The National Assembly leadership was last night set to meet President Muhammadu Buhari to stave off a constitutional logjam over the 2016 budget that has seen senators threatening to override the budget bill. The threat of veto override could be triggered from next Tuesday upon the lapse of the 30-day constitutional window given the President to sign the bill tomorrow.
The vow in a closed-door session of the Senate came as senators across party ranks rose in uproar against the alleged actions of the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje in mutilating the inputs of the Senate committees on the budget. Sources said that several senators demanded Goje’s resignation from the position. Meanwhile, the Senate has dismissed the public outrage against its purchase of 36 exotic vehicles supposedly for committee work at the cost of N35.1 million each, saying that senators were of higher dignity than ministers and other officials of the executive who it claimed drive superior vehicles.
The vow by the senators to override the President’s apparent veto on the 2016 appropriation bill, they claimed, was in line with constitutional provisions requiring the President to sign the budget bill within 30 days of receiving it or have his veto overridden. The prospect of the National Assembly overriding the veto was, however, a matter of contention yesterday.
Vanguard gathered that the closed-door meeting which lasted for one hour, thirty minutes, presided over by Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu was characterized by uproar as senators shouted on one another following some irreconcilable differences. A source at the meeting disclosed that there was a very sharp disagreement between members of the Appropriations Committee who complained that the committee chairman, Senator Goje, APC, Gombe Central, hijacked the entire budget process and outsourced it to his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Abdulmumin Jibrin. According to the source, some angry Senators were said to have accused the President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki of appointing Goje as chairman of Appropriation simply because he was a loyalist of his and a number of other senators also called for his removal from the position. “We have decided to go and beg President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the budget into law and after which every other correction and amendment will be done,” a source present at the session said. “We have resolved that time is ticking and if he fails to sign it within the stipulated thirty days in line with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria it will be assumed that the President has withheld his assent and the National Assembly will have no other option than to override him, thereby furthering the conflict between the Executive and the Legislature.” The 2016 Appropriation Bill was forwarded to the President on March 23, 2016. Following the closed-door session, Senator Ekweremadu summed up the proceedings thus: “The Senate in a closed session deliberated on issues relating to the 2016 Appropriation Bill and the way forward for the quick resolution of all the matters related to the early implementation of the budget in the best interest of our nation.” Vanguard learnt last night that the National Assembly delegation is expected to counsel the President on what is constitutionally expected of him in the face of the crisis.
The leadership, it was gathered, would ask the President to sign the budget as passed and send an amendment bill immediately to address the issues of concern to the Presidency. Yesterday, Chief Emeka Ngige, SAN proffered his counsel on the issue. Speaking with Vanguard in a telephone interview, he said: “The budget issue summarily calls for give and take. It calls for collaboration between the National Assembly and the executive.
If there are injections by the joint committee of the NASS into the budget, the NASS can retrieve the budget from the President and remove the injections and resend to the President for assent.” Meanwhile, Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume who amplified on issues in the legislative body following the closed-door session said that President Buhari has not returned the approved 2016 budget to the Senate but agreed that the grey areas had been communicated to the National Assembly. He said, “We have seen the President already on the budget, in fact meeting the President by the Senate leadership is not a big deal. It is not true that the budget had been sent back to the National Assembly.
I am also not aware that there is any communication from the President on the issue. “What I know is that areas of concern to the Presidency are now with us here. We are talking with the Presidency to resolve all the issues.” But when asked to speak on the call for the removal of Senator Goje as Chairman, Appropriations Committee, Senator Ndume denied the claims. On the outcry on the Senate’s decision to purchase N35.1 million vehicles for its members supposedly for committee work even after collecting car loans from the public treasury less than a year ago, Senator Ndume said: “A minister who is appointed, not elected, drives a convoy of four cars. Permanent Secretaries, Directors, Commissioners, House of Assembly members, and Council chairmen all drive official vehicles. Are you all saying federal lawmakers should not have official vehicles? As a senator I can ride in any means of transportation including Keke NAPEP, if it will take me to my destination.” House spokesman, Abdulrazaq Namdas also confirmed that the House had received the President’s communication on his concerns on the budget as passed by the National Assembly. He, however, declined to reveal the grey areas listed by the President, as he avoided questions on whether the Calabar-Lagos rail line project was included in the letter.
Lending credence to rumours that both the Senate and the House of Representatives had not yet agreed on how best to go about the controversies surrounding the budget, Namdas confirmed that both chambers would meet within the week. ‘’We need to reach a consensus with the Senate and harmonise our position. The joint team will then meet with the President this week and we hope after the meeting, the budget will be signed,’’ Namdas said. He said the House wanted the rule of law to take its course in the trial of Senate President, Bukola Saraki. “On the trial of Senate President, we believe in the rule of law and every Nigerian remains innocent until proven guilty,’’ said Namdas, who is chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity.
The National Assembly had on Wednesday, March 23, 2016 passed the 2016 Appropriation Bill submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari in December last year. The budget passed was N17,002,641,773 billion naira lower than the figure of N6,060,677,358,277 trillion naira presented by President Buhari to the National Assembly, just as the 2016 fiscal document, contained the estimates of revenue and expenditure of the federation for the 2016 fiscal year in the aggregate sum of six trillion naira.