The controversy trailing the 2016 budget of the Federal Government got messier, yesterday, as legislators in the two chambers of the National Assembly, NASS, broke ranks with the official position of NASS which blamed the Presidency for the fiasco.
While senators from the southern part of the country, in a formal position, asked the President not to give his assent to the budget, members of the House of Representatives in a closed-door session rose against Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, who they blamed for orchestrating the face-off.
The southern senators and members of the House of Representatives from across ethnic and party lines were miffed by what they described as the central role of Jibrin in removing the Calabar–Lagos rail line from the federal budget. While the Southern senators asked the President not to give his assent without the inclusion of the rail line, the House requested the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, to interface with President Muhammadu Buhari towards resolving the imbroglio.
The face-off in the House ensued shortly after it went into a closed-door session and Speaker Dogara sought explanations from Jibrin on the issues concerning the budget.
As Jibrin got up to explain the procedure adopted, he was faced with criticisms from several members, leading to an uproar.
Members in different tones, accused him of muddling up the reputation of the House and putting the legislature and the Presidency in an unnecessary face-off. They alleged that recommendations put up by the House committees were unilaterally tampered with by the Jibrin-led House Committee on Appropriation.
At the end of the session with members seemingly convinced that the problem arose from the legislature, the members urged the speaker to seek audience with the President to remedy the situation.
The House resolution
Reading the resolution after the closed-door session, Speaker Dogara said: “In the interest of our people, in view of the prevailing economic situation, the House has decided to re-examine the 2016 budget.”
Briefing journalists after plenary, Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas, reiterated the claim that the rail project was not contained in the original budget proposal laid before the National Assembly by the President.
“We are not saying that as a House that the Calabar-Lagos rail project is not good, we know it is a viable project.
“Our concern is that people say that this thing was in the budget, and we removed it. That is why we are making this clarification and again I want to state it clearly that up till now, as I speak, there is no communication from the executive, the President to the National Assembly about the budget.
“All that we read in the media are other people’s opinions, but Mr. President has not come out clearly, and this is my problem with the budget that has been passed because as we were told, this budget has been taken back to Ministries for them to examine and get back to the President.
“That is why we asked our speaker to liaise with the executive, let’s know what is the issue because we are elected by the people and we are here to serve Nigerians.”
However, a member that spoke to Vanguard on condition of anonymity, said the problem with the budget was the issue of mistrust and suspicion.
The source stated that since the election of presiding officers, there had been suspicion, adding that the controversy generated by the budget issue was not supposed to arise.
The source also told Vanguard that at the closed-door session, some members had called for Jibrin’s resignation as chairman of the Appropriation Committee.
“The Appropriation Committee Chairman was accused of making statements that were not approved by the House. He helped in escalating the situation, and that was why some members called for his resignation,” the lawmaker said.
For the second day running since the Senate resumed from the Easter break, the plenary went off without a mention of the budget controversy on the floor. However, outside the chambers, it continued to engage the attention of senators.
South East, South-South and South West senators, who met in separate caucuses, have also separately resolved to jettison the budget as passed by the National Assembly and urged the President not to sign the document until the Calabar-Lagos rail project was included.
The South-South, South East, and South West legislators met separately on Tuesday night where they arrived at the same conclusion.
The meeting of the South West senators took place at the residence of Senator Gbenga Ashafa, APC, Lagos East, who himself is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Land Transport.
As the controversy broke last week, Senator Ashafa on Monday confirmed that the Calabar-Lagos rail project was contained in the report of his committee to the Senator Danjuma Goje-led Committee on Appropriation.
Senator Adesoji Akanbi, APC, Oyo South, who confirmed the meeting, said the APC caucus in the South West was solidly behind Ashafa’s stance.
Senator Akanbi said that presidential assent to the budget document as presented, without the inclusion of the N60 billion Calabar-Lagos rail project, would not be in the interest of the people of the South West.
“Personally, I see no reason the funds in the Ministry of Transport should be moved completely to the Ministry of Works for the construction of roads which belongs to state governments, without engineering design.
“We are seeking the reversion of this decision because the Calabar – Lagos rail project is very viable and it cuts across states in the South-South and South West, and it would galvanise the social and economic activities of the affected regions.
“Apart from this, the project is a joint venture between Nigeria and China and it is time bound. Any attempt to leave it out of the budget this year will affect the execution of the project.”
Senator Akanbi noted that the argument of the appropriation committees that they could not accommodate the Calabar-Lagos rail project, because it was not included in the budget presented by Buhari, was not tenable because a supplementary provision was supplied.
He said that a similar situation happened in the committee of solid minerals when the rents on some of the ministry’s property were omitted in the budget presented.
The senator explained that officials of the ministry were asked to go and re-present a supplementary budget of N5m, which was instantly included by the committee and presented to the appropriation committee and consequently accommodated.
“The situation is similar to what happened in the Committee on Land Transport because the supplementary budget presented by the Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, was allowed in the parliamentary process.
“Why should the money in the transportation ministry be moved to the ministry of works and voted for the construction of roads that had no engineering design and do not even belong to the federal government?”
However, some lawmakers are insisting that since the budget had been passed, the only option open to the President was to present a supplementary budget to cover the shortfall.