2016 Budget :The cat and mouse game between Senate and Presidency
They emerged from a closed door session last Tuesday, the first day of resumption without saying a word. Even several efforts made by journalists covering the National Assembly to get them to speak on what transpired during the one-hour long session could not convince the senators. They maintained sealed lips as if they had taken oath in a shrine and were afraid of violating the oath so as not to incure the wrath of violation.
Even the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Aliyu Sabi, whose duty it is to brief newsmen of developments during such closed-door sessions was not handy. He had, on storming out of the secret meeting, disappeared! He neither went to his office nor kept his known mobile lines on for calls! The development created suspicion and anxiety from the newsmen who had waited impatiently outside for the legislators to come out and disclose their discussion.
When some of them who were prevailed on earlier by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to maintain sealed lips could not stomach what they termed “national embarrassment”, they then spilled the beans—the 2016 Budget has been stolen from us. That was the subject of our discussion at the closed door session this morning, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi, told journalists.
It was a hard thing to believe. How can a budget proposal that was openly presented to the Senate and the House of Representatives by President Muhammadu Buhari go missing? How can the President and his economic team burn the midnight candle to prepare the country’s 2016 proposed expenditures only to be sabotaged by some people that don’t want his administration to succeed?
These were some rhetorical questions in the minds of the president’s admirers when the news broke last Tuesday that the 2016 Appropriation Bill, submitted to both chambers of the National Assembly, was missing.
Yes, the hard and soft copies of the 2016 budget documents which the president submitted to the National Assembly on December 22, 2015, was declared missing by the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, APC, Borno South, at a closed-door door meeting of the Senate that fateful day.
It was the day the Red Chamber had set to commence deliberation on the proposed budget.
Ndume explained that deliberation on the budget could therefore not begin until fresh copies of the documents were obtained from the presidency, the Ministry of Finance or that of national planning.
After extensive deliberation on the matter, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Danjuma Goje, APC, Gombe Central, was subsequently mandated to lead a search for the documents and liaise with the presidency, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, and the Ministry of National Planning on the matter.
It was gathered that senators of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, accused the Presidency of being behind the theft of the documents, an accusation rejected by their APC counterparts, who reportedly said it was too early to speculate.
The PDP senators also said they suspected that the presidency might have colluded with the management of the National Assembly to quietly withdraw the documents after detecting some discrepancies in them.
President Buhari had on December 22,2015 presented a N6.08 trillion budget for the fiscal year 2016 to a joint session of the National Assembly.
Copies were, however, not distributed to lawmakers before they proceeded on Christmas and New Year holidays.
But weeks after the budget was presented to lawmakers, there were speculations that Buhari had withdrawn the documents to enable him to correct some discrepancies, a claim the presidency and the national planning ministry denied.
The next day, being Thursday, the PDP senators, through Senator Enyinaya Abaribe, PDP Abia South, followed the matter, with a question to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to explain the status of the budget.
Saraki said the committee had up till Thursday, being next day, to submit the report.
Abaribe’s question was based on an initial pronouncement by Saraki that the senators were going to commence the debate on the budget on Tuesday, next week. But following the development in the media, the Senate, in an official statement, through its spokesman, Aliyu Sabi, denied that the budget was missing.
“We have reeled out our time table for working on the budget. So, how can the same budget be missing? The Senate President never said or admitted that the budget is missing and there was nothing that he said while presiding over the plenary that could be logically interpreted to mean an admission that the budget is missing.
But the defence put by the Senate spokesman was punctured by the Senate President,himself on Thursday, when he openly said the Red Chamber was not in possession of the original copy of the budget presented by the president.
Saraki, instead, alleged that the hard copy of the 2016 budget presented to the National Assembly, by the Presidency, was fake.
He specifically said the hard copy of the budget presented to the Senate was different from the one laid before the two chambers of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, shortly before both chambers embarked on the break, last December.
Saraki spoke, after the Senate resumed debate on the report of alleged missing budget, after about a two-hour long closed-door held to discuss the report of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, which was set up to investigate the alleged missing budget.
He particularly said the report of the committee fingered the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, for the act.
He said the Senate had suspended it’s initial plan to begin consideration of the 2016 appropriation bill until the Presidency submits the soft copy of the original budget that was laid before the two chambers of the legislature.
He said : “We have received the report of the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions on investigations surrounding 2016 Appropriation Bill. Our finding is that Senator Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate),Ita Enang printed copies of the 2016 Appropriation Bill and brought to the Senate.
“We have discovered that what he brought is different from the version presented by Mr President. We have resolved to consider only the version presented by Mr President as soon as we receive soft copy of the original document from the executive.
But briefing newsmen, after the day’s plenary, Senate spokesperson, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, said, “The report about a missing budget is not true.’”
“We don’t have a budget that is missing. But you recalled that the senate president did inform Nigerians that there is an issue that a committee was asked to investigate. The investigation by the committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, has been submitted in the executive session. It was a decision we took at the last executive session.
“Our findings are these: That Mr . President did lay the budget before the joint session of the National Assembly and thereafter, the senate went on recess and upon resumption, copies of the document were produced by Senator Ita Enang, who is the SSA to the President on National Assembly Matters ( Senate ) and the copies were submitted to Senate and House of Representatives.
“What we found out is that the document submitted by Senator Ita Enang, upon our resumption, has some differences, discrepancies with what was originally laid by Mr President in the joint sitting of the National Assembly.
“However, the senate in defence of its own integrity, honour, will not work with what has not been laid on the floor of the National Assembly. We are constitutionally mandated and duty bound to consider only that budget that had been so laid by Mr President.
“Right now, for reproduction, we are awaiting the soft copy of the originally submitted budget so that the National Assembly can reproduce the copy itself. That is the only time we can have confidence in the document we want to work with.
Meanwhile, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, who is at the centre of the development, refused to comment on the level of his involvement, as alleged by the Senate.
Enang told journalists who sought his view on the matter that he would not join issues with senators.
“I have chosen not to comment on this issue for personal reasons.
‘’We must work together to make the Senate as an institution to grow. The President is my boss and the senators are my bosses. I won’t join issues with them. So, let the whole matter remain as it is”, he said.