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2014 Budget: “Put Your House in Order” – Jonathan tells National Assembly

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan

Kayode Adelowokan, Lagos

President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday took a swipe at the members of the National Assembly, admonishing them to put their house in order and act in unison, over the 2014 budget.

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan

This knock came as the president again refused to show up at the annual budget presentation where he was expected to lay the 2014 Appropriation Bill before the joint session of the National Assembly as required by the 1999 Constitution.

This marked the second postponement of the ceremony after that of 12th and 19th November 2013 dates.

Jonathan, who said the current scenario playing out in the parliament made Tuesday’s re-scheduled presentation not feasible, also added that he would still wait for the lawmakers to reach a new date.

He said he could only present the budget proposal only if the two chambers harmonise their positions on certain areas of the budget.

But he however noted that the new date should come in shortest possible time from the National Assembly.

Jonathan’s position was clearly stated in a letter he wrote to the National Assembly on Tuesday and read by Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal at about 11.30am.

Jonathan’s scheduled visit to the parliament before it was aborted few minutes before 11am was planned for 12noon.

Some of the 469 Senators and Reps including security details and supportive staff of the National Assembly were disappointed at the breaking of the news that Mr Jonathan would not come again.

In the letter, Jonathan told the lawmakers that he was not ready to present the budget before the lawmakers until they put their house in order.

He specifically cited the dichotomy in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, (2014 MTEF) just passed last week by the two chambers.

The president raised concerns that while the Senate passed $76.5 per barrel, the House passed $79 per barrel.

Jonathan had initially proposed $74 per barrel as the oil benchmark in his communication to the parliament.

Going by the latest development, this is the first time the National Assembly is facing uncertainty in the date of budget presentation since 1999.

The letter dated yesterday reads; “You will recall that I had written to the National Assembly to present the 2014 budget on Tuesday 19th November, 2013. However, considering the facts that whereas the distinguished senate has approved the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF based on the benchmark of $76.5 per barrel, the honourable House of Representatives has used a benchmark of $ 79 per barrel”

“It is infeasible for me to present the budget in the absence of a harmonised position on the MTEF. In this circumstance, I find it necessary to defer the presentation of the 2014 budget to the joint session of the National Assembly until such a time when both respective chambers would have harmonised their position in the MTEF. It is my hope that this would be in the shortest possible time”

Meanwhile there were indications Tuesday that Jonathan’s decision not to show up in the ceremony may have stemmed from security concerns.

Unconfirmed reports said Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal encountered difficulties in controlling his colleagues to act within utmost maturity during the ceremony.

It was gathered that the anti-Jonathan elements in the House of Reps were hatching plans to embarrass him during the visit.

Ploy of the lawmakers especially those loyal to Usman Baraje-led group of PDP was said to shout down and boo the president while making his presentation.

Young members of the group from the states under the G7 governors and those from All Progressives Change, APC in South/West states were said to have assigned to do the shouting match.

Informed sources said repeated efforts by Tambuwal in the last few days to stop the group failed through holding of several night meetings.

The development which later led to an emergency PDP caucus Monday night still met a brickwall.

Those at the meeting held under a closed door situation said Jonathan’s loyalists in the House eventually drew a battle line with Tambuwal and the Baraje lawmakers.

It was later resolved that since the Baraje group could scuttle the president’s visit, option of telling Jonathan not to come was arrived at.

Also gathered was the fact that leadership of Bamanga Tukur-led group passed the tip-off to the president.

Meanwhile spokesperson of the House Zakari Mohammed yesterday denied the allegation of likely unruly behaviour of his colleagues towards Jonathan.

At a press conference shortly after the cancellation of the visit, Mohammed said members of the House are too mature for such a misdemeanour.

He said having brought the budget in 2011 and 2012 with harmonisation of MTEF between the two chambers, there was no excuse for Jonathan to bring up the current excuse.

Also, at an emergency meeting later held by APC Reps Caucus yesterday morning and presided over by House Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila a new twist was introduced.

It was resolved at the meeting that the caucus would resist any move by Jonathan to pass the budget to the National Assembly by proxy.

The APC lawmakers said they were ready to give Jonathan a new date rather than sending the document to them.

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