Budget Controversy: Senator Says Members Can Override Buhari

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By Iyobosa Uwugiaren in Abuja

As the 2016 Appropriation Bill continues to generate heated debate across the country, the Senate Committee Chairman on Culture and Tourism, Senator Matthew Urhoghide (Edo South), has warned that the Senate may be forced to veto President Muhammadu Buhari, if he refuses to assent to the bill – as passed by the National Assembly.

He also accused Buhari of not reciprocating Senate President Bukola Saraki’s good gesture to him since the inauguration of the eighth National Assembly last year.

In an exclusive interview with THISDAY in Abuja, the senator said  in spite of the “wish-washy budget’’ President Buhari presented to the National Assembly, members worked day and night to get the 2016 budget passed.

“The budget came in this year; even in the face of provocation and utterances that we are getting from the president, we all agreed to speedily pass the budget. And we decided to panel beat it and make it a substance for Nigerians; so that at least it becomes  an operational budget,’’ Senator Urhoghide stated.

“With all the inadequacies in that budget, we worked tirelessly because the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, was bent on getting a substance out of the wish-washy budget. And we did pass it expeditiously; only for the President to say that he was going to check it – ministry by ministry, line by line, all the items — to find out whether what we gave to him is what he sent to us.

“We will be giving him rubbish if we had passed the same budget he sent to us because he brought rubbish to the National Assembly; but we have made substance out of the useless budget he sent to us, and we have sent it back to him.’’

Urhoghide, a close ally of the senate president, said it appeared as if Buhari didn’t even have an idea or read the budget he brought to the National Assembly.

“President Buhari should have read through the budget before presenting it to the National Assembly to understand it; because all his aides, who manufactured the 2016 budget didn’t do a good job. There were several repetitions of issues in the entire budget, a whole lot of bad descriptions. The narratives were all wrong; but we decided to make a substance out of it,’’ he added.

The outspoken lawmaker said it was within the constitutional rights of the National Assembly to carry out a proper narrative of the budget in the interests of the people who elected them.

On the ongoing trial of Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), the senator accused the Buhari-led executive of “persecuting’’ the Senate President for political reasons, describing the president as an ungrateful person.

According to him, “If Saraki is not the senate president today, I can tell you hea wouldn’t have been in the dock; he is in the dock because he is the senate president. But the unfortunate thing – why some of us are talking, is that this is the same person who had helped his party – the All Progressives Congress (APC) even on the floor of the Senate.”

According to him, “For instance, all the requests that has been made by the president to the senate, particularly those that some of us on the other side would have shot down, Saraki has been the one who has been there to say: please let us divest ourselves of partisanship and go ahead and do the needful.’’

He revealed that but for Saraki, many of the ministers presented to the Senate for approval by the President would not have been approved because many of them have no required educational qualifications.

He further stated: “If you look at the relevant sections of the Constitution, especially section 147, it is very clear who were to become ministers; if you want to be a minister you must be qualified to be a member of House of Representatives; the person must have a minimum of secondary school certificate, and must be 30 years old.

“There were some of these ministers that were passed that we didn’t see school certificates in their resume, which they submitted to us. But because the request was from President Buhari, the Senate President pleaded with us to allow them pass through. And I want to tell you that because of Saraki — for the first time, the Senate passed ministers without any peculiar interest.’’