President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly will meet on the controversial 2016 budget again on Friday (today).
Senate President Bukola Saraki, who is the Chairman of the National Assembly, is expected to lead the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, and other principal officers of the National Assembly to the meeting, which will hold at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa.
The Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, confirmed to journalists soon after the House rose from its plenary on Thursday that the meeting would take place “this week.”
He said, “Recall that we in the House, mandated our speaker to meet with Mr. President on the grey areas in the budget.
“The speaker reported back to us and the Presidency wrote us, identifying the grey areas to be worked on in the budget.
“Following this, the leaders of both chambers also met and agreed after discussions, to meet with Mr. President, hopefully, this week to conclude the deliberations.”
Buhari was said to have returned the budget to the National Assembly earlier in the week after his return from China on Saturday.
However, investigations by The PUNCH indicated that the meeting would hold on Friday (today).
“The meeting will be held on Friday; the point is that efforts are on by the executive and the National Assembly to resolve the budget dispute once and for all.
“Mr. President is expected to be at the meeting with his economic team so that all sides will be on the same page,” a senior legislative official told The PUNCH.
Findings showed that one of the “grey areas” remained the contentious Calabar-Lagos rail line project, which the executive insisted should be included in the budget.
There were also reported “distortions” introduced into the budget at the level of the Appropriation Committee of the National Assembly.
The PUNCH learnt that the National Assembly would go to the meeting with two possible options to present to Buhari.
“One is for Mr. President to present a supplementary budget. This will be in line with the position earlier taken by the Senate. The first, second and third readings of the bill can be done in both chambers in one day.
“The other option is for Mr. President to sign the budget already passed and the executive can go ahead to implement the areas that can be implemented immediately.
“We have to meet with Mr. President, lay all these issues out for discussion so that everyone will be on the same page,” the source added.
The National Assembly had passed the N6.06tn budget on March 23.
Buhari has refused to append his signature to the money bill, owing to disagreements between the executive and the National Assembly over the content.
Also, the House reviewed the ongoing trial of Saraki before the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged false asset declaration and resolved to stand by the position of the law.
According to the House, anyone facing trial is presumed to be innocent until found guilty.
“He is the Chairman of the National Assembly and we are aware that he has a case before the CCT.
“Our view is that we stand by the position of the law. Let the law take its full course,” Namdas stated.
Meanwhile, members of the Senate rose from a heated closed session again on Thursday with a decision to agree to meet Buhari before the end of the week to iron out all the grey areas causing the delay in the signing of the budget.
Specifically, a senator, who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity, explained that the Senate had agreed to remove all the padded aspects of the budget after the presidential assent.
He explained that the senators resolved to plead with Buhari to forward a supplementary budget that would take care of priority projects that were left out in the main budget that had already been passed.
The Senator added, “Members were angry with the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, following the revelation by his members, including his deputy, that they did not see the final copy of the budget before it was transmitted to the Presidency.
“Goje did not defend himself very well as it appeared that he allowed his counterpart in the House of Representatives to take full charge of the whole show; so, members asked him to step aside.
“To worsen the situation, all members of the Senate leadership said they did not see the copy of the budget before its submission.”
But the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, in an interview with journalists, denied that members called for Goje’s resignation.
He, however, confirmed that the Senate was already working on areas of concern to the Presidency concerning the budget and would meet with Buhari soon to resolve the issue.
Our correspondent gathered that the senators, in closed session, considered correspondence on the budget from Buhari.
The President in the letter, which was not read at open plenary by the presiding officer, Ike Ekweremadu, was said to have informed the federal lawmakers to revisit the grey areas causing friction between the two arms of government.
Ndume also seized the opportunity to defend the purchase of vehicles for the federal lawmakers.
He said, “I think it is being over-flogged. I say it several times; we are senators and these cars are not bought for our personal use.
“They are meant for the committees to do their work. A minister, who is appointed, not elected, drives a convoy of four cars. Permanent secretaries, directors, commissioners, House of Assembly members, and council chairmen all drive official vehicles.
“Are you all saying federal lawmakers should not have official vehicles? As a senator, I can ride in any means of transportation including Keke NAPEP, if it will take me to my destination.”
Ndume, on Thursday, inaugurated the 12-member committee of the Senate saddled with the responsibility of resolving all issues that had divided the red chamber since its inauguration in June 2015.
He said the committee had one week to carry out its assignment and report back to the Senate.