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Budget row: Yar’Adua summons Mark, Bankole

By Emma Ujah,Emmanuel Aziken & Inalegwu Shaibu
ABUJA  — President Umaru Yar’Adua has summoned the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives —  David Mark and Oladimeji  Bankole — over the 2010 budget presentation row  which has pitched the two legislative chambers against each other.

Presidency sources disclosed in Abuja, yesterday, that the president decided to wade into the matter with a view to amicably resolving what has clearly been considered in many quarters as an unnecessary battle of ego in the federal legislature which prevented the president from presenting the budget to a joint session of the lawmakers last Thursday.
Senate President, Chief David Mark, who is the Chairman of the joint session had decided that the 2010 federal budget be presented to the joint session in the Senate Chambers but that decision was rejected by Speaker Bankole.

The argument of the House of Representatives leadership was that previous budgets were presented to  joint sessions in the Chambers of the House of representatives, Chambers and that as such members of the House would not go to the Senate Chambers for the occasion.

Mark, Bankole and Yar'Adua
Mark, Bankole and Yar'Adua

Presidency sources said that the President had to call the two leaders of the two chambers to work out an amicable resolution of the rift in the interest of the nation.

It was learnt that although the constitutional requirement is for the president to cause the budget to be laid before the legislature and that as such it was not necessarily compulsory for him to physically present it nor even read the budget proposal before the legislators but that resolving the conflict was considered critical for an effective legislature .

“The requirement of the law is that the president should cause the budget to be laid before the legislature.  What that means is that the president does not have to personally take the budget there.  He can as well direct the Minister of Finance to present it.

But for how long can the two chambers work at cross purposes?  What good can come out of such a situation? sources wondered.

President Yar’Adua, it was learnt, did not want to interfere in the matter but the sources said the presidency did not want the “supremacy struggle” in the legislature to degenerate into a situation that could undermine government’s efforts at an early budget for 2010.

It was learnt that the presidency had held several meetings with the leadership of the National Assembly on the need to work together to enable the legislature pass the 2010 Appropriation Bill next month and therefore does not want anything capable of disrupting the arrangement.

There have been claims and counter claims between the two chambers which have been locked in supremacy war since the Constitution Review Committee episode in Minna, Niger state capital, early this year, when the committee’s assignment was disrupted over the Co-Chairmanship issue.

Opinions have been divided over the venue of the Joint Session of the two chambers with most people berating the House of Representatives leadership for insisting that members were not junior to Senators.

Some have argued that since the Senate President is the Chairman of the Joint session, he reserves the right to decide the venue of the joint session and that only last week, when the Queen of England addressed the Joint Session of the British Parliament, the event took place in the House of Lords, with most members of the House of Commons standing throughout the session.

Those in support of Mark also argue that it was wrong for members of the House of Representatives to claim equality with the Senators, going by the size of their constituencies and the constitutional age qualification for the two chambers.

According to the Constitution, one must attain the age of 35 to be elected Senator, while a members of the House of Representatives must have attained the age of 30.

The position of the Office of the Speaker was that the leadership of the House was not consulted on the issue of the venue before the decision was taken by the Senate President.

Senators adamant

Meantime, President of the Senate, Chief David Mark, is under strong pressure from Senators not to succumb to pressure in the face-off with the House of Representatives over the venue for the joint session for the presentation of the 2010 budget by the President.

A resolution of the crisis was not possible at the weekend Vanguard learnt, because of the retreat by the House of Representatives committee on Constitution Review that ended in Calabar last weekend.

With the principal officials back in Abuja yesterday trouble shooting efforts, Vanguard learnt could crystallize into a solution of the unprecedented crisis.

However, supporters and foes of the Senate President within the Senate chambers were unanimous at the weekend in backing their presiding officer’s stance that any joint session with the House of Representatives should be held in the Senate chambers with some insisting that House members who do not find seats should stand for the period of the address.

Others were, however, calling for a strict adherence to the provisions of the constitution which require the President to separately lay his financial proposals before each chamber of the National Assembly.

The leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives are meanwhile expected to meet one another at another  reconciliatory meeting being hosted by the PDP today. Ahead of the meeting, Senators were at the weekend articulating their grievances against their fellow legislators in the House of Representatives with the alleged disrespectful attitude of the House of Representatives members at the top of the pack of the grievances.

One leading Senate official told Vanguard at the weekend that the face-off could be resolved today for to the presentation of the budget on Wednesday.

However, Senators are expressing strong opposition to any back down with some vowing not to go to the chambers of the House of Representatives.

“There is no way I can ever go there (House) and David Mark can well go but certainly not me,’’ one Senator speaking on the condition of anonymity told Vanguard at the weekend.

Mark chides AC

However, Senator David Mark has rebuffed the intervention of the Action Congress (AC) into the face off between the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Responding to a statement by the AC National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed where he was quoted as saying that Mark had now seen the light, Mark described the AC publicity scribe as a noisemaker who thrives in castigating public officers even when he can never win a councillorship election.

Senator Mark in the statement authored by his Special Adviser (Media) Kola Ologondinyan said, “At times like this , many interest groups and political jobbers find a window to make comments rightly or wrongly. Everyone is entitled to his opinion though. However, the AC statement through its national publicity secretary, Lai Mohammed is amusing and clearly off the mark.

“He alleged that the President of the Senate, David Mark has seen the light because he now realised that “the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) is the problem with Nigeria ”.

“That is not correct. The Senate President is a product of the PDP and he remains committed, faithful and loyal to the party.

“He merely pointed out the fact that Elders of the party should not sit down and fold their arms when some members flagrantly flout the rules especially the constitution. He insisted that the constitution is supreme and should not in any way be compromised if Nigeria is to make progress.”

“If Lai Mohammed is not abreast with facts and realities, he should not wake-up from the wrong side of his bed to throw mud at people, especially the distinguished President of the Senate who has paid his dues in all ramifications.


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