By Tola Akinmutimi, Abuja
The current political struggles among lawmakers to sway elective positions in the National Assembly in favour of political interest groups and individuals may scuttle the initial date of April 16 set by the Legislature for the passage of the 2019 Appropriation Bill.
At the last plenary, the Senate had mandated its Appropriation Committee, after failing to meet the initial deadline of April 2, to lay its report for consideration at Thursday, April 11 plenary session in order to ensure the passage of the bill on April 16 date realistic.
When the Senate plenary opened on Thursday, the Committee failed to lay the report of the 2019 Appropriation Bill, with budgetary proposal totalling N8.83 trillion, before the Senate in plenary.
The default is coming barely 10 days the Senate had given the committee between April 9 and 11, to lay the report for possible deliberations preparatory to the scheduled passage of the Bill on Tuesday, April 16.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Sen. Sonni Ogbuoji, had a few days ago lamented that the committee could not meet the target of April 2 because less than 10 committees out of over 60 committees that were expected to submit their budget reports to the committee for consideration had done so.
Investigations by Nigerian NewsDirect during the weekend indicated that rather than be concerned with the passage of the bill, most of the lawmakers had been holding nocturnal meetings in hotels at the FCT while others were converging in some state capitals with a view to determining who holds which position in the 9th National Assembly.
Indeed, our correspondent’s chat with one of the re-turning Senators elected on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), revealed that high level schemings “are going on within the ruling party’s lawmakers to make sure that the party doesn’t burn its fingers as it did in 2015”
According to him, the election of lawmakers into different positions at both the lower and upper chambers is the most important political agenda now being focused on while other matters can be put on hold until the battles for who becomes who in the 9th Assembly are won and lost.
Already, lawmakers’ attendance of plenary in the lower and upper chambers remains terribly low, making it practically difficult for the required quorum for plenary and ordinary sessions to be met.
Reacting to inquiries on the feasibility or otherwise of the April 16 date set for the passage of the budget, another lawmaker elected on the platform of the ruling party, who would not want to be identified in print, told our correspondent that passage of the Appropriation Bill as proposed would not work.
He said: “I don’t think the leadership of the Senate was thoughtful enough in setting that deadline based on what was reported by the Appropriation Committee last week. I think it is an attempt to make the public believe that the National Assembly is working and to avert the usual criticisms of the National Assembly over delays in budget passage over the years.
“As it is now, it is doubtful if the bill will sail through all the processes before the end of this month. Everybody is now involved in this issue of elective positions in the legislature with very few lawmakers showing interest in things that affect the welfare of ordinary citizens. It is so bad. You will hear another story when the Senate meets again on Tuesday”, the lawmaker predicted. With the current scenario, it is certain that the 2019 budget may not fare better than the previous ones in terms of capital performance.
Available statistics on federal capital budget performances over the past decade showed that there was no year the budget achieved 60 percent implementation as delayed passage of bills and late disbursements of capital allocations to critical sectors characterized the implementation of the budgets.