ANALYSIS: The Budget Tussle, Saraki-Led NASS And GovernanceLatest News, News Features/Analysis, Tajudeen Balogun Friday, April 15th, 2016
By Tajudeen Balogun, Head, African Examiner, Nigeria Bureau
It is very sad that Nigeria is again being embroiled in another avoidable and needless controversy within the government circle. Indeed, it is disturbing and regrettable that even, the present ruling ‘house’ in the country is divided within itself! So sad that Nigerians, 11 months after liberating themselves from a power drunk, inefficient and fraudulent ruling party, are still hoping to get the full delivery of socio-economic change which they collectively struggled and voted for. Indeed, it is very shameful that some ‘hawks’ within the present ruling party, just because to protect personal interest, have through the back door held down the government – making smooth governance impossible and by extension, plunging millions of Nigerians into avoidable anguish and pains. What type of country is this most populous black Nation called Nigeria?.
The present Leadership of the National Assembly (NASS) has become a source of worry to many. The type of politics currently going on, especially in the upper chamber is very painful, but has been for long anticipated. Still, I feel that the mistake made by many is that, the expediency and sense of focus displayed by the Senate Leadership during the Ministerial nominee screening last year, will remain, in particular, between the Senate and the executive arm of government.
Painfully, the effect of lack of cooperation between the two arms is biting, both on the government and more regrettably, the general public. Otherwise, why is the ongoing and seemingly unending tussle on the 2016 Appropriation Bill?
I have written previously that, had the harmonious relationship existed between President Muhammadu Buhari, the first rant on the budget – missing or being stolen, would not have been made, in the first place. So, that the lingering fiasco is being played out, did not come as a surprise to me. Unfortunately, the row turned messier when issue about padding followed.
The reason for current phase of the 2016 budget controversy is again needless and avoidable, if the dirty politics being played is put aside. Given the nasty experience at the budget defence stage – when it was discovered that figures were smuggled and bandied into the proposed spending of virtually all the Ministries, it is only natural that President Buhari being at the centre of the National disgrace, would want to be cautious on further steps he takes on the bill. And this allusion, obviously accounted for his decline about three weeks ago, to assent the Bill into law, owing to the absence of its details.
Of course, bubble burst when the details eventually arrived. One very prominent aspect of the discrepancy of it, is the missing of Lagos-Calabar rail project. I followed the issue and sincerely feel that the NASS was not fair to the present administration and most painfully, the Nigerian public on the matter. At this point of our National life, we do not need to treat issues as important as the subject, with rhetoric, or unnecessarily deploying semantic. Agreed that the project in question just like its counterpart (Lagos-Kano rail) estimated at N60 Billion, was not included in the original budget, yet, the same lawmakers admitted that the Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi included it, in the supplementary he took along with him, when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Transportation. Beside, the Committee’s Chairman, Senator Gbenga Ashafa confirmed that Amaechi did present the project to his committee.
Now the questions are; is it on record that the same committee rejected the Minister’s presentation on the matter during his appearance? If no, at what point did the NASS realize that the project should be dropped? Is it also on record as argued by the Senators that the Transportation committee at any time directed the Minister to get back to Mr. President to send the supplementary spending for the rail project? Better still, is it on record that the Senate at one time or the other, directed President Buhari to send the Lagos-Calabar rail project by way of supplementary bill? To the best of my knowledge, the Senate failed to do any of the above. So, why the noise, tussle and the debate on the project (inclusion or otherwise) in the budget? These Senators have failed to prove that they are partner in progress with this administration and for our common goals.
Another serious aspect in the budget details transmitted to President Buhari is about the N5 billion which was appropriated by the executive for NIGCOMSAT capital projects in the 36 States of the Federation, but which NASS arbitrarily (allegedly) altered the figure to about N2 billion, while it appropriated about N3 billion for training on the same project! If this comes out to be fact, the question is: did NASS carry the executive along in the alleged ‘criminal’ alteration? Again, why did NASS fail to be holistic in calling the attention of the appropriate arm of the executive on issues relating to the budget? After all, Ministers and heads at the Federal Ministries were called upon to make clarifications on certain aspects the lawmakers have issues with? Why not the same to NIGCOMSAT proposed budget? Why unilaterally altered the figure? And the same lawmakers are fuming that the executive and President Buhari should come out clean before the public on the budget debate. Who in actual fact, ought to be honest on this matter if not the lawmakers?
As they are busy attempting to achieve, so many Nigerians are not confused on the issue in focus; rather, they have the details – they know who is faking; those who are using the budget to wage political war, as well as those who are for them and working the future of Nigeria.
Yet, another dimension of the 2016 budget debate is the reported allegation by a faction of the NASS, accusing both chambers’ Chairmen committees on Appropriation – Senator Danjuma Goje and Hon. AbdulMumin Jubrin of manipulating the speedy passage of the Appropriation Bill as well as arbitrarily ‘doctoring’ many of its aspects. Whatever extent this allegation is factual, I do not know, and care less to. Again, I ask, can these legislators be taken seriously and trusted?
What more? As we speak, the House and Senate are clashing with each other with respect to the need to revisit the budget, especially to accommodate the controversial Lagos-Calabar rail project. While the former is pushing for the revisit, the latter is insisting that the sent version of the budget must be signed into law by Mr. President, while he could send the project to it, in a supplementary bill.
Given the different positions of the two chambers, who again is still in doubt, regarding the arrowhead of the ensuing tussle? It amused me when I received the news that the Rivers State chapter of the opposition PDP was insisting that Amaechi must remain as the Minister, despite the call for his sack by the PDP Senators. Imagine the same party and branch, demanding that the former State Governor should be-delisted from the Ministerial Nominees last year now doing the ‘solidarity’. Conspiracy may thrive for some time, but certainly, cannot last. Why then playing politics with issues with National interest and now pretending to be reasonable when it comes to issues with ethnic, religion or language concern? I reserve my comments on that.
It is the same manner the House and Senate are divided, the upper chamber and the supporters of the person fueling these surutu (squabbles) would soon clash with one another and fall apart.
Again, the question is: for how long would supporters of the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, majority of them, from the opposition, continue to clash with the executive at the expense of good governance and the Nigerian public?
The truth must be told that Saraki is using his position and majority support he enjoys in the upper chamber, to fight the executive arm of government, which he had expected to support him on his ongoing trial at the Code of Conduct (CCT) Tribunal.
Really, if I were President Buhari, I would do the same – refused to assent the battered Appropriation Bill. The reason is simply because the lingering debate is calculated to fight him back on his neutrality. But of what relevance is Saraki’s continued stay in his present position, despite many allegations hanging on his neck, the latest of which is his listing in the Panama Papers Leaks?
As the budget tussle remains stalemated, another crisis through Saraki and his supporters is brewing. An attempt to amend the act that established CCT has commenced and is ongoing. The bill which was sponsored this week by Peter Senator Nwaoboshi (PDP Delta State), as we speak, has passed second reading and subsequently referred to the Senate committee on Judiciary and Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions. That committee is headed by another pro-Saraki PDP Senator from Imo State.
The question is that, even if Saraki’s supporters scheme and succeeded to amend the CCT Law, to scuttle his travail in the special court, will President Buhari assent the Bill? The answer to that poser is more than clear. Therefore, in weeks to come, Nigerians should expect another round of Executive-Legislative scuffle.
As I mentioned earlier, those who advocate that President Buhari should assent the budget in its present state, must realize that the same Senate is not likely to give the Lagos-Calabar rail supplementary bill the required speedy passage. And Buhari expectedly, will not assent the amended CCT bill when it gets to him.
What is painful in the ongoing debacles and more to come, is that, good governance which Nigerians voted and yearn for will be delayed and most likely, suffered. But can Nigerians afford another wasted four years of democratic dispensation?
We must avoid this imminent disaster. Therefore, Senator Saraki and his supporters should and must be warned to put the country first, before their political interest. The present lull in the Nigerian economy is largely due to friction between the executive and legislature. In essence, the Senate President must be reasonable – take a bow and give way for a NASS that will work harmoniously with the executive in the interest of Nigeria. Posterity matters most.
Also, Senator Saraki must realize that jumping from one court to another will not safe him from the present trial. On Friday, he lost in another court, after similar experience at the apex court. His unrelenting drive across the courts to stop CCT from hearing allegation of false asset declaration against him is too embarrassing and unfortunate. In fact, it is an indication of admittance of guilt and spirited effort to avoid the wrath of the law. And the same man will pride himself as the Nigerian first Lawmaker? What an irony; what a shame and what a country!
Finally, if Nigerians wish that the present administration must perform and really deliver on its electoral promises, they must stand up and revolt against the present NASS leadership. This is the best way to go; otherwise, Senator Saraki and his supporters, within and outside his ruling APC are ready to run down this government, just to protect their political and personal interest. His PDP supporters are spoilers and their ultimate desire is that the present administration must fail. But should this be? Nigerians, over to you; the ball is in your court!
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