By Henry Umoru & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
•Leaders to meet with INEC too
•Presidency raises the alarm over possible shut down of govt
•We must reconvene as quickly as possible —Lawan
•No cover for corrupt politicians — Lai Mohammed
ABUJA—The President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, has convened an emergency meeting of the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly.
Issues expected on the agenda of the meeting, Vanguard gathered, include the string of defections in the political space, rumoured plan to impeach the Senate President and the pending 2019 elections supplementary budget, among others.
The leadership, our sources said, might consider the possibility of reconvening the National Assembly to discuss urgent and important national issues pending before the lawmakers.
Those to attend
The meeting will have in attendance, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu; Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Yusuf Suleiman Lasun; Majority Leaders of both chambers, Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as Chief and Deputy Whips of both chambers.
Also billed to attend the meeting are the Minority and Deputy Minority Leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives; the Minority and Deputy Minority Whips of both chambers.
Also to attend the meeting outside the leadership of the National Assembly are the Chairmen, Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif (Bauchi North), and Aisha Dukku (Dukku/ Nafada, Gombe) respectively.
The meeting, it was gathered, is slated for noon today.
According to the source, top on the agenda for discourse is the letter from President Buhari on the urgent need to approve money for the conduct of the 2019 election, with a proposal of the sum of N164 billion to be provided for through virement or supplementary budget.
The source said they will also look into the not less than N242 billion required for the conduct of 2019 general elections.
Recall that there had been calls, especially from the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, that the National Assembly should reconvene from its annual recess, having adjourned two weeks ago to reconvene on September 25.
According to the source, after the meeting of the leadership of the National Assembly, they will then meet with the chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, and other officials at 1pm today.
Preparing for the meeting, Senate President Saraki was in the office yesterday for close to one hour.
It would be recalled that one month after the 2018 budget was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Senate on July 17, read a letter from the President asking the National Assembly to remove a total of N228 billion as reinstatement from the inserted N578 billion in the 2018 budget to fund critical projects.
In the letter read at plenary by Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, President Buhari told the senators that not less than N242 billion would be required for the conduct of 2019 general and Presidential elections and asked for the lawmakers’ approval of the money.
Presidency raises alarm
Meanwhile, the Presidency yesterday raised the alarm that if the National Assembly failed to reconvene to consider the foreign loan request and supplementary budget made by President Buhari, it could lead to a complete shutdown of the government.
This came as the Majority Leader of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, said as a matter of urgency, the National Assembly must reconvene to consider and pass the supplementary budget and the virement request made by the President before the two chambers went on annual vacation.
The Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo met behind closed-doors with the Senate Majority Leader and the Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, yesterday.
Briefing State House correspondents after the meeting, the Presidential liaison officer in the Senate, Senator Enang, appealed to the presiding officers of the National Assembly to reconvene and consider the pending requests of the President, stressing that anything short of that could lead to a shutdown of government.
Enang said: “We are still appealing to the National Assembly to reconvene. You remember that we passed the budget with an understanding that the greater amount of it would be gotten by foreign loans.
“Although it was approved that there would be loans, the amount to get was not approved. The Fiscal Responsibility Act requires that the President should specifically state the amount the government wants to get from foreign loans and present it before the National Assembly.
“That letter has been presented to the National Assembly and the National Assembly has to pass that amount before the money could be obtained from foreign financing institutions.
“This is what we are asking and if it didn’t happen in the next few months, we may have complete government shutdown.
“What we are receiving from the federation accounts as the federal government share of the capital component is not enough to sustain even 15 or 20 per cent of the budget.
“So, there may be a complete government shutdown and I know that Nigerians are not going to like it. That is why we are still appealing.”
Conflicting number of APC, PDP senators
He continued: “Now the leader of the Senate has said that they are 53, but I want to assure him that the APC has harvested more people from the PDP and other political parties. The head of the PDP in the Senate is formally joining the APC family and that will be in a big ceremony on Wednesday, August 8 in Akwa Ibom State.
“So, the head of the PDP, who holds all the documents of the PDP, His Excellency, Distinguished Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio is coming over with a great team and other minorities will join the APC family and we are good and strong.”
We must reconvene immediately
Also briefing journalists, the Senate Majority Leader, Lawan (APC, Yobe), urged the presiding officers of the two chambers of the National Assembly to reconvene immediately to pass the supplementary budget for the 2019 general elections and the virement request by the President.
He said if the supplementary budget for the election was not passed, it could stall preparations for the election as well as the government.
He said: “I have come to visit the Acting President; you know this is our administration. I have come to brief him on the situation in the Senate and the discussion also considered the need for the National Assembly to reconvene immediately for us to pass the virement and the supplementary budget request by Mr. President.
“You know that the budget for 2018, the capital aspect will be largely funded by foreign facilities, loans. Now, we need to approve that. We also need to approve other important and essential requests especially that of INEC and other security agencies for our security to be improved.
“It is, therefore, very essential that we reconvene immediately to look into those issues because our government is almost stalled and I believe that if we are able to pass the supplementary budget and virement request from Mr. President, this will enable our administration to provide the various infrastructure that we have planned to provide for Nigerians and also all the other aspects of national development.
“To do otherwise will lead to sabotage of this administration; will lead to sabotage of democracy itself because if we cannot provide the essentials for Nigerians, if we cannot provide funds for INEC to plan for the 2019 elections, what do we call ourselves?
“Certainly, in the case of INEC for example, INEC could pick some items on the shelves but there are so many important and essential items that INEC will have to place orders that could take about two to three months.
“So, it is very imperative that we do the needful, we should convene the national assembly immediately and as legislators, as representatives of Nigerians, we will do what is best in the national interest.”
Briefing the Acting President
Asked what was the response of the Acting President, he said: “Well, I briefed the Acting President on the situation in the Senate. There are conflicting information coming out from the Senate caucuses.
“We said we are the majority, the APC caucus, that remains so because we remain 53 senators in the APC caucus and we have given the media the list of everyone. I read it about a week ago, every senator’s name was there and his state or her state and the PDP caucus will tell you they are in the majority. I will take this opportunity for the third time to challenge the PDP caucus to publish the names of the PDP caucus members.
“They have never done that, they will only tell you that they are 55, they are 60, they are 75. Publish the names; let Nigerians see where these senators are. We have done our own and it is also important that whatever crisis we have in the Senate and indeed in the national assembly, that Nigerians don’t suffer.
“We as politicians can do anything, it is a parliamentary practice. In fact, in parliament, worse things could happen but parliaments that are responsible and responsive will always take into account the national interest, work assiduously to ensure that the country does not suffer.
“Here in our case, we have our budget suffering, we are not able to implement anything today because, we are not able as a legislature, the National Assembly, pass the request of Mr. President. So, I believe that we should be on the same page with Nigerians, we are not aliens, we are representing Nigerians.
“Therefore, what Nigerians want today is for this administration to provide those essentials that it has promised and it has started providing that. We should plan properly for free, fair and transparent elections in 2019.
“If we don’t reconvene and pass the request, what that means is that we have turned against this country, we are stalling the administration and invariably, fighting the people because the people want us to do those things that will make them happy.
“I believe that my colleagues are listening and we should be able to reconvene in the next few days for us to pass the budget request of Mr. President as quickly as possible.”
On plot to impeach Saraki
Also fielding questions on the allegation that some members of the APC in the Senate tried to force themselves into the Senate to impeach the Senate president Bukola Saraki, he said he was not aware of any such attempt.
He asked rhetorically: “Did you use the word that some senators attempted to break into the Senate Chamber? I am hearing it for the first time. There is a process going into that chamber, I didn’t hear it before that some senators attempted to break into that chamber.
“Possibly, you must have the names of senators but I want to tell you that we are law- abiding and that we will do everything possible in the national interest but we will try to keep within our processes and our procedures.”
On what could happen if the presiding officers didn’t heed to the request to reconvene the Senate, Lawan said the presiding offers were people like any other person and also Nigerians that had the ears to listen to the demands of the people.
“The presiding officers are people like you and I, they are Nigerians, they listen or they should listen. So, I don’t even want to contemplate that the presiding officers will say they will not reconvene the chambers of the National Assembly based on the fundamental and primary request of Mr President of passing the budget.
“I believe that the presiding officers should do the needful to reconvene the two chambers of the National Assembly to give us the opportunity to pass the supplementary budget and virement request of Mr. President as quickly as possible,’’ he said.