Udoma Meets Saraki over Budget Impasse

0

  •   Senate insists on supplementary bill
  •  N’Central senators vow to retain Senate presidency

By Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja and Adams Abonu in Lafia

The executive at the weekend kept up its pressure on the Senate to renounce its stance that it would not reconsider the inclusion of Calabar-Lagos rail project in the 2016 budget.

THISDAY learnt that the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, visited Senate President Bukola Saraki to persuade the Senate to change its mind. President Muhammadu Buhari is expected to formally communicate his position on the 2016 budget to the National Assembly this week.

The House of Representatives had resolved to revisit the controversial 2016 budget after a two-hour closed-door session on Wednesday, but the Senate stuck to its guns, insisting that the executive must send a supplementary bill if it considered the project to be vital.

The House, after its meeting, had mandated its Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, to meet with Buhari with a view to resolving the grey areas in the budget.

Consequently, Dogara reportedly met with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on Friday while Buhari was still in China.

It is believed that as a follow up to the meeting between Osinbajo and Dogara, Udoma met with Saraki and other leaders of the Senate with the intention of securing upper chamber’s support for reconsideration of the budget without necessarily sending a supplementary budget.

But THISDAY learnt that the meeting did yield the expected result at the weekend, as the Senate leadership insisted that the executive must follow the laid down constitutional procedure by sending a supplementary budget since the Appropriation Bill has been passed.

However, the decision taken by the Senate during its executive session last Tuesday that it would not revisit the 2016 budget, except through a supplementary budget, has not gone down well with senators from the southern section of the country, who later distanced themselves from the decision.

In the view of the southern senators, the president should not sign the Appropriation Bill until the joint Appropriation Committees of the Senate and House include the Calabar-Lagos rail project in the budget.

Against this backdrop, senators from the South-west, South-south and South-east geopolitical zones reportedly met in their respective caucuses last week with a resolve that the project was deliberately removed because it benefits the southern section of the country.

Their position may have been strengthened by reports that the Appropriation Committees headed by two northern lawmakers diverted allocations to some projects to the North.

The southern senators therefore vowed to resist any attempt to deprive the people of the South access to the Calabar-Lagos rail project.

The southern senators reportedly rejected the call for the supplementary bill on Tuesday, describing it as an attempt to deny the southern region of the rail project.

However, the contradictory positions between the Senate and the House may further prolong the controversies trailing the budget since its presentation last December, as both arms must agree before further legislation can commence on the budget.

Nevertheless, some clarity on the fate of the budget is expected this week, as a definite decision on whether to revisit the budget or wait for a supplementary bill must be taken.

Meanwhile, senators from the North-central geopolitical zone, under the auspices of the Forum of North-central Senators, have resolved that one of their own emerges as the next senate president in the event of Saraki’s removal by the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT).

Saraki is being tried by the tribunal for false declaration of assets when he was the governor of Kwara State between 2007 and 2011.

Speaking exclusively to THISDAY in Keffi yesterday, a senator from the zone said: “It is expected that the North-central zone retains the seat because in the present dispensation, the zone only has the Senate presidency allotted to us.”

The senator, who elected to speak anonymously, disclosed that several meetings across political divides had been held recently on the issue.

He said: “It is becoming obvious that the present occupant of the seat would likely give in to the pressure coming from his trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

“So we have weighed the situation surrounding Saraki’s situation and have come to the resolution that we must work across board to have one of our own replace him. This is in the spirit of political correctness and inclusion.

“When you look at the crop of senators from the zone, we have experienced lawmakers comprising ranking and knowledgeable senators capable of administering the Senate. Some of us have combined experience of both being in the executive and now as legislators.

“Agreeably, the zone parades the best crop of lawmakers in the present Senate and it is rightly expected that we retain the leadership of the Senate at this crucial time.

“What we have done is to look at individual senator’s profiles and taken crucial Senate service requirements into consideration and I can tell you that we have a consensus on who is most suited for the job.

“It is in the overall interest of the zone to keep the seat without any compromise at this point in time and this is what we have decided to do regardless of political affiliations.”