The nation was shocked on Monday when the Senate took on the presidency, describing it as incompetent and of deliberately engaging in a campaign of calumny over the allegation that the National Assembly dropped the N60 billion Calabar-Lagos rail project from the budget. But the budget might just be a façade, as there appears to be underlining politics in this imminent executive-legislative feud, writes Omololu Ogunmade
Until the Senate drew the battle line with the presidency on Monday, the parliament had been perceived as an assembly of psychopaths since inception. The upper legislative chamber under the slim majority control of the All Progressives Congress (APC) had hitherto cultivated the habit of showering praises on President Muhammadu Buhari even when it was perceived to be baseless.
Not even a passive opposition from the minority Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senators could stop their APC counterparts from passing prayers or motions praising Buhari even when seemingly undeserved. A good instance was a prayer last November on a motion by Senator Barau Jibrin (Kano North) during an acute fuel scarcity. Opposition PDP senators were shocked when Barau at the end of his motion prayed the Senate to commend Buhari in the face of biting fuel scarcity.
The PDP senators rejected the prayer, saying it was an insult to the collective interest of all Nigerians to be commending a president, who could not address the plights of hapless Nigerian citizens by ending a protracted fuel scarcity. But the rejection notwithstanding, the APC senators passed the prayer using their slim majority.
The same trend repeated itself when PDP senators raised a prayer persuading Buhari to fulfill his campaign promise by paying N5,000 to unemployed youths. APC senators in defence of the government threw out the prayer.
Senate President Bukola Saraki had also been a protagonist of the defence of Buhari and the federal government as he was found of using the power control on his table to switch off the microphone of opposition senators, whom he perceived to be attacking the ruling party. He would later say to such a senator, “switch-on your microphone.” But by then, the message would have been passed across that the senator was trespassing.
In the same vein, when the Senate resumed from its long vacation on September 29, 2015, Saraki in his welcome address described Buhari as “a born again democrat” even after he had been charged to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).
It was against this background, that the nation was shocked on Monday when the Senate through its spokesman, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, talked tough in a strongly worded statement it issued following the allegation from the executive that the National Assembly dropped the N60 billion Calabar-Lagos rail line contained in the 2016 budget.
The allegation put the National Assembly on the spot as it portrayed it as an army of unpatriotic Nigerians, who used their offices to stall an important project meant to better the lots of the citizenry.
In the statement, the Senate warned the Presidency to henceforth put paid to its hide and seek game on 2016 budget and stop engaging in what it described as surreptitious campaigns of calumny against the Senate in order to cover up its shortcomings.
It also said the executive lacked the effrontery to sustain its persistent attacks against the National Assembly in view of the flaws which characterised the 2016 budget, alleging that the National Assembly has had to bend backwards to produce a meaningful document out of the excessively flawed and chaotic versions of the budget proposal submitted to it by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Senate also accused the presidency of gross incompetence in the preparation of the budget, adding that the document was highly embarrassing and characterised by mess it claimed the National Assembly helped it to clean.
The parliament took exception to what it described as an unwarranted attitude of the presidency to set the public against the National Assembly, emphasising that the power of appropriation rested with it.
The Senate also took a swipe at the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, whom it accused of orchestrating the allegation.
It described the minister’s “antics” of evolving the allegation as reckless, uncalled for and dangerously divisive. Consequently, it asked him tender an unreserved apology for the allegation or resign.
The statement read: “While the executive is mandated to prepare and lay before the National Assembly a proposed budget detailing projects to be executed, it should be made clear that the responsibility and power of appropriation lies with the National Assembly. If the presidency expects us to return the budget proposal to them without any adjustments, then some people must be living in a different era and probably have not come to terms with democracy.
“We make bold to say however, that the said Lagos-Calabar rail project was not included in the budget proposal presented to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari and we challenge anyone who has any evidence to the contrary to present such to Nigerians.
“Since the beginning of the 2016 budget process, it is clear that the National Assembly has suffered all manners of falsehood, deliberate distortion of facts, and outright blackmail deliberately aimed at poisoning the minds of the people against the institution of the National Assembly. We have endured this with equanimity in the overall interest of Nigerians.
“Even when the original submission was surreptitiously swapped and we ended up having two versions of the budget, which was almost incomprehensible and heavily padded in a manner that betrays lack of coordination and gross incompetence, we refused to play to the gallery and instead helped the executive to manage the hugely embarrassing situation it has brought upon itself; but enough is enough.
“This latest antics of this particular minister of transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, is reckless, uncalled for and dangerously divisive. Apart from setting the people of the southern part of the country against their northern compatriots, it potentially sets the people against their lawmakers from the concerned constituencies and sets the lawmakers against themselves.
“This manner of reprehensible mischief has no place in a democracy. We hereby demand from Mr. Amaechi a publicly tendered apology if he is not able to show evidence that the Lagos-Calabar road project was included in the budget. Otherwise, he should resign forthwith.
“Finally, by the provision of Section 81 (4) (a) and (b) of the constitution, the President is allowed to sign the budget and kick-start the implementation of the other areas that constitute over 90 per cent of the budget, where there is agreement between both arms, even as we engage ourselves to resolve the contentious areas, if there were any. We therefore maintain that even these contrived discrepancies are not sufficient excuse not to sign the budget into law.
“We therefore urge President Buhari to sign the 2016 budget without any further delay. For every additional day that the president withholds his assent from the bill, the hardship in the land, which is already becoming intolerable for the masses of our people gets even more complicated. Certainly, as primary representatives of the people, we shall not vacate our responsibility and watch the people continue to suffer unduly.”
However, this development only shows that the period of honeymoon with Buhari is over. It also sends a strong signal that it will no longer be business as usual for Buhari and his government. It as well shows that the Senate’s persistent efforts to cultivate a good relationship with Buhari have failed to yield desired results and hence, there is no other option than to draw the battle line.
A senator who did not want to be named told THISDAY that the statement was issued out of frustration. From every indication, Buhari looks too difficult for the upper chamber to relate with. Hence, the parliament seems prepared to communicate with him in the language he can best understand.
The face-off between the Senate and the presidency, if it is not quickly nipped in the bud, can grind government business as hardly can the executive make any serious move without requiring the nod of the legislature. Therefore, a face-off between the executive and the legislature cannot be healthy for the economy as it will only promote politics of bitterness which will put the masses at the receiving end.
In fact, it is often said that the legislature does not need the executive as much as the executive needs the legislature. Therefore, if the suspicion and name-calling between the two arms continues, it might either someday result in impeachment moves against the president or culminate in the legislature shutting down the president’s requests.
For example, Section 80(2,3,4) of the constitution provides that the executive cannot withdraw any money from the consolidated revenue fund unless it is authorised by the legislature. It is against this background, that both arms have been advised to sheathe their swords and dissent without necessarily creating a dissension in the collective interest of the nation.