• Lower chamber says Saraki is innocent until proven guilty, enraged over lawmaker’s assault by prison officials
Omololu Ogunmade and Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The Senate on Tuesday resolved to soft-pedal on the 2016 budget when it mandated its leadership to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari and appeal to him to sign the budget and later send a supplementary bill on any areas leftout of the Appropriation Bill.
Rising from a very rancorous one-and-half-hour executive session, the senators admitted that the errors which culminated in Buhari’s decision to withhold his assent to the budget were caused by the overbearing influence of the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje.
A source told THISDAY in confidence that the session was stormy with members of the Appropriation Committee accusing Goje, their chairman, of shutting them out of the appropriation process.
According to the source, the situation was so disturbing as every member of the committee including its vice chairman, Senator Sunny Ogbuoji, accused Goje of unilaterally handling the budget and denying them access to the document. He added that they called for Goje’s removal.
But THISDAY learnt that it was later resolved that since there was a plan to receive a supplementary budget later from the president, calling for Goje’s removal would be unnecessary as it might worsen the crisis in the upper legislative chamber.
Furthermore, the source said the committee members alleged that after having a field day on the budget, Goje gave the document to the House Committee Chairman on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumun Jibrin, whom he claimed further padded the budget.
He disclosed that the atmosphere was tense as senators were exasperated by the development, revealing that their anger was further fuelled by the discovery that a single individual handled the entire budget of the nation.
Some senators also quietly murmured that the poor handling of the budget by Goje arose from cronyism by the leadership of the Senate which handed him a position of such magnitude which they alleged that he lacked the capacity to handle.
Against this backdrop, the source said the senators decided to soften their earlier stance not to reconsider the budget unless the president sends a supplementary budget.
However, he said the meeting revealed that the Senate lacked the moral high ground to issue a threat and would have to appeal to the president to sign the budget and subsequently send in a supplementary budget with a promise to correct the errors contained therein.
According to the source, the senators were mindful of Section 59(4) of the constitution which spells out the 30 days for assent to a bill passed by the National Assembly from the day it is presented to the president for his assent or veto.
He said but for this provision, the Senate would have requested for the budget to be returned for reconsideration, adding that the 30 days allowed for the assent or veto of the bill by the president began to count from the day it was presented.
Section 59(4) of the constitution provides that “where the president within 30 days after the presentation of the bill to him, fails to signify his assent or where he withholds assent, then the bill shall again be presented to the National Assembly sitting at a joint meeting and passed by two-thirds majority of members of both houses at such a joint meeting, the bill shall become law and assent of the president shall not be required”.
The Senate resolution at yesterday’s meeting was a follow up to the decision at the meeting of the leadership of National Assembly on Wednesday night in Abuja where it was resolved that revisiting the budget was impossible.
The meeting attended by the leadership of both the Senate and House of Representatives was said to have resolved that the only option was for the president to sign the budget and later send a supplementary bill to avoid running foul of constitutional provision.
Also yesterday, the committee saddled with the responsibility of ensuring reconciliation among the senators was inaugurated by the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume.
According to Ndume, the image of the Senate had been brought into disrepute as a result of the protracted crisis rocking it since inception. He said the reconciliation of its members would go a long way in salvaging the image of the parliament.
But as the Senate softened its stance on the budget, the House of Representatives confirmed yesterday that it had identified the “grey areas” in the 2016 budget which set the National Assembly at odds with the executive.
The House spokesperson, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, briefing reporters in Abuja, disclosed that a letter from the presidency listing the areas of contention has been received.
Namdas however declined to reveal the grey areas listed by the president, as he parried questions on whether the Calabar-Lagos rail project was included in the letter.
He also refused to explain why the letter was not read on the floor of the House at plenary, as is the normal tradition with formal communications between the president and both legislative chambers.
“The speaker met with the president as mandated by the House… I can confirm that we are in possession of the grey areas,” he said, but declined to disclose when the letter was received by the House.
Namdas added that the leadership of the Senate and House met over the letter due to the need for concurrence from the upper chamber.
Referring to the National Assembly leadership, Namdas said: “They will meet with the president this week.”
Speaking on the ongoing trial of the Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Namdas explained the position of the House.
“We want to state that we believe in the rule of law; every Nigerian is innocent until proven guilty.
This is our position as far as the President of the National Assembly is concerned,” he said.
In another development, the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami is expected to appear on Monday before an ad hoc committee to explain why he ordered the reopening of the Kogi State House of Assembly after the House ordered that it be sealed.
The House on March 9 took over the state assembly following the protracted crises among its lawmakers resulting in the impeachment of the speaker.
But the AGF described the takeover as illegal and ordered the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase to unseal the assembly.
Arase, who appeared before the ad hoc committee at a closed-door meeting yesterday told newsmen that there was a breakdown in communication.
“I would not do anything to breach the constitution, I am a law abiding officer. I have sworn to obey the constitution, there was a break down somewhere but we will resolve it,” he said.
House Majority Leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila said the ad hoc committee was making progress and would conclude the matter next week after meeting with the AGF.
Meanwhile, the lawmakers in the House were unanimous in calling for justice and condemnation of the assault on one of their colleagues, Hon. Onyemeachi Mrakpor, by security operatives attached to the convoy of the Controller General of Prisons, Dr. Peter Ezenwa Ekpendu
Security operatives attached to the convoy of Ekpendu on Wednesday evening allegedly slapped Mrakpor for overtaking his convoy within the premises of the National Assembly.
The petition was brought before the House at plenary yesterday by the Minority Leader, Hon. Leo Ogor.
Mrakpor, representing Aniocha/Oshimili Federal Constituency of Delta State, was driving out of the National Assembly when she made to overtake the 20-car convoy. She was driving herself when the incident happened.
“She was going for (church) service… They blocked her car and started bashing her car, when she wound down the window an aide slapped her in the face. The CG sat in the comfort of his car, while this happened,” Ogor narrated.
Ogor, in a motion, called on the House to summon Ekpendu to appear before the House Committee on Interior and “explain why he should not be prosecuted and committed to prison for this assault”.
His presentation was however interrupted by his colleagues, several of who wanted him to appear before the House in the chambers, not before a committee.
Ogor’s report was corroborated by Gbajabiamila, who added that Mrakpor had called him crying immediately the incident happened.
“This is the time for us to rally behind her, not just because she is a lawmaker but because she is a woman… What happened is clear, the man, as far as I am concerned is guilty of assault, battery and violence against a woman. We have heard of the eggshell case, anything could have happened,” he said.
“The slap was not by the aide as far as I am concerned, it was by the principal, when the principal is sitting down and observing his aide, it is called vicarious liability.
“The CG of Prisons belongs behind the bars of the prison that he is supervising. We should work towards relieving him of his job,” Gbajabiamila added.
Hon. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje (Abia PDP) also pointed out that the experience of the assaulted lawmaker was reflective of what Nigerian women experience on a daily basis at home and in the society.
“My colleagues did not want to say it, but he also called her a prostitute,” Ukeje said, adding that the experience highlighted the abuse of power, and how people in uniform debase the people they are supposed to protect.
“This is what happens to every Nigerian woman, we are beaten, labelled names and expected to remain quiet. When we speak of violence against women, this is what we are talking about. He (Ekpendu) lacks honour, integrity and should be stripped of his position,” she added.
The committee on Interior is expected to invite Ekpendu within the next 72 hours and submit its report to the House on Tuesday.