By Henry Umoru, Emman Ovuakporie & Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA— FACTS emerged, yesterday, why lawmakers at the Senate and House of Representatives, especially those on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, failed to protest against President Muhammadu Buhari’s presentation of 2018 Appropriation Bil.
Prior to the presentation of the budget, the Senate and House of Representatives had gone for an executive session to calm frayed nerves.
In the House of Representatives, after the PDP caucus meeting, the House leadership, using Speaker Yakubu Dogara, begged the lawmakers to sheath their sword.
According to one of the arrowheads of the caucus, Dogara approached the lawmakers, promising that Buhari will release zonal intervention funds.
He said: “Dogara promised us and he aptly captured it in his farewell speech when he reminded Buhari to, as a matter of urgency, implement the 2017 budget. We were ready to go all the way and disrupt his presentation but Dogara’s intervention was the masterstroke that saved the situation.”
The PDP members, after leaving the executive session on the floor of the House, gathered at Hearing Room Two where they held a caucus meeting on how to stage the protest. Some of the placards sighted by Vanguard read: ‘Change the change’, ‘Implement 2016 and 2017 budgets or resign’ and some other unprintable graffiti.
The PDP lawmakers left the venue of the meeting immediately at about 1:30 pm and were seen concealing placards underneath their clothes, just as they refused to talk to the press but a lawmaker among them quickly pointed out that “our Acting Leader, Oyeama Chukwuma, did not storm out rather we sent him to join the leadership team.”
Meanwhile, lawmakers have reacted to the budget proposal. While some picked holes in the document, some, however, hailed it.
In his reaction, Senator Kabir Marafa (APC, Zamfara Central) said: “The benchmark of oil and other indices are quite realistic, considering the price of oil today. The resolve to move away from over-dependence on oil is a welcome development, considering the inherent instability in the price of oil.”
Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Francis Alimikhena (APC, Edo North) said: “The MTEF and the budget were presented to meet the January to December dateline. We will treat the MTEF first, then we will treat the budget.”
Senator Matthew Urhoghide (PDP, Edo South) said: “Because we have not passed the MTEF, we have also not discussed those assumptions in the budget. So, we really need to go back and work on both the MTEF and Fiscal Strategy Paper.
Senator Mao Ohuabunwa (PDP, Abia North) said: “Ordinarily, there are things you must look into before you talk about the budget and these are constitutional issues.”
because those are the indices that will use in preparing the budget. But now the budget us here.”
Also reacting, Senator Foster Ogola, PDP, Bayelsa West said, “the budget will bring about emancipation to our people, we pray that God will intervene to enable us have a government that will take care of our needs. The behviour of the federal government is breeding militants in the Niger Delta.”
In his contribution, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, APC, Delta Central said “the President has demonstrated that he is up to the task for the remaining term, he also demonstrated that he is capable of running another campaign and govern this country for another four years. We believe in his vision for this country. We are his foot soldiers. The increase funding for NDDC, I am excited about that. There is adequate funding for the Itakpe-Alaja rail line, the 150 billion naira set aside for the social intervention for direct cash transfer. Iam excited about that even though I am not happy with the mode of implementation of the 2017 budget.”
Senator Agege who commended the president for growing the sovereign wealth fund from 1 million dollars to 500 million dollars, said that he has fulfilled his constitutional obligation, it is now left for us to cross the Ts and dot the Is and infact, right the budget as we see fit.
Also contributing, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, PDP, Delta North said, “ I commend the president for his resilience the way he was able to speak for 0ne hour five minutes. It is a good development that we are seeing our president well. I had expected the president in his speech dwell on the achievements in the Niger Delta. This where principally the revenue for this budget is coming from. He should have specific achievements in those areas.
On the MTEF not been passed before the presentation of the budget, Senator Nwaoboshi said, “ this is a condition precedent by the Fiscal responsibility Act we are supposed to pass the MTEF before the budget is presented, thst is not done. This is another issue. This is wrong by the law.”
On his part, Senator Ahmad Sani, APC, Zamfara West said, “ the President took his time to give details of the budget proposal including the north gritty of government policies I believe that if this budget is implemented the problem of the economy would have been taken care of by this government. “
On the vexed issue of presenting a budget without an approved MTEF, Senator Sani admitted that it was an issue of procedure, but said that the lawmakers had decided to handle both document together.
He however said that the game plan was to allow the President to present the budget but thereafter the lawmakers will deal with the MTEF before considering the budget and passing it before the January 1, 2018 target.