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Frankly Speaking With Jola Sotubo Who’s to blame for “errors” in 2016 budget?

Nigeria’s 2016 budget has been the subject of a never-ending drama since President Muhammadu Buhari presented it to the National Assembly in December 2015.

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President Muhammadu Buhari delivering the 2016 budget at the National Assembly in Abuja, Nigeria December 22, 2015. play President Muhammadu Buhari delivering the 2016 budget at the National Assembly in Abuja, Nigeria December 22, 2015. (Reuters)

Nigeria’s 2016 budget has been the subject of a never-ending drama since President Muhammadu Buhari presented it to the National Assembly in December 2015.

First of all, in January 2016, the document was reported to have gone missing from the Assembly.

This was denied by Senate spokesman, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi and Senate Leader, Ali Ndume.

“We have reeled out our time table for working on the budget. So, how can the same budget be missing?” Abdullahi said.

“The budget cannot be missing. A copy can be laid, it is a symbolic copy, the budget will be in custody of both Chambers. It cannot be stolen, it cannot be missing. Once the budget is laid in the National Assembly, it has become the property of National Assembly,” Ndume added.

Senate President, Bukola Saraki later said that two different copies of the budget had been submitted to the Assembly.

“The report of the committee revealed that the Senate received two versions of the 2016 Appropriation Bill – one from President Muhammadu Buhari at the December 22nd, 2015 Joint Session of the National Assembly, and another from the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang,” Saraki said on January 14.

More intrigue followed when it was revealed that the budget had been “padded” and contained several suspicious items.

The budget provided the sum of N795 million to update the website of the Federal Ministry of Solid Mineral Development, N30.8 million to rent the State House in the Presidential Villa and N46.5 billion for the purchase of vehicles, computers and furniture, an item which was replicated 24 times in the document.

Buhari however blamed the scandal on a “budget mafia” and said it was the work of saboteurs within his government.

The controversy led to the sacking of the Director General of the budget office, Yahaya Gusau and the redeployment of 22 officials from the Ministry of Budget and National Planning.

The errors found in the budget also led to a delay in its passage. The Senate had promised, in January, that the budget would be passed before the end of February, but this didn’t happen.

In explaining the delay, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje said, on February 9, that the budget couldn’t be passed yet because it contained too many errors.

“We want to remove all ambiguities, we want to remove all paddings. We want to produce a budget that is in line with the constitutional provision. During the budget defence, a lot of issues based on the padding of the budget, arising from over-bloated overheads and in some instances cases of over-bloated personnel cost,” he said.

The National Assembly eventually passed the budget on March 23, but the drama was far from over.

Despite the passing of the budget, President Buhari refused to assent to it because the legislators did not send him the final details of the document.

“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 on Thursday, March 31, 2016, during a meeting with US Secretary of State, John Kerry in Washington.

In response, the Assembly claimed that it wouldn’t be strange for Buhari to sign the document without knowing all the details.

“There is nothing abnormal about this practice and yet nothing abnormal about a president assenting a budget before or after seeing the details. In any case, the budget details are usually sent within a week or two after passing the budget,” the Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin via a statement released on Wednesday, March 30.

The final details of the budget were eventually sent to Buhari on April 7, yet the drama continued.

The Assembly was said to have deleted the provision made for the Calabar-Lagos Coastal Railway but the legislators claimed in return that the project was never included in the budget.

“Lagos-Calabar Railway line was NEVER captured in the budget that was sent by the Executive. How then could it have been removed by NASS?” Jibrin said.

The Senate also warned Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi to either apologize or resign over the controversy while giving a “final warning” to Buhari to sign the budget and stop stalling.

The legislators are also said to have padded the budget of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) with an extra N4 billion. Senate President, Bukola Saraki is facing trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) after being accused of fraud by the CCB.

The drama surrounding the budget causes one to wonder if there’s more to it than meets the eye. Is this controversy really about the 2016 budget and its implementation? Or is it just grand political posturing at work?

Is the National Assembly blackmailing the Presidency? Are the legislators trying to fit something in the budget which is inconsistent with the change agenda? What exactly is going on with the budget, and who’s to blame for all these “errors”?

Who's to blame for errors in 2016 budget?»

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