By Emmanuel Aziken
The presentation of the budget by the President to the joint session of the National Assembly is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular events of the legislative year.
It is an event heralded with much pomp the sort that entices politicians to the grandeur of high public office.
Early in the morning on any budget day the gates leading to the National Assembly are cordoned off by security agents with access restricted to only staff with security cards and very, very important personalities.
The usual security agents within the inner perimeters of the legislative complex are on budget days deployed to the outer perimeters. Presidential minders robed in black overcoat covering sophisticated arms take over the last entrances into the main building. God help you, whoever you are, when these official bullies catch you loitering.
For whatever reasons, the National Assembly management in the past made it a profitable business printing special identity cards for correspondents accredited to the National Assembly on budget days. Those cards immediately lapsed once the budget presentation was over while the â€œmanagement contractorsâ€ smiled to the bank.
Though security is normally tight at the main gate it is remarkable that the President himself would not use the main gate, rather he usesÂ the back gate which is sometimes referred to as the security gate or the presidential gate. The back gate ordinarilyÂ is reserved for legislators and senior staff of the National Assembly but on a budget day, it becomes strictly the Presidential gate and a high security zone.
Once the signal is given that the President is leaving the villa which itself borders the National Assembly complex the lobby area in the National Assembly main building is cordoned off. With the presidential convoy snaking in through the back gate, the deputy Senate President and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives would saunter out from the chamber of the House of Representatives where Senators and House members had minutes earlier congregated to wait for the arrival of the President.
The Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives are meanwhile seated on the dais waiting the arrival of the President.
The arrival of the President is normally signaled by the army band. Once he arrives the dais the band gives the tone for the national anthem.
A joint budget session of the National Assembly is one occasion that the legislators forsake the normal legislative prayer which does not make any reference to Jesus the Christ or to Allah.
Instead of the legislative prayer, the presiding officer of the joint session who is the Senate President beckons on any Senator or member of the House of Representatives to give opening Christian and Muslim prayers in no fixed order.
Instead of the clerk of the Senate or the clerk of the House who normally sits on the table during normal Senate and House sessions, the clerk of the National Assembly takes the table for the budget session.
After the prayers the Senate President gives an opening remark and thereafter requests the President to give his address.
The Presidential address normally lasts for about one hour during which he reviews the implementation of the outgoing budget and gives the major policy framework for the budgetary proposals for the next year.
It is normally a routine. There have, however, been some dramatic moments on some few occasions. Obasanjoâ€™s last budget presentation in 2006 was punctuated by the remark of one ANPP House member who shouted â€œIt is a lie,â€ to some assertions by the former President.
One other dramatic moment was in 2003 when President Obasanjo in his 2004 budget presentation gave a strong order to the National Assembly to keep off from the MDAs as he warned that the new regime would not tolerate oversight as a weapon of blackmail or channel for inducement. The warning followed the combined assault on him by the National Assembly during his first term when he narrowly escaped impeachment.
The end of the budget speech is followed by a vote of thanks delivered by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and then the national anthem.
All that tradition was absent this year as for the first time the President failed to personally lay the budget proposals to the National Assembly. It all followed the face-off between the Senate and the House on account of accumulated misgivings by Senators over perceived disrespect by House members.
Senators say that the joint session as laid in tradition was erroneous as they assert that section 81 of the constitution did not provide for a joint session in the presentation of the budget.
Willy-nilly the face-off may have led to the correct implementation of the constitution but given the reported ill-health of the President there is a question as to whether the legislators were used as pawns to help the President not to physically present the budget. That is the big question.