Senate in stormy session, wants Buhari to sign budget

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In a ‎stormy closed-door session yesterday, the Senate resolved to persuade President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the 2016 budget and later submit an amendment proposal to the National Assembly to correct identified lapses.

The meeting, which was characterised by massive criticisms of the manner in which the budget was processed by the appropriation committees of the National Assembly, ‎was said to have resolved to give President Buhari 30 days within which to consider the request of the National Assembly and sign the budget.

And amid the raging controversy over the fiscal plan, the Organised Private Sector (OPS) has appealed that the budget impasse between the Presidency and the National Assembly be resolved quickly to check the negative economic effects of the delay in the signing of the document.

Senators who spoke off the record shortly after the closed-door session disclosed that it was an opportunity for frank discussions on the crisis rocking the Senate because of the budget.

Members of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, who complained against what they called an undemocratic approach to the appropriation process, drew attention of their colleagues to specific lapses which resulted from the mishandling of the process.

It was learnt that a major decision at the meeting was that serious and conclusive measures should be taken by both the National Assembly and executive arm of government to make the 2016 budget ready for implementation.

At the meeting, it was said to have been observed that because time was no longer on the side of government on the need to kick-start the ‎ economy, no stone should be left unturned to facilitate the signing of the budget into law.

Yesterday’s closed-door session was convened by the Senate leadership to brief the lawmakers of an earlier decision taken by the body of principal officers of the National Assembly on Wednesday night.

Rising from the closed-door session, Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the session said:”The Senate in a closed -session deliberated on issues relating to the 2016 appropriation bill and the way forward for the quick resolutions of all the matters related to the early implementation of the budget in the best interest of our nation”

In a brief interview after the session later yesterday, the Senate Leader, Mohammed Ali Ndume, denied that the meeting resolved to remove the chairman of the Committee on Appropriation, Danjuma Goje.

“Nobody should expect me, on my honour, to disclose details of what we discussed in a closed-door session. It is not true that we asked the chairman of the Senate committee, Danjuma Goje, to resign. That is not what we discussed. Goje was appointed and he could only be removed by a vote of no confidence. We can only ask the elected officers of the Senate to resign, not chairmen of committee. For a chairman that was appointed, we can decide to appoint another one, we can swap chairmen, we change their responsibilities.”

On the Senate relationship with the president regarding the budget crisis, Ndume said: “We have seen the president already on the budget. In fact, meeting the president by the Senate leadership is not a big deal.
“It is not true that the budget had been sent back to the National Assembly. I am also not aware that there is any communication from the president on the issue. What I know is that areas of concern to the presidency are now with us here. We are talking with the presidency to resolve all the issues.”

And from the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, came yesterday an assurance that the National Assembly and the executive are likely to resolve issues surrounding the 2016 budget this week.

Dogara, who spoke when he received a delegation of All Progressives Congress (APC) elders and stakeholders from Kwande/Oshongo federal constituency of Benue State in the National Assembly, also said that the executive and the parliament would not have any fight over the 2016 budget as passed by the National Assembly.

He stated: “We know that our people cannot wait forever for the budget and as a responsible government, we cannot afford to go sleep on this. As we speak to you, I know that the executive has sent its observations on the budget, areas it termed ‘grey areas’. We’ve taken delivery of that document, we are looking into it and in collaboration with the Senate, the entire National Assembly, we have arrived at a decision which I will not announce here because that one is for the ears of Mr. President only.

“It is in the overall national interest, we know that we have to find a solution and sooner than later, within this week, I believe that as leaders, having put on our thinking caps, we should be able to come up with a solution that will address this problem.”

He explained that the National Assembly is well within its powers to make amendments to the budget before passing it because the role of the executive stops at providing estimates to the legislature which now goes further to prepare the budget into an appropriation law.

The speaker also gave the assurance that the current administration is committed to keeping up with its electoral promises, especially through the instrument of the budget. He urged the citizens to collaborate with the government to make it a success.

According to members of the OPS, the delay in signing the budget is heightening the uncertainty in the nation’s challenging business environment. They noted that the challenges in the business environment were getting tougher, especially in relation to insecurity in parts of the country, state of infrastructure and the foreign exchange crisis.

To the stakeholders, Nigeria has continued to drift into economic crises following a series of adverse developments in the international oil market and the inability of the legislative and executive arms of government to come to a consensus on the 2016 budget.