By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Henry Umoru, Emman Ovuakporie & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA— Pressures by the Presidency on the National Assembly to rewrite the 2016 budget and include critical projects left out in the appropriation bill as passed were at the weekend, slipping into another crisis with the threat of the legislators to veto.
The emerging crisis was in the face of claims by legislators that the budget with the President cannot be rewritten under the law.
The legislators have also dismissed calls for a supplementary budget, saying the only option open to the President was to sign what was passed to him and forward an amendment bill on the 2016 appropriation bill to take care of his interests.
The deadline for the President to sign the 2016 budget as presented to him on March 23 passed at the weekend.
Meanwhile, Vanguard has learned how the election of Senator Ike Ekweremadu as the Deputy President of the Senate, led to the eruption of the crisis in the 2016 budget.
President Buhari has refused assent to the 2016 budget of the Federal Government upon misgivings that a number of critical projects notably, the Calabar-Lagos rail line, were removed by the Senate and House Committees on Appropriation, led by Senator Danjuma Goje and Abdulmmumin Jibrin respectively.
The stand-off has led to pressures on the National Assembly to withdraw the budget transmitted to the President on March 23 and incorporate the projects.
In the face of that pressure, senior officials of the National Assembly have told Vanguard that the constitution did not provide a leeway for rewriting a budget that had already been passed.
The complexity is further worsened by constitutional provisions which give the President a maximum of 30 days to give his assent to the budget bill.
Section 59(4) of the Constitution demands that where the President refuses to sign the appropriation bill within 30 days, the bill should again be presented to the National Assembly sitting at a joint sitting.
There was controversy among constitutional experts in the National Assembly at the weekend as to whether the President is expected to re-present what was passed or present a fresh bill to satisfy his interest on the issues at hand.
A meeting between the Presidency and the National Assembly leadership, expected to hold at the weekend to address the issues of concern, did not hold, sources disclosed.
The section states thus:
“Where the President, within 30 days after the presentation of the bill to him, fails to signify his assent or where he withholds assent, then the bill shall again be presented to the National Assembly sitting at a joint meeting, and if passed by two-thirds majority of members of both houses at such joint meeting, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.”
Upon the constitutional provision, multiple sources in the National Assembly told Vanguard that the current pressures on the National Assembly to rewrite the budget to include some critical projects left out in the appropriation bill as passed could not hold.
Vanguard learned that the National Assembly leaders were expected to, at the meeting, convey the point to the President that the only option opened to him was to sign the budget and forward an amendment bill.
“There is no provision in the constitution that would allow us to incorporate those projects again,” a very senior legislator told Vanguard.
It was also learned that calls on the President to send a supplementary budget would also not be tenable.
“A supplementary budget is only proposed when there is a shortfall in revenue for a project, but what is workable in this case is for the President to sign the budget as sent to him and then send an amendment bill to the 2016 Appropriation Bill to address areas of concern to him,” a legislator familiar with the process told Vanguard.
“You can see that there are no other legal options available to get out of this situation,” the source disclosed.
The Ekweremadu factor
Meanwhile, Vanguard has learned how the political issues arising from the election of the National Assembly leadership caused the budget crisis.
In the past, an ad-hoc committee, led by the Deputy President of the Senate and the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives supervised works on the budget.
That committee, it was gathered, comprised the director-general of the Budget Office, senior officials of the Federal Ministry of Finance, the Presidency and the chairmen of the Senate and House Committees on Appropriation.
“It was the work of that committee to clean the budget and address all issues of concern between the executive and legislative branches of government and all issues that erupted were quietly settled under the guidance of the Deputy Senate President and the Deputy Speaker.
“For the past eight years, Senator Ike Ekweremadu was involved, but you know as a result of the issues around his emergence, nobody in the Presidency wanted to deal with him and you can see that committee was not formed and you see how we ran into this problem,” the source disclosed.
We worked on inputs from committees
— Goje, Jibrin
However, chairmen of Appropriation Committee of the National Assembly, Senator Danjuma Goje and Abdulmunin Jibrin, yesterday, stated that in a bid to move Nigeria forward, both committees would resolve all grey areas raised by the executive arm of government.
Both lawmakers said this in a statement they jointly signed, insisting that they worked on inputs supplied by the committees.
The statement, entitled: “Budget 2016: A time for Statesmanship”, read in part: “Following the transmission of the 2016 appropriation bill and details passed by the National Assembly, there have been all manner of misinformation, misrepresentations and innuendos about the roles played by the Joint Committees on Appropriation in the course of passing the budget.
“Even though most of the allegations, especially those specifically levelled against the two of us, as chairmen of the committees, are unfounded, we intend to respond to them at the appropriate time.
“For now, what we consider important is to resolve the impasse around the budget and get it assented to so that its implementation can begin in the interest of all Nigerians.
“However, we must put it on record that the details aggregated and transmitted to the executive are largely the inputs we received from the standing committees of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“Given the foregoing, and all factors considered, we hereby state that we have had enough controversy over the 2016 budget.
“What is needful right now is a resolution of the differences and to that end, we call on our colleagues in the National Assembly to accede to the request by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari to have a second look at the details and make the necessary adjustments so that he can assent. This, in our opinion, should not go beyond this week.
“To the extent that there are already ongoing consultations, a debate about who is right or wrong is unhelpful in the circumstance; and in any case, does not advance the cause of our country men and women whose interest we have been elected to serve.”
No change until budget is signed — FG
Meanwhile, the Federal Government said, yesterday, that Nigerians should not expect change from the present administration until the 2016 Appropriation Bill, which had been passed by the National Assembly, was signed into law.
The government said it was still running the country with the 2015 budget of former President Goodluck Jonathan of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
Speaking, yesterday, at the launch of a book, “Each Man, His Time: The Biography of an Era”, by former Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh, at Royal Dream Hotel, Mararaba in Nasarawa State, Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, noted that change was not feasible now because the government was still implementing the 2015 budget prepared by the former government of PDP.
According to him, change cannot come, if the All Progressives Congress, APC, is not using the 2016 budget which must be signed and implemented by the federal government.
The book was also launched to mark the 47th year Marriage Anniversary between Prince Tony Momoh and his wife, Janet Tony Momoh.
Onu, who noted that President Muhammadu Buhari was working hard to provide job opportunities, secure lives and property of Nigerians, provide employment, however, urged Nigerians to support him if he must provide good governance for the country.
He said: “Change won’t come until the 2016 budget is signed. What we are using now is the 2015 budget which was not done by us. Our President has restored our image to the position of repute, so let’s support him.”