Budget details, Saraki’s trial may pit Buhari against lawmakers
There are indications that the details of the 2016 budget and the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki for an alleged false declaration of assets may pit the federal legislature and the executive against each other.
President Mohammadu Buhari, just back from an official visit to the United States, returns to his desk today to deal with some perceived discrepancies between a budget he sent to the National Assembly and what the lawmakers sent back to him. He is also awaiting details of the budget which he sought from the lawmakers before he traveled outside the country last week.
There are already grey areas that may cause outright rejection of the figures, even before the details are provided. For instance, budget analysts are asking: where were the figures that were said to have been padded into the budget over which the president said heads would roll? Were they padded back into the budget, into subheads where federal lawmakers will draw personal and political benefits?
Analysts specifically pointed out the additional N40 billion posted for special intervention/constituency projects. Buhari had assigned N60 billion to this, but when the fresh figure came from the National Assembly, it had risen to the previous N100 billion.
The votes for the constituency projects are meant to finance projects influenced by the legislators in the budget for their constituencies and it has always been alleged that they supervise its execution. It was also a source of friction in the eight years of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, but in the last administration, it had a smooth sail as part of measures by the executive then to get the cooperation of the National Assembly members for the speedy passage of the budget, as well as to allegedly cause the lawmakers to overlook some aspects of the document by lawmakers.
Already, the lawmakers have promised to produce details of the budget for the president by next week. National Assembly sources said the week “promises to be interesting” in the relationship between the legislature and the presidency, “except the president plays the political card and turns a blind eye for the sake of Nigerians that the budget is meant for.”
There are those who believe that the Executive arm of government is spoiling for a fight after being roundly criticised by the legislators for padding the budget. “It embarrassed the Executive arm and made them look as corrupt as the preceding administration, but the legislators did not spill all the beans, if the battle starts, it could get messy and we may have to wait a few more weeks than envisaged for the budget bill to become law,” a source, not wanting to be named, concluded.
The situation over the budget is coming just as senators in support of Saraki are angry and disappointed that all efforts they have made to see to the smooth running of the current administration, through the quick screening of ministers and passage of the budget are not being reciprocated by the presidency.
They cite what they describe as insistence to try Saraki for an offence similar to one for which a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) got less than a slap on the wrist, alleging “pure persecution.”
It was learnt that an unspoken agreement was reached that if the contending forces in the Upper House of the National Assembly resolved their differences, as they did last week, and the budget was passed, the travails of the number three citizen would gradually wind down .
Many were actually shocked when the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) insisted that the trial would go ahead, and the president told a world audience he would critically review the passed budget sent to him before assenting to it.
It was, however, learnt that those who may have spoken on behalf of the presidency did so, “either out of deception or did not have the confidence of the country’s number one citizen,” according to a presidency source.
To show their anger, a staunch supporter of Saraki went public, accusing the presidency’s chief technocrat of orchestrating the Senate President’s problem.
Chairman of Senate Committee on Navy, Isa Misau alleged last week that some principal characters in the current administration, including a chief figure in the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, were interfering in the trial of Saraki. He claimed that the same forces were frustrating political resolution of Saraki’s CCT travails.
His words: “Several efforts have been made and are still being made. However, there are challenges. Despite President Buhari’s commendable position not to interfere, there are some hardliners within this government who are still fueling this matter and are, as a matter of fact, interfering with the trial.
I reliably gathered that some of our elders in the Senate once went to meet a top presidency official in order to find solutions to this problem. They were surprised by some of his utterances and they reported back to some senators that he vowed that this matter would not be resolved until Saraki goes down for spiting the party leadership.”
He confirmed that senators of the APC recently decided to close ranks to ensure that there was unity of purpose but said the meeting had nothing to do with the travails of Saraki.
Yesterday, another source in the know, explained that the Senate president was resisting an outright trial in the CCT because it was obvious “to him and his group” that he would be destroyed politically, because of certain forces at play.
Another backer of the Senate president said yesterday: “They are not considering any compromise. He has saved them on many occasions, what has he not done, they don’t see all those ones as anything, except they achieve their aim to get him off the place. The ones that are more difficult, like the passing of ministers, so many other things, they are not looking at all those things, they have made up their minds.”