By Taiye Odewale
Ahead of today’s presentation of the 2018 Budget by President Muhammadu Buhari, the leadership of the National Assembly, yesterday calmed frayed nerves following threat of opposition from some lawmakers, particularly those in the House of Representatives. The lawmakers had last week, openly showed their angst at plenary over what they considered as poor implementation of the 2017 Budget by the executive. There were some dissenting voices to the president’s communication when Speaker Yakubu Dogara presented it to members last Thursday at plenary. Like a gathering storm, the opposition persisted up until yesterday when the duo of Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Dogara had to pacify the lawmakers to have a change of heart
Significantly, the leadership of the two chambers met with considerable numbers of their colleagues on the need to be well disposed to the presentation, even as the new Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, visited the NASS leadership yesterday. The aggrieved lawmakers, who did not want to be mentioned, anchored their protest on what one of them described as the attempt by the executive arm of government to sabotage their political fortunes in their constituencies.
They said: “How else can one’s political career be frustrated? Since 2015, we have never had a single budget that recorded 50% success in terms of implementation, particularly with regards to capital projects? We had hoped that all these would be corrected in the 2017 budget, but no! It is even worse. “When we asked questions, no concrete response is forthcoming; and you expect us to just keep quiet and allow the President to present another budget that may go the same way. “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 eff ects 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.”
Apparently sensing a damage in the offing, there were attempts to stave off an embarrassing moment today (Tuesday), with the leadership of the National Assembly holding secret meetings with lawmakers at different levels. In the Senate for example, the leadership met yesterday with the two party caucuses during which it got assurances that the budget presentation would not be disrupted. It was also gathered that the Senate leadership specifically tasked some senators to move to the House to assist its leadership in persuading lawmakers to accept to host the President at the budget event.
“The understanding of members of the Lower House is particularly important, because the budget presentation session holds in that chamber,” explained the source. Besides, a meeting of the body of Principal Officers of the National Assembly had 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 will be followed by executive session in each chamber during which the decision to completely drop all agitation against the President over poor budget implementation would be reached.
SGF commends NASS
Meanwhile, the new SGF, Mr. Mustapha, met briefl y with the Senate and House of Representatives leadership yesterday for reasons not completely unconnected to the budget presentation palaver. 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.
During the visit, the SGF hailed the Senate for stabilising the nation’s polity. He said: “As SGF, my responsibility is to coordinate the implementation of government policies and to ensure that these policies are synergised in such a manner that we will be able to deliver to the good people of Nigeria the good things of life which they rightly deserve,” he said.
“I won’t be able to succeed in that task if I do not get the cooperation of the National Assembly. That is why I am here today to extend a hand of friendship to extend the hand of soliciting (for) the cooperation of the National Assembly. “Whatever that has been lost in the past, we can quickly regain and recover and make progress so that by the time the four-year fi rst mandate comes to an end, and we can show on our profile.
” “Mr. President is passionate about the three approaches he has promised. One, to fight for the security and defeat insurgency in every part of the country, two is to diversify the economy and thirdly to fight corruption. None of these three can be achieved if we do not get the support of the National Assembly, particularly now the Senate.” He thanked Saraki for his role in the 2015 presidential campaign and for personally attending his inauguration as SGF.
“We are here on a courtesy call to truly thank you personally for taking out time for attending my swearingin ceremony as SGF and to also convey the gratitude of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, and the entire government on the leadership you have given the National Assembly as a whole.
“Let me put it on record that your leadership has helped tremendously in stabilising the polity and also given a purposeful direction that we require by the Presidency to ensure that we deliver on the promises that we made to Nigerians when we sought for their mandate in 2015. “You ran for the Senate in your constituency in Kwara state and I remember vividly serving as the Director of Campaign, you were all over the place campaigning to ensure that President Muhammadu Buhari won the election and we did. Thank you so much for what you have done for APC victory.”
Visit symbolic –Saraki
Responding, the Senate President thanked the SGF for lending out a hand of friendship, and pledged the support of the Senate towards the delivery of President Buhari’s campaign promises. “Let me assure you that being the first SGF that we have received here, definitely you’ll get our own cooperation and definitely there will be a new relationship. Your visit is very symbolic. It’s bringing a new face of cooperation between the executive and the legislature, to our democracy and the government,” Saraki assured.