By Ahuraka Isah, Chibuzo Ukaibe, Jonathan Nda-Isaiah
The leadership of the National Assembly will today hold an emergency meeting to consider the supplementary budget for approval, especially the budgets of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies for the conduct of the 2019 general election.
LEADERSHIP gathered that Senate President Bukola Saraki yesterday summoned the leadership of both the Senate and the House of Representatives for the emergency meeting.
Ten leaders each from the Senate and the House of Representatives, making 20, will meet by 12:00pm today in the Senate wing of the National Assembly.
This is coming just as the presidency yesterday warned that should the National Assembly fail to reconvene and pass the supplementary budget, the government may shutdown in few months.
LEADERSHIP gathered that today’s meeting convened by the Senate president is a direct response to the appeal by the presidency for the federal legislature to reconvene and act on the president’s request on the virement and supplementary budget.
A reliable source in the National Assembly told our correspondent that INEC officials will join the National Assembly leadership by 1:00pm after the meeting of the lawmakers scheduled to begin by 12:00pm.
According to the source who did not want his name in print, INEC chairman, Professor Mahmud Yakubu will lead the commission’s officials to appear before the joint leadership of the National Assembly.
He said the meeting “may pave way for possible reconvening of sittings of both chambers this month for consideration and approval of the N242billion budgeted for conduct of the elections”.
President Muhammadu Buhari had last month, before the National Assembly went on recess, forwarded for approval N242billion budget estimates for the conduct of the 2019 elections.
President Buhari, in a letter seeking virement, explained that out of the proposed N242, 445, 322, 600.00 billion estimated funding of the 2019 general election, N164.104billion should be appropriated for by the National Assembly through virement, while the balance of N78.340billon would be provided for in the 2019 budget provisions.
He explained further that the N164billion needed by INEC this year should be expeditiously appropriated for by the legislature for early and effective preparations for the elections.
But the National Assembly, a week after receipt of the letter, precisely on the 24th of last month, adjourned for its yearly recess without considering the request.
Presidency Warns Against Impending Govt Shutdown
Meanwhile, the presidency warned against an impending halt of government activities, saying should the National Assembly fail to reconvene and pass the supplementary budget presented to it by President Buhari’s, government may shutdown in few months to come.
Senior Special assistant to the president on National Assembly matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, gave the warning after a meeting with Acting President Yemi Osinbajo and Senate leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan, at the presidential villa.
Speaking to State House correspondents, Enang reiterated his earlier appeal to the National Assembly to reconvene and pass the supplementary budget.
He said, ” Just in line with what the Senate Leader had said, we are still appealing to the National Assembly to reconvene. You remember that we passed the budget with understanding that the greater amount of it would be gotten by foreign loans.
“Although it was approved that there would be loans, amount to be gotten was not approved. The Fiscal Responsibility Act requires that the president should specifically state the amount the government wants to get from foreign loans and present it before the National Assembly. That letter has been presented to the National Assembly and the National Assembly has to pass that amount before the money could be obtained from foreign financing institutions.
“This is what we are asking and if it doesn’t happen in the next few months, we may have a complete government shutdown. What we are receiving from the federation accounts as the federal government share is not enough to sustain even 15 or 20 per cent of the budget. So, there may be a complete government shutdown and I know that Nigerians are not going to like it. That is why we are still appealing”.
The presidential aide also confirmed that the All Progressives Congress (APC) will be receiving Senate minority leader, Godswill Akpabio into their fold on Wednesday.
He said, “Now the leader of the Senate has said that they are 53, but I want to assure him that the APC have harvested more people from the PDP and other political parties.
“The head of the PDP in the Senate is formally joining the APC family and that will be in a big ceremony on Wednesday, the 8th of August in Akwa Ibom State. So, the head of the PDP who holds all the documents of the PDP, His Excellency, Distinguished Senator Godswill Obot Akpabio (CON), is coming over with a great team and other minorities will join the APC family and we are good and strong”.
On his part, Senate leader, Lawan, while appealing to his colleagues to reconvene and pass the supplementary budget, said the government would be stalled if they fail to approve the president’s request.
According to him, to do otherwise will lead to sabotage of not only the administration, but also the entire democratic process.
He said, “I have come to visit the acting president; you know this is our administrator. I have come to brief him on the situation in the Senate and the discussion also considered the need for National Assembly to convene immediately for us to pass the virement on the supplementary budget.
“You know that the capital aspect of the 2018 budget will be largely funded by foreign facilities and loans. Now, we need to approve that. We also need to approve other important and essential requests, especially that of INEC and other security agencies for our security to be improved.
“It is therefore very essential that we reconvene immediately to look into those issues because our government is almost stalled and I believe that if we are able to pass the supplementary budget and virement request from Mr President, this will enable our administration to provide the various infrastructure that we have planned to provide for Nigerians and also all the other aspects of national development.
“Certainly, in the case of INEC for example, INEC could pick some items on the shelves but there are so many important and essential items that INEC will have to place order that could take about two to three months”.
Lawan stressed the need for his colleagues to do the needful by convening the National Assembly immediately in the interest of Nigerians.
The Senate leader further disclosed that he briefed the acting president on the situation in the Senate as regards the conflicting information coming out from the Senate caucuses.
He also maintained that the APC are still the majority in the Senate with 53 lawmakers, even as he challenged the Peoples Democratic Party to come out with their own figures.
He noted: “We said we are the majority, the APC caucus. That remains so because we remain 53 Senators in the APC caucus and we have given the media the list of everyone.
“I read it about a week ago. Every Senator’s name was there and his state or her state and the PDP caucus will tell you they are in the majority. I will take this opportunity for the third time to challenge the PDP caucus to publish the names of the PDP caucus members.
“They have never done that, they will only tell you that they are 55, they are 60, they are 65. Publish the names let Nigerians see where the Senators are. We have done our own and it is also important that whatever crisis we have in the Senate and indeed in the National Assembly, Nigerians don’t suffer.
“We as politicians can do anything; it is a parliamentary practice. In fact, in parliament, worse things could happen but parliaments that are responsible and responsive will always take into account the national interest and work assiduously to ensure that the country does not suffer.
“Here, in our case, we have our budget suffering; we are not able to implement anything today because we are not able as a legislature to pass the request of Mr President. So, I believe that we should be on the same page with Nigerians. We are not aliens; we are representing Nigerians”.
Lawan also refuted allegations that some members of the APC in the Senate tried to force themselves into the Senate chamber to impeach the Senate president.
His words: “Did you use the word that some Senators attempted to break into the Senate chamber? I am hearing it for the first time. There is a process going into that chamber. I didn’t hear it before that some senators attempted to break into that chamber.
“Possibly, you must have the names of Senators but I want to tell you that we are law abiding and that we will do everything possible in the national interest but we will try to keep within our processes and our procedures”.
Asked about what the APC senators would do if the presiding officers do not reconvene the Senate, he replied: “The presiding officers are people like you and I; they are Nigerians; they listen or they should listen. So, I don’t even to contemplate that the presiding officers will say they will not reconvene the chambers of the National Assembly based on the fundamental and primary request of Mr President of passing the budget.
“So, I believe that the presiding officers should do the needful to reconvene the two chambers of the National Assembly to give us the opportunity to pass the supplementary budget and virement request of Mr President as quickly as possible”.
It’s A Ploy To Blackmail NASS – PDP
But the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday accused the presidency of blackmailing the National Assembly over the budget for the 2019 general election.
National publicity secretary of the party, Kola Ologbondiyan, who made this allegation a press conference yesterday, also accused the presidency of inducing lawmakers with $1 million each to impeach Senate President Bukola Saraki and the deputy, Sen Ike Ekweremadu, upon resumption.
Ologbondiyan further stated that the Senate minority leader, Sen Godswill Akpabio, had not notified the party of his defection to the APC, adding that the senator told them he was travelling to Germany, and not London to meet President Muhammadu Buhari.
While adding that the party had no issues with the senator, he, however, said Nigerians will be disappointed with his defection.
The PDP further said the Presidency was seeking to force “the reopening of the Senate contrary to Section 12 of the Senate Standing Rules for which the Presidency and the APC are offering lawmakers from both chambers an inducement of the sum of $1 million each with the aim of impeaching Senate President Bukola Saraki and Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu.
“The executive arm, particularly the Buhari presidency, is out to blackmail members of the National Assembly and that is the absolute truth that we can’t afford do depart from.
“How can they predicate the fund meant for election on the proposal for constituency projects. How can a Buhari presidency sit back and declare that the money meant for 2019 election will be based on an amendment of an appropriation bill that he submitted? Why don’t they bring a supplementary budget?
“That is why I said that people like Senator Ita Enang, who has spent all his life in the National Assembly before crossing to the executive, has a responsibility of advising the executive on what to do. They are merely blackmailing the Nation Assembly by saying they should come back from their holiday. The president has gone on a 10-day recess, can anybody force him back?” he asked.
The PDP also reacted to imminent defection of the Senate minority leader, Sen Godswill Akpabio and his meeting with President Buhari in London on Sunday.
Ologbondiyan noted that the lawmaker who is defecting to the APC, told the PDP national leadership that “he was going to Germany and if he ended up in London”
The PDP spokesman, when asked to explain the senator’s meeting with Buhari, said, “Maybe he had a technical stopover in London, like the president did before.
“The PDP has no issues with Akpabio whatsoever and the party will not respond to speculations of his readiness to defect. We have no notice of the said defection and all I can say now is that we will cross the bridge when we get there.”
The spokesman while knocking this administration over its anti-corruption war, said it is providing cover for corrupt elements in government while simultaneously harassing opposition figures under the guise of fighting corruption.
He further charged President Muhammadu Buhari and the ruling APC-led administration to tell Nigerians what they know about the N9 trillion ($25 billion) contract scam allegedly perpetrated by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) on their watch.
He also urged the President to come clean and live up to his name as ‘Mr. Clean’ by throwing more light on the N48 billion meant for the upkeep of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), which was allegedly diverted by officials of government.
Ologbondiyan said, “The PDP challenges the Buhari Presidency and the APC to explain to the world why his anti-corruption fight has not been extended to the internationally reported diversion and alleged stealing of N18 billion out of the N48 billion approved by the National Assembly for the rehabilitation of millions of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and rebuilding of six northeast states ravaged by insurgency in the 2017 budget.”
The PDP spokesman also challenged Buhari in his capacity as substantive minister of petroleum resources to clear the air on subsidy payment for Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), noting that the N58 fuel tax being paid by Nigerians under his stewardship calls for soul-searching.
“The PDP challenges President Buhari to explain to Nigerians whose interest he is protecting by refusing to allow an independent inquest into the alleged corruption in the handling of the N1.4 trillion oil subsidy regime allegedly involving officials at the Presidency, particularly those benefiting from alleged N58 hidden tax per litre which Nigerians have continued to bear since the fuel price increased from PDP subsidised cost of N87 to presumably unsubsidised cost of N145.”
He also berated the federal government for allegedly suppressing investigation into the alleged use of 18 unregistered companies to lift and divert N1.1 trillion worth of crude oil in 2017.
Ologbondiyan further carpeted the Buhari administration over its perceived unwillingness to prosecute its officials indicted in corrupt activities.
He said, “Can the Buhari Presidency and APC claim to be unaware of the damning report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), a public document which detailed how officials were using the bulk of the resources meant for the IDPs on contracts that were found to have immensely benefitted officials of the APC government including the sacked Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal?
“The PDP challenges the Presidency to explain why his ‘famed’ anti-corruption dragnet has not been cast on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) despite widely circulated reports of alleged stealing of over N25 billion meant for the health needs of the people from the account of the Scheme in the Treasury Single Account (TSA) by APC agents.
“Can President Buhari, the African Union anti-corruption champion, explain why his Presidency recalled and reinstated the indicted executive secretary of the Scheme, Prof Usman Yakubu, while he was still being quizzed by the Economic ad Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged corruption?”