By Henry Umoru, Emman Ovuakporie, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA—Ahead of today’s resumption of the two chambers of the National Assembly, the legislators are warning that President Muhammadu Buhari could trigger an unneeded face-ff should he insist on having his way through the budget process.
Speaking against the background of claims that legislative re-order and revision of the budget amounted to padding, the legislators warned that they would not condone an intrusion into what they observed as their constitutional duties.
Consistent with their determination, the Senate Vanguard learned yesterday, had deferred its consideration of the 2017 budget proposal to next week, pending the passage of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF/Fiscal.
Besides the budget and the MTEF/FSP, also on agenda of the returning lawmakers are the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, PIGB, the ban on the importation of vehicles through land borders, the crisis in Southern Kaduna and an investigation into the state of the aviation sector.
The inquiry into the aviation sector is being triggered by reports on the misplacement of the luggage of former African Footballer of the Year, Peire Eric Aubameyang by an airline, during his visit for the Glo-CAF Awards held last week.
The 2016 budget proposal was enveloped in controversies, following the disappearance of the budget document in the Senate, the circulation of fake copies and allegations of the inflation of the proposals.
To avoid the acrimonious situation in the 2017 budget, the Presidency had, through the Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, last year, given conditions upon which the President would sign the budget.
Senator Enang, at a colloquium on Budget Matters in Abuja, during the unveiling of Order Paper, had said that President Buhari might not assent to Appropriation bills passed by the National Assembly unless the schedule of details of the budget was duly passed on the floor of both chambers of the National Assembly.
Reacting to the issue, the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Jonathan Gaza, said the condition given by the Presidency was not necessary as the House was only interested in doing what would be of benefit to Nigerians.
He said: “We intend to cooperate fully with the executive and discharge our legislative duties as we have been empowered by the constitution.
“That which needs to be done, we will make sure it is done appropriately, adequately and, of course, we always act within the law and the powers which the constitution has given us.
“We have always insisted that we do not know what padding is, only if you can show me ‘padding’ in the constitution.
“We are going to discharge our duties as mandated in the constitution and, of course, with strict adherence to the law. After all, we have never flouted the law in discharging our constitutional duties.”
He also noted that the 2016 budget had errors and inconsistencies when it came from the executive, adding, “and we had to work both ways to smoothen it out.”
Also speaking on the issue, Mr. Austine Chukwukere, Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Finance, said: “It is not the duty of the executive to decide how the parliament performs its constitutional functions as regards the appropriation.
“There are processes to follow. The executive has submitted the budget estimate; they should stay back and watch us do our work. We are not to be stampeded.”
Asked if the President decides not to assent to the Appropriation Bill, if it does not follow its line of thought, Chukwukere, who represents Ideato Federal Constituency of Imo State, said: “What happened to last year’s budget estimate was that the National Assembly did not want Nigerians to suffer and the country be on a standstill because it was the first budget, even though it came late with its problems.”
Also speaking, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ujam, representing Nkanu Federal Constituency of Enugu State said: “The 2017 Appropriation estimate was sent to us on December 14, 2016 by Mr. President.
“There is a laid down procedure for passing an Appropriation Bill. I do not see why we should deviate from that. If the President lays the appropriation, we look at it, scrutinise it and do adjustment where it is necessary.”
On what happens if the President refuses to assent to it, he said: “The President cannot refuse to sign the Appropriation Bill. If there are areas he feels that should be accommodated, he will come back to us; we have the power of appropriation.”
‘Might be overzealous aides’
Chairman House Committee on Public Petitions, Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, said: “I do not think President Buhari is undemocratic. Budget process is a democratic process. And I do not think Mr. President will want to put a clog in the wheel of democratic process.
“I think that may be an overzealous statement from his aides.
“Do you mean that in the face of obvious mistakes that we should return the budget like that? They described it as budget estimates, which means there is no finality in the document as presented.
“The document ought to go through legislative purity before it can become law.
“Let me caution that the opposition, in doing its job, ought to take a critical analysis of the budget, distil it very well, identify areas not fit enough and increase areas of economic benefit.”