Some legislators in the two chambers of the National Assembly (NASS) broke ranks with the official positions of NASS which blamed the Presidency for the fiasco surrounding the 2016 budget. While senators from the southern part of the country, in a formal position, asked the President not to give his assent to the budget, members of the House of Representatives in a closed-door session rose against Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, who they blamed for spearheading the disagreement.
The southern senators and members of the House of Representatives, who are from different ethnic and party lines, were angered by the perceived role of Jibrin in removing the Calabar –Lagos rail line from the federal budget. Whereas the Southern senators asked the President not to give his assent if the rail line is not included, the House requested the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, to liaise with President Muhammadu Buhari towards resolving the imbroglio.
The disagreement in the House occurred shortly after it went into a closed door session and Speaker Dogara sought explanation from Jibrin on the issues regarding the budget. As Jibrin got up to explain the procedure adopted, he was faced with criticisms from several members, leading to an uproar. Jibrin was accused of putting the executive and the legislature in an unnecessary face-off. Reading the resolution after the closed-door session, Speaker Dogara said: “In the interest of our people, in view of the prevailing economic situation, the House has decided to re-examine the 2016 budget.”
Briefing journalists after plenary, Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas, restated the claim that the rail project was not contained in the original budget proposal laid before the National Assembly by the President. “We are not saying that as a House that the Calabar-Lagos rail project is not good, we know it is a viable project. Our concern is that people say that this thing was in the budget, and we removed it. That is why we are making this clarification and again I want to state it clearly that up till now, as I speak, there is no communication from the executive, the President to the National Assembly about the budget.
“All that we read in the media are other people’s opinions, but Mr. President has not come out clearly, and this is my problem with the budget that has been passed because as we were told, this budget has been taken back to Ministries for them to examine and get back to the President. That is why we asked our speaker to liaise with the executive, let’s know what the issue is because we are elected by the people and we are here to serve Nigerians.”
An unnamed member of the House mentioned that the problem stated that the problem with the budget is mistrust and suspicion. “The Appropriation Committee Chairman was accused of making statements that were not approved by the House. He helped in escalating the situation, and that was why some members called for his resignation,” the lawmaker said.
Legislators from the South met separately on Tuesday night to come to the conclusion that the president should not sign the budget until it includes the Calabar-Lagos rail line.
The meeting of the South West senators took place at the home of Senator Gbenga Ashafa, APC, Lagos East, who himself is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Land Transport. As the controversy broke last week, Senator Ashafa on Monday confirmed that the Calabar-Lagos rail project was included in the report of his committee to the Senator Danjuma Goje-led Committee on Appropriation.
Senator Adesoji Akanbi, APC, Oyo South, who confirmed the meeting, said the APC caucus in the South West was solidly behind Ashafa’s stance. Senator Akanbi said that presidential assent to the budget document as presented, without the inclusion of the N60 billion Calabar-Lagos rail project, would not be in the interest of the people of the South West. “Personally, I see no reason the funds in the Ministry of Transport should be moved completely to the Ministry of Works for the construction of roads which belongs to state governments, without engineering design. We are seeking the reversion of this decision because the Calabar – Lagos rail project is very viable and it cuts across states in the South-South and South West, and it would galvanise the social and economic activities of the affected regions. “Apart from this, the project is a joint venture between Nigeria and China and it is time bound. Any attempt to leave it out of the budget this year will affect the execution of the project.”
“The situation is similar to what happened in the Committee on Land Transport because the supplementary budget presented by the Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, was allowed in the parliamentary process. “Why should the money in the transportation ministry be moved to the ministry of works and voted for the construction of roads that had no engineering design and do not even belong to the federal government?”
However, some legislators maintain that, since the budget has already been passed, the only option available to the Presidency to is to present a supplementary budget.