President Muhammadu Buhari plans to scrutinise the 2016 Appropriation Bill before signing it, it was learnt yesterday.
The National Assembly passed the bill last week and sent it to the Presidency without its details.
When the President insisted that he will not sign the bill into law until he receives the details, some National Assembly members said it would not be out of place to sign.
They cited instances under former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua when budget were signed while the details were being worked on.
But Buhari yesterday in Washington DC maintained that he will go over the bill with a fine-tooth comb before signing it.
According to him, in view of the controversial “alteration” and “padding” of the budget proposals, he needs to review the Appropriation Bill to be certain that its contents tally with the proposal presented to the National Assembly.
“Some bureaucrats removed what we put in the proposal and replaced it with what they wanted. I have to look at the bill that has been passed by the National Assembly, ministry by ministry, to be sure that what has been brought back for me to sign is in line with our original submission,” the President said.
The lawmakers gave some of their grouses against the budget as:
- Many omissions;
- Multiple budget details;
- Budgetary allocations not in tandem with policy thrust; and
- Inadequate provision for personnel across board.
The popular thinking in social and political circles is that the trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal has delayed the release of the budget details to the Presidency.
It was learnt that most Senators and House of Representatives members, who are sympathetic to Saraki, wanted a “political solution” to the case in which Dr. Saraki is alleged to have falsified his assets declaration.
The senators have been trying to prevail on the Presidency to bend the rules for Saraki in line with the understanding struck by the Executive and the National Assembly on the smooth passage of the Appropriation Bill.
But the Presidency has stuck to its position that it is not behind Saraki’s travails.
Besides, some senators and members of the House of Representatives are said to be angry that the Presidency did not invoke the legislative culture of lobbying in resolving issues on the budget.
A source, who spoke in confidence, said: “Some Senators and House members are seeking a soft-landing for Saraki in line with the ‘gentleman agreement’ between the Executive and the Legislature on the smooth passage of the budget.
“Some members are angry that the Executive is not conceding enough to the Legislature on the need for a political solution to Saraki’s trial.
“This is a strong factor for the delay in releasing the details. They are seeking a compromise and this development has the backing of some leaders of the National Assembly.
“I think we might be in for a dirty politics between the Executive and the Legislature as long as Saraki’s trial lingers.”
Another source said: “Some members of the National Assembly are unhappy that there was no substantial lobbying by the Executive on the passage of the Appropriation Bill.
“During a budget session with some ministers, one of the influential members of the Appropriation Committee openly accused a cabinet member by saying: ‘Why did you issue a circular that nobody should lobby us?’ He was visibly angry on that day.
“They said they were not talking of monetary lobbying but constant rapport between the two arms. They alleged that ideally, if there was effective lobbying, it should not take the Executive about five months to get the budget ready and the National Assembly another five months to pass it into law.”
A government official however said: “I think there is more to it than the budget details, it appears other extraneous issues have crept into the matter. The Presidency is also studying the situation.
“From the session between the Appropriation Committee and relevant ministers, there was nothing more to harmonize.
“Nigerians should ask the lawmakers how they arrived at the highlights when they don’t have the details. Did they work from the answers to the questions?
“By laying the Appropriation Bill and passing it into law suggested that everything has been concluded. The row over budget details is baffling to the government.
Responding to a question, the government source added: “The Presidency has told National Assembly members that it was not behind Saraki’s travails. Its position is that the law should take its course.
“There was no gentleman agreement or preconditions for the passage of the budget.”
Declaring that his administration will continue to vigorously prosecute its war against corruption, President Buhari sought and received an assurance from Mr. Kerry that the United States Government will facilitate the repatriation of all stolen Nigerian funds found within the American banking system.
“It will greatly help our country if you assist us to recover all our stolen funds, which we can establish to be within your financial system,” the President told Mr. Kerry.
Acknowledging that the United States has been of great help to his administration in the retraining and re-equipping of the Nigerian Armed Forces that has resulted in the significant success already achieved against Boko Haram, President Buhari said the Federal Government is now working very hard to restore full normalcy in the Northeastern states.
“Boko Haram no longer holds any local government area. We are reconstructing damaged facilities and preparing the police to take over and reassert civilian control over areas affected by the insurgency,” the President said.
Responding, the Secretary of State said he has been told that the stolen Nigerian funds were in “billions of dollars”.
“It’s not easy to hide that amount of money and we are pretty good in tracing them,” Mr Kerry assured President Buhari.
He said United States Government officials will meet with the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to discuss further cooperation in that regard. EFCC Chairman Ibrahim Magu and Attorney-General of the Federation Abubakar Malami are in the United States.
Mr. Kerry applauded the Buhari Administration’s success in rolling back the Boko Haram insurgency, saying that the United States will continue to suport Nigeria to ensure that the terrorist sect is eliminated as a threat to national and regional security.
The Secretary of State also praised President Buhari’s clear order that the Armed Forces must show greater regard for the human rights of persons in the theatre of operations against Boko Haram.