Threat to 2018 budget thickens in National Assembly
• Saraki, Dogara move to pacify lawmakers
• SGF meets Senate leadership
Less than 24 hours to President Muhammadu Buhari’s planned presentation of the 2018 budget estimates to the joint session of the National Assembly, lawmakers have intensified their opposition to the exercise.
The antagonism, which arose from the poor implementation of the 2017 budget, became open last Thursday at the House of Representatives when Speaker Yakubu Dogara presented Buhari’s request to appear at the joint session.The lawmakers’ response was an overwhelming rejection of Buhari’s request, even against Dogara’s attempt to persuade them otherwise.
Just yesterday, it emerged that the increasing tension around the president’s bid to present the proposal had degenerated to the extent that some groups of lawmakers had begun perfecting strategies to truncate the entire undertaking.
The opponents, who cut across political and ethno-regional boundaries in the National Assembly, hinged their protest on what a lawmaker described as an attempt by the executive arm of government to sabotage their political fortunes in their constituencies.
One lawmaker told The Guardian: “How else can one’s political career be frustrated? Since 2015, we have never had a single budget that recorded 50 per cent success in terms of implementation particularly with regard to capital projects. We had hoped that all these would be corrected in the 2017 budget but no! When we asked questions, no concrete response came forth, and you expect us to just keep quiet and allow the president to present another budget that may go the same way?”
He continued: “Remember that the 2018 budget is the last one to be executed fully by this administration. What will the president count as his legacy in terms of budget implementation? Also, take note that all these budget failures have very damning effects on members of the National Assembly who are the real representatives of the people. What do they expect us to tell our constituents? It is really a sad moment for us.”
To prevent what might turn out to be a very embarrassing scenario today, the leadership of the National Assembly has been holding secret meetings with lawmakers at different levels.At the Senate, the leadership met yesterday with the two party caucuses during which it received assurances that the budget presentation would not be disturbed.
It was also gathered that the Senate leadership specifically tasked some senators to move to the House of Representatives and assist the House leadership in persuading lawmakers to host the president at the budget event.The understanding of House of Representatives’ members is particularly important because the budget presentation session holds in that chamber.
Meanwhile, the new Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, met briefly with the Senate leadership yesterday for reasons not completely unconnected to the budget presentation hurdle.For over 45 minutes, the SGF met behind closed doors with Saraki and other principal officers during which he was reassured that the Senate was not leaving any stone unturned to have a hitch-free budget presentation.
Besides yesterday’s peace moves, a meeting of the body of the principal officers of the National Assembly has been scheduled to hold this morning in the National Assembly, to review the success or otherwise of the peace efforts so far made.
It was learnt that the meeting would be followed by an executive session in each chamber, during which the decision to completely drop all agitations against the president over poor budget implementation would be taken.
The central message is to allow the president present the budget proposal without hitches and later address the issue of poor budget implementation. Mustapha assured Saraki at the meeting of his desire to facilitate a better relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government.
“Let me put it on record that your leadership has helped tremendously in stabilising the polity and also given the purposeful direction that we require at the presidency, to ensure that we deliver on the promises we made to the Nigerian people when we sought their mandate in 2015.
“As the Secretary to the Government, my responsibility is to coordinate the implementation of government policies and ensure that these policies are synergised in such a manner that we would be able to deliver to the people of Nigeria the good things of life which they rightly deserve. In doing that, I will not be able to succeed in that task if I do not get the cooperation of the National Assembly. And that is why I am here today to extend the hand of friendship and solicit the cooperation of the National Assembly because our constitution is very explicit when it comes to the principle of separation of powers.
“I will say this and I will say it quite frankly, sir. We are not in a competition with the National Assembly. We are not rivals with the National Assembly. We are joint partners in this enterprise. If the National Assembly does not cooperate with the presidency, I am not very sure we will be able to achieve the desired result that we want to see, given the mandate that we have freely received from the people of Nigeria.
“So, this is basically to come and assure you that in every area that you are soliciting the cooperation of the presidency, being the Secretary to the Government, I would ensure that the National Assembly receives that cooperation because jointly if we work together, whatever has been lost in the past we can quickly redeem and recover and make progress, so that by the time the first four-year mandate that we received comes to an end we can show on our scorecard that these were the promises we made.”
Saraki in his response admitted: “It is truly a new phase of cooperation between the executive and the legislature and a good omen for our democracy and for our government.
“Your visit truly shows your intention of ensuring that you use your period as SGF to ensure that we truly work together to make Nigeria great. You are very right and I think people like us are not surprised because we know your antecedents. You know that in the presidential system that we are running in this democracy, it is not possible for us to be able to achieve all our goals if the executive and legislature do not have, not just an okay relationship, but a fantastic and very close relationship. And what you have done this afternoon has really brought that closer and I am sure that all my colleagues are going to appreciate that on the floor tomorrow when I communicate this to them.
“Let me assure you that being the first SGF that we have received here, you will definitely get our cooperation and this will definitely be a new page. And we will do all our best to ensure that whatever the issues are before you, we will act to see how best we can to resolve them and work together.”