Is 2016 Budget Missing?

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016 looked bright and unsuspecting of any mischief as members of the National Assembly that had just returned from the yuletide holidays to resume plenary were seen exchanging pleasantries and banters which heralded them into their chambers. Shortly after the Senate plenary commenced sitting, its Majority Leader, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume moved for the Upper House to go into a close session. As soon as the closed session ended, rumours started going round that the 2016 Budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari in December has been stolen or missing. Executive Editor, AMOS DUNIA and Associate Editor AKPOVIENEHA OJO put together issues involved in the alleged missing and later replaced with a different version of the budget

As the controversy surrounding the disappearance or otherwise of the 2016 Appropriation Bill from the National Assembly continues to gather dust, different tunes are emanating from the two chambers of the legislature over the true position of the budget document. On January 12 when the two chambers resumed plenary from the two- week Christmas recess, there was confusion in the Senate relating to the true status of the budget during a close door session, when senators were divided as to whether the budget had been withdrawn by the presidency or not. Specifically, senators on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), alleged that the presidency conspired with the National Assembly bureaucracy to smuggle out the budget back to Aso Villa, with a view to scale down some over bloated allocations contained in the budget proposals. The visibly angry PDP senators led by the Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio fumed and questioned how the National Assembly leadership claimed ignorance of the disappearance of such a sensitive document if there was no collusion by them with the executive arm of government. According to Akpabio; “The Presidency couldn’t have moved into the National Assembly to take the document if no deal was struck with the leadership of the National Assembly. We have always heard that there was a plan to delay the budget to allow the executive sort itself out. The Senate leadership is now acting funny since it has been exposed that the budget is being delayed to allow the Presidency effect necessary adjustments in the budget proposal”. The furore generated by the alleged disappearance claim forced the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki to immediately proceed to Aso Villa where he held a closed door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari over the development. But reacting officially to the insinuations, Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume dismissed the claim that the budget is missing, stressing that there is no way the budget can be missing. Ndume, who was earlier quoted as having said that he told senators at a closed door session that the 2016 budget was missing, said; “Budget cannot be missing. One 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 has been laid, it has become the property of the National Assembly.” However, the House of Representatives on same day sang a different tune when its Chairman on Media and Public Affairs, Hon Abdulrazak Namdas confirmed the existence of the budget document with the House. According to him; “As far as we are concerned, there is nothing like missing budget. As from tomorrow (January 13), by the grace of God, we shall begin to distribute copies of the budget to members for deliberation”. Significantly, the denial and or clarification by the leadership of the House over the alleged missing 2016 Budget from the National Assembly, may have doused the tension over the missing original copy of the Appropriation Bill as presented to the NASS and kept in the custody of the management of the Assembly. Namdas assertion was further reinforced by his deputy, Hon Jonathan Gaza Gbefwi, who also confirmed that the reproduced copies of the budget will be distributed to House members last week Wednesday (January 13) ahead of the consideration of the budget estimates by the various committee of the House this week. The lawmaker said the rumour surrounding the theft of the budget was “unthinkable” and wondered about the integrity of those behind the fabrication of such a story in the first place. He insists, “The budget is intact and in fact, they even plan to begin to distribute copies to members to begin to analyse. So, wherever that is coming from, I don’t know. It’s all a lie.” Forefront gathered that during plenary on January 13, the President of the Senate was forced to constitute a committee to investigate the whereabouts of the budget document following the tension generated by the insinuation that the document was missing from the Senate. Putting a nail to the coffin of those that ignited the fire and peddled the rumour of missing 2016 budget, Speaker of the House, Hon Yakubu Dogara during plenary on January 13 described the tale as totally unfounded. The Speaker, who stated this shortly after the adoption and approval of the votes and proceedings of Tuesday’s sitting of the House, said copies of the 2016 budget are ready for collection by lawmakers at the secretariat of the House Committee on Appropriation. He stressed that the copies will only be given to House members directly or their aides with the proper identification cards, adding that consideration of the budget will commence at the end of the distribution of the copies. Thereafter, the speaker directed the Clerk to the House, Sani Omolori to publicly display copies of the budget to members to confirm that the House leadership was in possession of the appropriation bill and in prompt compliance with the diretive, the Clerk to the House produced four carton load of the bounded volumes of the budget to the floor of the House to the applause of members. And as the rumour picked in the Senate with senators on te platform of the PDP spoiling for war, Senate President, Senator Saraki quickly moved to douse the impending crisis as he declared on Thursday that the 2016 budget was never missing as being speculated even as he admitted that the Upper Chamber has two versions of the budget. Saraki however explained that the version laid before the joint session of the National Assembly on December 22, 2015, by President Muhammadu Buhari, is significantly different from the one submitted by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang. According to Saraki; “We came to a resolution that since we have two versions of the 2016 Budget, we will only accept the one presented by President Buhari. The Budget was never missing. While the President submitted one, the Special Adviser presented another one, hence the reason for the investigation.” At different occasions, the Presidency and particularly the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, had denied withdrawing the budget from the National Assembly. Forefront gathered that rumour over the missing budget was consequent upon a Point of Order raised by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP – Abia), that eventually led the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki to order for an investigation into the alleged missing budget. However, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly (Senate), Ita Enang, who is vast in legislative matters having served in both chambers of the National Assembly as Chairman of Committeess on Business and Rules, has pointedly said he would not respond to the allegation by the Senate that he doctored the 2016 budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari in December. Senator Enang, who is believed not to be in the good books of his former political leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, owing to political differences, described the matter as quite sensitive. It was also gathered that Akpabio is seriously looking for ways to hit back at the presidency over his invitation for questioning by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and seems to be amassing support to hold on to the budget saga. Akpobio is therefore alleged to be using his position as the Senate Minority Leader as well as Leader of the PDP Caucus to push the matter of the budget to the public domain with a view to paint the President Buhari-led APC administration as a government lacks adequate knowledge in economic matters. But Enang who clearly said he is not ready to talk on the matter said the matter is between two of his bosses, namely; the Presidency and the National Assembly. He pointedly said; “I do not want to comment on the matter at the moment. It is a very sensitive matter involving two of my bosses – the National Assembly and Presidency and I don’t want to talk about them.” The coming days and weeks are likely to prove interesting as discuss on the budget is likely to take the centre stage. However, it has to be stated that this is not the first time that budget has been withdrawn from the National Assembly and represented before the legislators commenced its consideration and subsequent passage. The question to ask if the presidency has a right to withdraw a budget for representation if certain anomalies contained in the budget need to be fine-tuned and represented. And since the National Assembly has the final say on the passage, the uproar over the alleged missing budget is quite unnecessary and a diversion from serious matters of national interests. It’s time for serious business and not politics.

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