Leadership (Abuja)

Nigeria: 2013 Budget - Jonathan Cuts Deal With NASS Leaders

The leadership of the National Assembly and the presidency were locked in a crucial meeting last night, in a last-minute effort to solve the 2013 budget imbroglio.

The meeting, said to be at the instance of President Goodluck Jonathan, was still in progress at press time.

A source disclosed to LEADERSHIP last night that the meeting might be the last between both arms of government, but there were strong indications that a truce would be reached, leading to an eventual signing of the bill into law by the president "probably before weekend".

"There is an end in sight to the budget impasse. Both camps are upbeat and are hopeful that the grey areas in the budget bill would be sorted out," said the source.

The NASS leadership led by the president of the Senate is said to be armed with a clean copy of the bill as requested by the president, a clear signal that an understanding was in the offing.

The visit was also preceded by a prolonged meeting between the minister of finance and coordinator of the Economic Team, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and the committees on appropriation of both chambers yesterday in the Senate wing.

The meeting held behind closed-doors, but it was learnt that the meeting trashed out the contending areas in the budget preparatory to the meeting between the leadership of NASS and the president last night.

The presidency had complained that the legislators injected constituency projects into the budget as well as reduced the personnel estimates submitted by the presidency.

However, sources revealed that a middle point approach to thaw the ice was being proposed: the presidency may agree to sign the budget first and forward a supplementary budget, which would be given expedited passage to take care of the shortfalls.

"It was not as if the budget was bloated. No. What happened was that the reduction could have been that the personnel cost was reduced to accommodate the constituency projects, which was not adequately captured in the budget proposal submitted to by the president," added the source who would not want his name in print.

The Senate subtly gave last Tuesday as deadline for the president to sign the budget or risk being overruled by it. The presidency, as a result, reached out to stem the tide, which was capable of igniting an unending fight between both arms of government.

But the Senate declined to move further, citing non-formal communication from the president on the exact status of the bill as reason not to move ahead with the planned overriding of his veto.

LEADERSHIP, however, learnt last night that the presidency had reminded the NASS leadership that, after all, the budget bill was held down in the National Assembly till the end of January, to the consternation of most lawmakers. "The presidency may have been emboldened by that discovery, which could have been the outcome of advice given by the attorney-general of the federation, Mr Mohammed Adoke (SAN).

But the meeting between the executive arm of government and the leadership of the National Assembly held at the first lady's wing of the presidential villa over the 2013 budget furore was more private, as journalists were asked to leave venue of the meeting even before it started.

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal and his deputy, Emeka Ihedioha, had arrived at the venue of the meeting at about 8:44pm, but were later ushered to join Senate President David Mark at the president's residence.

Minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, came to the venue of the meeting from the

president's house alongside the Director of Budget Office, Bright Okogu at about 9:40pm. As soon as they entered the first lady's conference room where the meeting was to hold, journalists were asked to leave the premises.

Also sighted at the meeting venue were Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim; Political Adviser to the President, Ahmed Gulak and other presidential aides and few ministers.

Meanwhile, The Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF) will today deliberate on the constitution review process as well as get an update on their ongoing litigation against the federal government over what they termed illegal deduction from the Excess Crude Account (ECA).

The governors are also billed to discuss the security situation in the country and the serious threat it poses to the polio eradication campaign in the north.

LEADERSHIP gathered that the governors were troubled by the recent spate of attacks against health workers.

Nine polio vaccinators were killed in Kano recently. Three doctors from North Korea were also murdered in Potiskum, Yobe State.

A source confided in LEADERSHIP that the governors would also deliberate on the 2013 budget stalemate between the executive and the legislature.

On constitution review, the governors have declared their opposition to the autonomy of local governments and canvassed the devolution of some powers to the states by the federal government.

The governors had set up a seven-man committee to interface with the National Assembly on the constitution review.

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