By Nuel Suji – The Senate on Monday frown at the controversies that has trailed President Muhammadu Buhari’s delay in signing the 2016 budget, lamenting that the National Assembly has suffered all manners of falsehood, deliberate distortion of facts, and outright blackmail, deliberately aimed at poisoning the minds of the people against the institution of the National Assembly.
The Senate particularly expressed anger over what it called “latest antic of Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi,” on the questionable removal of fund meant for Lagos-Calabar rail project in the budget, describing it as “reckless, uncalled for and dangerously divisive.”
“We refused to play to the gallery and instead helped the Executive to manage the hugely embarrassing situation it has brought upon itself, but enough is enough,” it said in a statement.
The statement signed by Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Aliyu Abdullahi, rejected claim by the Executive Arm that the National Assembly tampered with some aspects of the 2016 budget.
According to the statement, “the National Assembly had bent backwards to produce a coherent document out of the excessively flawed and chaotic versions of the budget proposal submitted to it.
“While executive is mandated to prepare and lay before the National Assembly a proposed budget detailing projects to be executed, it should be made clear that the responsibility and power of appropriation lies with National Assembly.
“If the presidency expects us to return the budget proposal to them without any adjustments, then some people must be living in a different era and probably have not come to terms with democracy.
The Senate insisted that there was no provision for the Lagos-Calabar rail project in the proposal presented to it by Buhari, challenging anyone with contrary position to come forward with such evidence.
“We make bold to say, however, that the said Lagos-Calabar rail project was not included in the budget proposal presented to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“And, we challenge anyone who has any evidence to the contrary to present such to Nigerians,’’ it said.
It frowned at what it called a deliberate attempt to poison the minds of Nigerians against the federal lawmakers.
“We have endured this with equanimity (calmness) in the overall interest of Nigerians even when the original submission was surreptitiously swapped.
“We ended up having two versions of the budget which was almost incomprehensible and heavily padded in a manner that betrays lack of coordination and gross incompetence.
“This latest antic of this particular Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, is reckless, uncalled for and dangerously divisive.
“Apart from setting the people of the southern part of the country against their northern compatriots, it potentially sets the people against their lawmakers from the concerned constituencies and sets the lawmakers against themselves,’’ the senate said.
The statement added that “this manner of reprehensible mischief has no place in a democracy.
“We hereby demand from Mr Amaechi a publicly tendered apology if he is not able to show evidence that the Lagos-Calabar road project was included in the budget. Otherwise, he should resign forthwith.
“Finally, by the provision of Section 81 (4) (a) and (b) of the Constitution, the President is allowed to sign the budget and kick-start the implementation of the other areas that constitute over 90 percent of the budget’’.
The Senate urged the President to sign the budget and begin implementation of areas where there is agreement between both arms, even as we engage ourselves to resolve the contentious areas, if there were any.
“We therefore maintain that even these contrived discrepancies are not sufficient excuse not to sign the budget into law.
“We therefore urge the President to sign the 2016 budget without further delay.
“For every additional day that the president withholds his assent from the bill, the hardship in the land, which is already becoming intolerable for the masses of our people, gets even more complicated.
“Certainly, as primary representatives of the people, we shall not vacate our responsibility and watch the people continue to suffer unduly,’’ the statement added.