On Wednesday, December 19, 2018, President Buhari was greeted with boos and jeers as he stepped into the green chamber of the National Assembly to present the 2019 budget estimate of N8.83 trillion to a joint sitting of parliament.
The catcalls, name calling, heckles, jeers and boos endured as Buhari reeled out budget estimates to lawmakers who weren’t interested in listening to whatever he had to say.
With the boos getting louder as Buhari settled into the day's business, the president just couldn’t take it anymore and issued a note of caution to lawmakers who were threatening to bring the roof down.
"May I appeal to the honourable members that the world is watching us and we're supposed to be above this," President Buhari cautioned, before proceeding to more jeers from lawmakers who had made up their minds to be unruly.
Udo Udoma's refusal to apologise angered lawmakers
Two lawmakers from either side of the partisan divide told Pulse on condition of anonymity, late Wednesday, that the jeers were pre-planned and designed for maximum impact.
“Last week, we warned that if the president’s Minister for Budget and National Planning, Sen Udo Udoma, doesn’t apologise to lawmakers for making us look bad before Nigerians, we were going to boycott President Buhari’s budget presentation.
"After we were begged not to boycott the presentation, the best we could do was boo and we did just that”, one PDP lawmaker told Pulse, while pleading that his name be left out of this story.
On Thursday, December 13, 2018, members of the House of Representatives threatened to boycott President Buhari’s budget presentation after Udoma was quoted as saying lawmakers were responsible for the delay in the presentation of the 2019 Appropriation Bill.
Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, had called out Udoma during plenary, saying the 2019 Appropriation Bill had only just been approved and there was no way the National Assembly could have been responsible for the delay.
“Until this morning, nobody had requested for a date for budget presentation. The letter was only submitted today”, Dogara bellowed to his colleagues.
Thereafter, lawmakers demanded an apology from Udoma. Should he refuse to apologise, they declared, the president would be presenting the budget to an empty chamber.
One after the other, lawmakers took turns to lampoon Udoma and the executive for always ridiculing legislators before Nigerians.
“When you move round, people now call us “legislooters”. They make us look like we are delaying the budget,” screamed a visibly agitated Mike Adeniyi (PDP, Ondo).
It took the intervention of Hon Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) to restore some calm to a House that was almost boiling over.
What was Udoma's reaction when lawmakers got angry?
Gbajabiamila claimed to have received a phone call from Udoma, with the majority leader informing his colleagues that Udoma not only apologised for the misunderstanding, he claimed to have been misquoted.
Udoma had also promised the leader of the House that he was penning a rejoinder to the allegation, Gbajabiamila announced. That rejoinder never came.
It is unclear if Udoma did formally apologise to lawmakers or send in a rejoinder behind the scenes, but Pulse understands that all the Minister said during the televised interview was that whenever the lawmakers were ready to receive the budget, the executive was ready to present it.
"The newspapers twisted the Minister's words and made it look like he was blaming lawmakers for the budget presentation delay. That was as far from the truth as you would ever get", said an aide of Udoma.
Legislature and Executive don't see eye to eye
Growing resentment toward the executive from the legislative arm of government which is now being led by two opposition PDP members in Dogara and Senate President Bukola Saraki, provided the backdrop for the boos and jeers Buhari received during his budget estimate presentation on Wednesday.
“The truth is that Speaker Dogara called the lawmakers into a closed session hours before Buhari arrived, and pleaded for decorum and civility during the presentation. But the PDP lawmakers were having none of it. At the end of the day, it’s all politics. Which is why we responded with our own chants of support for Buhari”, said an APC senator who also pleaded that his name be left out of this story.
Other national assembly sources told Pulse that the boos predominantly came from the PDP side of the aisle and that it was always going to be an unruly chamber when Buhari came visiting, because it’s the president's last budget before an election year.
PDP lawmakers weren’t going to allow Buhari gloat about his achievements before the cameras on their turf.
“The plan was to make the president uncomfortable, throw him off balance and divert attention from his speech and budget, to the boos. And you can’t say the PDP lawmakers didn’t achieve their aim”, one legislative aide disclosed.
In the ensuing hostile atmosphere of the budget presentation, Speaker Dogara and Senate President Saraki shelved their speeches and watched helplessly as Buhari was called “liar” and “Barawo (thief)” by irate lawmakers.
The National Assembly is yet to conduct a headcount
Dogara and Saraki officially defected from Buhari’s governing APC in September and July respectively, to the opposition PDP.
The APC failed in several attempts to impeach Saraki as Senate President, choosing instead to wait it out till the 2019 vote.
Lawmakers from the APC and PDP who promised to conduct a headcount to determine the party with the most seats upon resumption of plenary, following a gale of defections from either camp, failed to do so when plenary resumed on October 9.