15 January 2016

Nigeria: Senate Accuses Presidency of Floating Fake Budget

Photo: Premium Times
President Muhammadu Buhari.

Abuja, Lagos — With an allegation by the Senate that the Presidency circulated fake copies of the 2016 budget, the controversy over the "missing" fiscal plan took a turn for the worse yesterday.

According to the Senate, the fake copies, which were brought by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Solomon Ita Enang, were completely different from the copy of the N6.08 trillion 2016 budget proposal presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to a joint session of the National Assembly on December 22, 2015.

The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, who made the allegation at the executive session, declared that the upper legislative chamber would treat only the original copy of the budget proposal as presented ‎by Buhari last Month.

When approached to respond to the accusation, Enang simply declined comments. He was asked to disclose the interest his efforts to serve the Senate with fake versions of the budget proposal were meant to serve.

However, the Presidency has said it is not prepared to engage the National Assembly in a war of words over the 2016 budget. It said it would rather build on the existing cordial relationship between the two arms of government.

The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said the executive would not do anything that would distract the lawmakers from working on the budget. His words: "We are happy that they are ready to get on with the budget. We don't want anything that will distract them from their work. The present level of relationship between the Executive and the Legislature is too precious to be expended on issues that are not compelling."

The Senate had on Tuesday directed its Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee to investigate allegations that the budget proposal was missing. Announcing the decision taken at the executive session which lasted over two hours‎ yesterday, Saraki said: "We have received the report of the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions on investigations surrounding 2016

Appropriation Bill. Our finding is that Senator Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate) printed copies of the 2016 Appropriation Bill and brought them to the Senate.

"We have discovered that what he brought is different from the version presented by Mr. President. We have resolved to consider only the version presented by Mr. President as soon as we receive soft copy of the original document from the Executive."

Even as the Senate claimed it was awaiting the soft copy of the original ‎budget proposal, it was learnt yesterday that the budget bill had already been gazetted for debate next week. The budget bill number SB.212 as gazetted was contained in the volume 13 of the ‎National Assembly Journal of January 12, 2016.

Explaining further, Senate spokesman, Aliu Saabi Abdullahi, told journalists at a press conference shortly after the Senate session, that Saraki was mandated to raise the issue of the fake budget with Buhari, adding that it was the reason Saraki visited Buhari on Tuesday.

He said the original copy of the budget was with the Senate but not in sufficient number to go round the senators, a reason the Senate decided to await the soft copy of that original version so that it could print it out for lawmakers.

When asked about the difference between the version brought by Buhari and the one by Enang, the Senate spokesman owned up that he had not gone through any of the two versions.

Findings, however, revealed that there are more unanswered questions regarding the missing budget saga. It is curious that Saraki who had on Wednesday declared that copies of the budget proposal would be distributed to senators yesterday, suddenly turned round to say that the Senate was awaiting the soft copy of the original version from the Presidency.

Abdullahi could not also provide answers to questions on whether the version of the budget proposal sent to the House of Representatives was the same with the version the Senate now has as an original version, as he simply declared that he lacked powers to speak for the House of Representatives.

The Senate spokesman said:"What we found out is that the document submitted by Ita Enang, upon our resumption, has some differences, discrepancies with what was originally laid by Mr. President at the joint sitting of the National Assembly.

"However, the Senate, in defence of its own integrity and honour, will not work with what has not been laid on the floor of the National Assembly. We are constitutionally mandated and duty bound to consider only that budget that had been so laid by Mr. President."

Also yesterday, the Senate summoned the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele, to appear before it on Tuesday to explain the continuous fall in the value of the naira.

Adopting the motion raised by the Senate Majority Leader, Ali Ndume, the Senate said the apex bank governor should explain what measures he would propose to resolve the serious economic crisis caused by the decline in naira value.

Ndume who raised the matter through Order 42 of the Senate Standing Rule that dealt with Matters of Urgent National Importance, lamented that the exchange rate had hit N305 per dollar.

Meanwhile, the National Working Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday urged the National Assembly to commence the impeachment of Buhari for what it called the submission of two versions of the 2016 budget.

In a statement by its National Chairman, Uche Secondus, the party said the National Assembly should thoroughly investigate the distortion of figures in the budget and ensure that appropriate sanctions were meted out to whoever had a hand in the dubious action that has brought embarrassment to the legislative body.

The party also asked the Ministers of Finance, Budget and National Planning to resign "having failed to provide the much- needed capacity in the management of the nation's economy resulting in the embarrassing crashing of the nation's currency to as low as N305 to a dollar."

Similarly, the party asked Emefiele to resign for plunging the country's currency policy into chaos, an action, it claimed, had thrown investors into total confusion.

But from the All Progressives Congress (APC) official lines came astounding silence yesterday over the call by the PDP for the impeachment of the president and removal of two of his ministers.

Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed maintained that he would not comment on the statement until he had seen it.

"I won't speak on it for two reasons: I must first look at the PDP statement and consult with key ministers before speaking on it," he said.

Also, the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, could not be reached on phone as his phone rang out more than five times without a response as at 9:00 p.m.

But the Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Timi Frank, said the presidency had made it clear that it submitted the document to the Senate. "The party stands by that," he stated.

On the PDP's call, he said: "They are just being mischievous, they are still suffering from the loss because they know that they cannot stand the political game right now. Nigerians have seen them as the ones that have destroyed Nigeria for the past 16 years.

"We call on Nigerians to disregard their call. We call on Nigerians to support the president and the change agenda."

In another development, a coalition of civil society organisations (CSOs) yesterday stormed the Lagos State House of Assembly in

Alausa to protest against detention of the National Security Adviser (NSA) to the last administration, Sambo Dasuki and Metuh, without trial.

The protesters, numbering about 50, described their detention as an act of sheer disobedience to court orders and the rule of law on the part of the Buhari-led administration.

The coalition, led by the Human Rights Defenders and Advocacy Centre (HDAC), said it was high time the National Assembly commenced impeachment proceedings against Buhari for alleged impunity.

But as the coalition was presenting its grouse to Lagos State lawmakers, another group, known as 'Lagos Stands With Buhari Rally', walked through the Assembly corridor in solidarity with the president.

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