Less than 24 hours to President Muhammadu Buhari’s planned presentation of the 2018 budget estimates to the joint session of the National Assembly, lawmakers have intensified their opposition to the exercise.
The antagonism, which arose from the poor implementation of the 2017 budget, became open last Thursday at the House of Representatives when Speaker Yakubu Dogara presented Buhari’s request to appear at the joint session.The lawmakers’ response was an overwhelming rejection of Buhari’s request, even against Dogara’s attempt to persuade them otherwise.
Just yesterday, it emerged that the increasing tension around the president’s bid to present the proposal had degenerated to the extent that some groups of lawmakers had begun perfecting strategies to truncate the entire undertaking.
The opponents, who cut across political and ethno-regional boundaries in the National Assembly, hinged their protest on what a lawmaker described as an attempt by the executive arm of government to sabotage their political fortunes in their constituencies.
One lawmaker told The Guardian: “How else can one’s political career be frustrated? Since 2015, we have never had a single budget that recorded 50 per cent success in terms of implementation particularly with regard to capital projects. We had hoped that all these would be corrected in the 2017 budget but no! When we asked questions, no concrete response came forth, and you expect us to just keep quiet and allow the president to present another budget that may go the same way?”
He continued: “Remember that the 2018 budget is the last one to be executed fully by this administration. What will the president count as his legacy in terms of budget implementation? Also, take note that all these budget failures have very damning effects on members of the National Assembly who are the real representatives of the people. What do they expect us to tell our constituents? It is really a sad moment for us.”
To prevent what might turn out to be a very embarrassing scenario today, the leadership of the National Assembly has been holding secret meetings with lawmakers at different levels.At the Senate, the leadership met yesterday with the two party caucuses during which it received assurances that the budget presentation would not be disturbed.
It was also gathered that the Senate leadership specifically tasked some senators to move to the House of Representatives and assist the House leadership in persuading lawmakers to host the president at the budget event.The understanding of House of Representatives’ members is particularly important because the budget presentation session holds in that chamber.
Meanwhile, the new Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, met briefly with the Senate leadership yesterday for reasons not completely unconnected to the budget presentation hurdle.For over 45 minutes, the SGF met behind closed doors with Saraki and other principal officers during which he was reassured that the Senate was not leaving any stone unturned to have a hitch-free budget presentation.
Besides yesterday’s peace moves, a meeting of the body of the principal officers of the National Assembly has been scheduled to hold this morning in the National Assembly, to review the success or otherwise of the peace efforts so far made.
It was learnt that the meeting would be followed by an executive session in each chamber, during which the decision to completely drop all agitations against the president over poor budget implementation would be taken.
The central message is to allow the president present the budget proposal without hitches and later address the issue of poor budget implementation. Mustapha assured Saraki at the meeting of his desire to facilitate a better relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government.