There is a degree of uncertainty in the polity over the 2018 budget, as the Senate has continued to keep sealed mouth on the promise it made on March 21, 2018 to pass the appropriation bill on the 24th of last month.
The upper legislative chamber had on April 24 spent over two hours on executive session and went into the business of the day for just about 30 minutes without making reference to the 2018 budget it promised to pass on that day.
While the Red Chamber has kept mum on passage of the budget till date, close watchers of the goings-on in the polity say they are afraid that it might turn out to be another situation where the interest of Nigerians is sacrificed on the alter of political intrigues.
They cited the recent invasion of the Senate chamber by thugs allegedly sent by suspended Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta central, APC) and Senator Dino Melaye’s arrest drama as some of the reasons for their fears.
A staff of the National Assembly confided in LEADERSHIP yesterday that all Senate committees have submitted their reports to the Appropriation Committee whose duty is to collate these committee reports for onward submission to Senate plenary for debate and passage.
The source who did not want his name in print told our correspondent said, “You can see that there is no Senate committee that is still conducting public hearing on the budget, neither is there any ministry, department and agency still coming around to defend their 2018 budget.
“There is no sign that the budget will be passed this week, notwithstanding that the senate committees have submitted their reports to the Appropriation Committee, but we have to wait and see’’.
All attempt to reach Senate spokesman, Senator Abdullahi Sabi Aliyu to confirm Senate’s change of mind was not successful as his telephone lines were all switched off.
But a Senator who did not want to be mentioned in print said the invasion of the Senate by some thugs allegedly linked to Senator Omo-Agege who snatched the mace on April 19, 2018 was one of the unforeseen factors militating against passage of the budget.
He said, “Series of distractions such as the laying of siege to the house of Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi west, APC) on the said April 24 and his subsequent arrest on April 25 has beleaguered the Senate.
“Mind you, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) confirmed within that week that Senator Peter Nwaboshi (Delta North, PDP) has been in its custody for days.
“Senators upon Senators have been facing attack back in their constituencies for attempting to move a motion or contribute to the debate on the possible impeachable offences of the president.
“I am sure we will re-visit our promise to pass the budget within this period immediately we sort out these threats and other issues of harassment of Senators in their constituencies’’.
Another Senator who spoke to LEADERSHIP in confidence said the Senate has for the better time in the recent past been engaged on unnecessary wrangling amongst them.
“It’s obvious that we were besieged with several challenges, wrangling amongst some of our members, just as some of us are in one custody or the other, while many others are being interrogated by anti-graft agencies, Police and DSS.
“We are somehow pre-occupied by myriad of problems and one can’t leave those issues that are even life and integrity threatening, money and time consuming and be looking with all deserving attention on the issue of the 2018 budget.
“As I talk to you, Senators Jang, Wamakko, Albert Bassey, Danjuma Goje and so on are being questioned for various anti-corruption allegations by the EFCC. But the 2018 budget will soon be passed, although I can’t tell you when that will be done’’.
The Senate and the House of Representatives had on March 21, 2018 taken a decision to pass the 2018 budget on April 24.
Ahead of the date, the joint Committees on Appropriations were scheduled to lay the report on the budget in the two chambers on April 19.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, who had disclosed this in Abuja during March 21 plenary, said, “The consideration and passage of the budget will be on April 24. The committees will submit their report on April 19. This will be a harmonised report”.
The N8.612tn budget had been held up at the National Assembly since November 7, 2017 when President Muhammadu Buhari presented the estimates to a joint session of the Senate and the House.
The National Assembly and the Executive had in the past engage each other in a blame game over delay in passing the budget.
The heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government said they had furnished the legislature with all the documents on the budget, but the lawmakers said that to pass the budget, ministers and heads of the agencies must appear before the relevant committees to defend their proposals.
They accused the MDAs of shunning invitations to appear for budget defence and rather giving excuses for not coming to the National Assembly.
The issue got to a point last Thursday when the leadership of the National Assembly reported the attitude of the heads of the MDAs to Buhari during a meeting at the presidential villa, Abuja.
Senate Bukola Saraki and Speaker Dogara led other leaders and some senior members of the National Assembly to the meeting.
At the meeting, Buhari was said to have been informed that only the heads of 10 out of 60 MDAs had successfully appeared before the committees to defend their budget proposals.
It was reported that at the meeting, Buhari threatened to sack any head of MDAs who failed to appear before the National Assembly for the budget defence the next Friday.