below what obtains in the international market. Currently, the price of crude oil is below $30 per barrel, while the 2016 budget estimates is pegged at $38 per barrel.
Some aggrieved Nigerians have even called for the sacking of the Minister of Finance, Minister of National Planning and the Central Bank Governor for the national embarrassment they have subjected the country into. Currently, President Muhammadu Buhari is under pressure to relieve two ministers of their appointments following the 2016 budget controversies. For instance, the question people have begun to ask is: How can a lawyer discharge the duties of a Minister of National Planning effectively? Is it not putting a square peg in a round hole? Ndoma Egba is a lawyer by training and not properly grounded in matters of budget formulation even though the task does not squarely rest on his shoulders.
At this critical time that the economy is seriously nose-diving, the President should appoint an erudite economic adviser to always put him in the right pedestal so as to avoid similar blunders in the future.
Moreover, besides diversifying the economy, Buhari’s government should begin to look inwards by cutting frivolous expenditure, blocking leakages and increasing Internally Generated Revenue, IGR.
Furthermore, the damage has already been done by the Buhari’s government by presenting a rather wishy-washy kind of budget estimates. As the President withdraws the budget, he and his ministers should give Nigeria and indeed Nigerians a realistic appropriation bill that will stand the test of time.