Tension mounts in N-Assemby over budget padding

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BY SONI DANIEL

ABUJA—Simmering tension is brewing in the National Assembly following the refusal of President Goodluck Jonathan to sign the 2013 budget on account of the alteration of the appropriation plan by the legislature.

But, unlike in the past when the leadership and members of the legislature confronted the Presidency over budget rejection, the present crop of members and leaders are said to be shying away from taking on the President for allegedly soiling their hands in the budget padding.

President Jonathan had sent in a proposal of N4.25 trillion to the National Assembly for approval for the 2013 but the lawmakers padded it with N63 billion to bring the final figure to N4.98 trillion.

An infuriated President Jonathan has since distanced himself from the document and returned it to the National Assembly to remove the extraneous items smuggled into it and to reconsider the zero allocation to the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, and the $79 oil benchmark it predicated the document on.

President Jonathan; Senate President, David Mark and Speaker, House of Reps, Hon Aminu Tambuwal

President Jonathan; Senate President, David Mark and Speaker, House of Reps, Hon Aminu Tambuwal

Vanguard gathered from authoritative sources that trouble was already brewing in the legislature over how the huge amount was surreptitiously added to the budget by a few privileged members without the knowledge of the majority.

Members are upset that only a handful of key officials sat, chose and picked choice projects worth billions for their respective constituencies and thereafter allotted marginal or inconsequential projects for the generality of members in their bid to give the impression that all members were carried along in the nebulous exercise.

Some members, who are worried that Nigerians are likely to suffer the more as a result of the rejection of the budget by the President, accused the leadership of nepotism and greed by thinking of their immediate constituencies instead of the overall interest of Nigerians who elected them into the legislature.

An aggrieved female member from one of the South-East states, who spoke to Vanguard yesterday, noted that the leadership had been meeting quietly on how to resolve the budget impasse because of the ignoble roles played by key officials.

Vanguard learnt that a principal officer in one of the two chambers of the National Assembly is in trouble with other lawmakers following the discovery that he singlehandedly cornered projects to the tune of N3 billion for his constituency.

While the senior leaders got as much as that, ordinary members of both chambers were asked to choose projects not exceeding N50 million for their constituencies to be included in the padded budget.

Another source in the NASS said, “Our colleagues are murmuring over the return of the budget by the President to the National Assembly but it is unfortunate that our leadership cannot speak against the matter because they soiled their hands in the budget.

“Our anger stems from the fact that an erroneous impression has been given by the leadership that all members of the NASS were involved in the budget padding whereas most members do not know anything about it.

“We believe that they have been silenced by the Presidency because of their established interest. They should sum up courage to challenge the President if their hands are clean,” a member said.

However, a member of the House of Representatives from Borno State, Kaka Kyari Gujbawu, has warned that the budget row should be resolved as soon as possible in the interest of the nation.

Gujbawu, who is a member of the PDP Renaissance Group, made it clear that any undue delay in assenting to the bill could further damage the nation’s fragile economy.

The lawmaker said, “the advice I want to give to my colleagues in the National Assembly and the executive about the budget is that they should place the interest of the country above personal interest.”

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