Baring any change of plan, President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to receive a clean, revised copy of the N6.06 trillion 2016 budget and sign it into law this week.
Last Wednesday, Presidency and National Assembly officials met for only 10 minutes in Aso Rock, after series of earlier meetings and agreed on some “grey areas” to be corrected before the president assents to the bill.
For the first time in the history of the Fourth Republic, an Appropriation Bill will be signed in the second quarter of a new year.
The 2016 budget has been dogged with controversy since last December.
Shortly after President Buhari presented the 2016 budget to a joint session of the National Assembly on December 22, 2015, reports of different versions of the document in circulation surfaced.
The first report indicated that the document had been withdrawn barely a week after presentation while another report said the entire budget was not withdrawn but was only being “re-worked.”
Taking it up from there, in January, some federal lawmakers told Nigerians that the version presented to them for consideration was remarkably different from the one the president submitted in December.
While the controversy raged, fingers were pointed in the direction of Buhari’s National Assembly Adviser, Senator Ita Enang as “doctoring” the budget. He denied the allegation.
The controversy died down only when the president submitted a final version which contained “corrections.”
However, that would not be the end of the controversy that would dog the budget.
Allegations of padding and removal of critical projects crucial to the Change Agenda of the Buhari administration soon surfaced and the executive and the legislature engaged in finger-pointing.
The budget was eventually passed on March 23 and a supposedly clean copy forwarded to President Buhari for assent on April 7.
It was at that point that the centre could no longer hold between the two arms of government.
The president declined assent when he noticed some critical projects were either expunged or allocated funds in the budget were moved to projects that did not exist in the document he submitted to lawmakers for consideration and passage.
In a departure from the past, Buhari forwarded details of each sectoral allocation to the relevant ministry and asked ministers to compare what was submitted and what was passed.
Thereafter, at an emergency Federal Executive Council Meeting (FEC), chaired by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, government got the real details of the padding and projects that were expunged from the budget.
The Presidency said it observed that the National Assembly introduced some new clauses which may cause problems in implementation.
Also, some figures in the bill that was passed did not correspond with the figures in the details accompanying the bill.
The Presidency insisted that some important projects, including the N60 billion Calabar-Lagos rail and the design and feasibility studies for several standard gauge rail projects such as the Calabar-Ogoja -Yola-Maiduguri and the Kano- Nguru-Gashau-Damaturu-Ngalastandard gauge lines, were expunged.
Besides, the amounts allocated to a number of important projects in a number of key ministries were reduced in such a manner that they could not be implemented if signed into law, a source at the Ministry of Budget and National Planning told Sunday Sun.
In addition, the Presidency rejected movement of monies from expunged projects to those that were not even on the table for inclusion in the budget. The National Assembly fired back that movement of the funds were to finance projects that would impact on the people and that the cuts were mere savings.
Constitutionally, only the executive can propose and allocate funds for projects in the budget. But, with former administrations, there had always been pre-budget meetings where lawmakers would identify projects, their sites and costs and the executive could, if convinced, include them in the budget. Besides, lawmakers get billions of naira allocations for constituency projects. Examples of the major projects that have had their votes reduced in the 2016 budget, vis-à-vis the executive proposal are: Lagos – Ibadan expressway, the second Niger Bridge, Odukpani-Itu-Ikot Ekpene, Benin- Shagamu, the Idu-Kaduna rail project, and the Itakpe-Warri signalling project.
Also, the N4.06 billion for the provision for test kits, vaccines and anti-retroviral drugs in votes for the Federal Ministry of Health was reduced to just N1.01 billion.
In reducing the ministry’s budget and allocating the extra to other projects means that by the last quarter of this year, in October 2016, there would be vaccines stock-out, which may affect the battle against HIV, another source said.
Back in the National Assembly, when the budget controversy broke, discordant tunes emanated from both chambers.
The House of Representatives offered to reconsider the Appropriation Bill but Senate insisted that the president must first assent and thereafter, collate areas of concern to be submitted in a Supplementary Appropriation Bill.
The Presidency rejected this option.
From within the chambers, there was also discord. Reports indicated that an Appropriation Committee chairman in one of the chambers unilaterally worked on the project “because we believe he has the experience, having worked in one of such committees in the Seventh National Assembly. We heard he was given a free hand to work on the budget by his colleague in the other chamber and by his presiding officer…
“In the process, first, he allocated N4.1 billion worth of projects to his constituency and to the constituencies of other presiding officers in both chambers. Secondly, the allocation was graduated; committee chairmen got N400 million worth of projects in their constituencies while their deputies got N200 million worth of projects.
“But, one principal officer in one of the chambers, from the opposition party, was shortchanged. His constituency was not included in the N4.1 billion largesse. He only managed to get N400 million and thought that was the money shared across board. That was why he was quite vociferous that the Constitution empowers the National Assembly to appropriate funds for the executive to implement.
“He was livid when reports showed the allocation formula for his colleagues…”
In another instance, the National Assembly arrogated powers it did not derive from the Constitution to itself when it unilaterally took N10 billion from the Service Wide Votes, which is under the purview of the Presidency and allocated it as funds to rebuild the North East which has suffered much damage from Boko Haram activities.
Sunday Sun also gathered that a bizarre situation was when one of the Appropriation Committee chairman in one of the chambers admitted he didn’t even scrutinise the final details before he appended his signature and submitted the report in the chamber.
Also, some National Assembly sources said at one of the series of reconciliatory meetings with the executive, the two presiding officers openly admitted they were “not in the know of the budget details before it was submitted to President Buhari!”
However, in a new twist last Sunday, Appropriation Committee chairmen of the Senate, Danjuma Goje and his House of Representatives counterpart, Abdulmumin Jibrin, in a joint statement, appealed to their colleagues to “accede to the Presidency’s request “to have a second look at the details and make necessary amendments so that he can give assent.”
They said with their cooperation, the revised version could be done within a week.
A ranking senator told Daily Sun that lawmakers shifted ground in the Red Chamber when, at a meeting with the president, “what they eventually saw in the document passed to Buhari for assent was different from what was being peddled in the public space.
“You know we had been saying we did not receive any communication from the Presidency. The issue that was in discussion was the Calabar-Lagos rail project and a few others; but when we received communication from the Presidency, we discovered that there were far more fundamental issues than the ones people were talking about. With that realisation, it was just reasonable that we take a second look at it in the interest of the country and the people”.
When contacted, a senior official in the Budget and National Planning Ministry said the executive does not want to join issues with the legislature on this issue.
“Our focus is to insist that the right thing be done. If the National Assembly has realized that they made some mistakes and are honourable enough to accept it and reconsider the document they sent, we should encourage them so that this matter is put behind us.”
He pointed out that the president had, at no time, expected the budget to be returned to him the way he sent it.
Following a rapprochement between the two arms of government, last Wednesday, a small team of lawmakers and Presidency officials worked on the “grey areas” last week and are expected to submit a clean version to the president for assent this week. -The Sun