2016 budget controversy lingers

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

The controversy surrounding the 2016 budget continues to linger even as the first quarter of the year has ended.Right from the onset, the budget proposal was trailed with the allegations of padding, missing, subterranean withdrawal attempt, re-jigging by the executive and others; a development that nearly put the executive, and the legislature on the collision path. But despite promises by the National Assembly members to hasten the passage of the budget, which they did belatedly without making details available to the executive on time, fresh row has erupted between the executive and the National Assembly members on the passed budget.

The controversies included the alleged removal of N60 billion Lagos-Calabar coastal rail project, deduction of the budget estimates, and the National Assembly members’ secret inclusion of novel projects worth billions of Naira.

While the leadership of the National Assembly denied the alleged removal of the rail project, insisting that it was not originally in the 2016 budget proposal, the executive has also insisted that it was there, having been submitted at the Committee stage where it was defended by the Minister of Transport, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi.

Speaking during a television interview in Abuja on Monday, Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin said that Nigerians should be mindful of the fact that the National Assembly has the constitutional power to appropriate. But Jibrin didn’t tell Nigerians whether such constitutional powers include bringing into the budget new projects that were not proposed by the executive or removing budget proposals that were defended at the Committee stage.

The latest controversy over the budget appears to have pitched members of the National Assembly against each other. Lawmakers from the Southern part of the country have asked the President not to assent to the budget until the Lagos-Calabar rail project is restored back.

This is even as the Senate leadership has told President Buhari to send supplementary budget for the rail project. But some lawmakers have raised eyebrows over the N40 billion projects allocation to the leadership of both chambers and their principal officers.

In the allocation, it was alleged that Dogara and Jibrin got projects worth N3 Billion and N4.169 Billion to their respective constituencies. Some of the projects allocated to Jibrin and Dogara’s constituencies include N100 million for Town Hall, N150 Million for roads construction, N300 million for Solar streets lights, N1.445 billion for rehabilitation of Sharada-Kwanar Dogara, N200 for small irrigation scheme in Kiru and several others. Surprisingly since the latest budget row broke out, the Senate Committee Chairman on Appropriation Senator Danjuma Goje has been silent, while Jibrin his counterpart in the lower chamber has been on the defensive. Many have queried Goje’s studied silence at the peak of the row trailing the budget passage by the National Assembly.

With the allocation of fund for fresh projects that were not initially appropriated for by the executive, have the National Assembly members not padded the budget?

BudgetUnending Kogi Assembly Drama
Since the demise of the Kogi State All Progressive Congress (APC) governorship candidate in the last election, Alhaji Abubakar Audu before the conclusion of the election, and his substitution by the APC leadership with Alhaji Yahaya Bello, who was later declared winner of the election, the people of the state, the APC faithful, State Assembly members have not known peace.

It appears that the battle for the soul of the State has now shifted to the governorship election tribunal and the State House of Assembly where the lawmakers have been battling for the leadership of the House.

It would be recalled that after the inauguration of the 8th Kogi Assembly by the former governor of the State, Idris Wada, in June last year, Alhaji Momoh Jimoh Lawal emerged the Speaker after a heated argument that led to a walk-out of 10 of the 11 APC members in House.

Nothing was heard again until after the December governorship poll, when five members of the Assembly impeached Speaker Momoh and elected Umar Imam who was allegedly sworn-in in the deputy governor’s house. Crisis later erupted on the floor of the House. The crisis attracted the attention of the National Assembly members following a petition from Momoh’s faction of the House.

Relying on the Section 11(4) of the 1999 Constitution which empowers the National Assembly to takeover the State Assembly in time of crisis, the National Assembly after receiving its committee report on the crisis, sealed the Assembly and took over its functions. The decision restored temporary peace to the State.

However, nine members of the House loyal to Umar’s faction recently on the floor of House suspended 10 of their members including factional Speaker, Momoh.

Angered by the development, the House of Representatives has summoned the Minister of Justice, and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami and the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase to appear before its committee to explain their roles in the saga.

The National Assembly’s proclamation on taking over of Kogi Assembly was not the first of its kind since the constitutional amendments that gave National Assembly such powers. The National Assembly had at the peak of the House of Assembly crisis in River State took over the functions of the Assembly.

INEC And Its Barrage Of Inconclusive Polls
In recent times, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has consistently declared some of the elections it conducted inconclusive. This trend appeared to have become prevalent since coming into office of the present government and the appointment of Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu as Chairman of the Commission.

The first election conducted by the INEC under Yakubu’s leadership was the Kogi governorship poll which was declared inconclusive. Since then, other elections namely-Bayelsa governorship poll, some seats in the Rivers State rerun polls, Abuja Council Area polls were declared inconclusive before supplementary elections were conducted to conclude the exercise. Although INEC has also conducted and concluded some rerun elections without declaring them inconclusive, the consistency of declaring elections inconclusive has raised questions on the preparedness and capability of the electoral umpire to conduct and conclude elections at once.

Defection Continues As Nwodo, Wogu, Others Dump PDP
In the news within the week was the defection of the first civilian governor of Enugu State and former national chairman of the PDP, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, former minister of Labour and Productivity, Mr, Emeka Wogu and others from PDP to the APC. Nwodo has since denied the defection, insisting that he is still a PDP member with a caveat “even though PDP is not exciting”.

The defection shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody as what is permanent in Nigerian politics is personal interest, not permanent enemy. Before now other Southeast influential PDP politicians who have benefited from the party in the last 16 years it was in power have since dumped the party for the ruling APC immediately after 2015 polls. It is typical of Nigeria politics where political allegiance or ideology means nothing. What matters most is power, relevance and money.

That is why since the return of democracy 16 years ago, politicians have been defecting from one political party to another with ease.
Just like Wogu, Senator Fidelis Okoro who represented Enugu North in the Senate between 1999-2007 on the platform of PDP and AD has since defected to the APC. So also Senator Jim Nwobodo who was once senator representing Enugu-East zone on PDP platform and later became the presidential candidate of the defunct UNPP in 2003. The roll call is endless. Some have described the act as political harlotry, but others see it as tradition and legal.



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