• Again, Senate suspends plenary, to pass 2017 budget in March
Omololu Ogunmade and Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
About 72 hours after acting President Yemi Osinbajo assented to seven bills, the acting president yesterday returned four bills to the National Assembly after withholding his assent from such bills.
In four separate letters respectively addressed to the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Osinbajo stated different reasons he chose to withhold his assent from each bill.
The four bills are Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (Amendment) Bill 2016; Currency Conversion (Freezing Orders) (Amendment) Bill 2016; Dangerous (Amendment) Bill 2016 and Assent to National Lottery (Amendment) Bill 2016.
On the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (Amendment) Bill 2016, Osinbajo said he opted to withhold his assent because “the concerns surrounding board composition, funding arrangements, limitation of liability of funds and proposals to increase levels of uncollateralised loans from N5,000 to N250,000.”
He also said he withheld his assent from Currency Conversion (Freezing Orders) (Amendment) Bill 2016 because of “the concern regarding modalities for the communication of asset forfeiture orders.”
The acting president also explained that he failed to assent to Dangerous (Amendment) Bill 2016 because of “certain words and phrases utilised in the draft bill that may be inconsistent with the Principal Act (for example Section 6 of the bill with Section 21 of the Principal Act) and the spirit behind the proposed amendments.”
In the same vein, he said he withheld his assent from Assent to National Lottery (Amendment) Bill 2016 because the “rationale for withholding assent to the bill is the existence of pending legal challenge to the competence of the National Assembly to legislate on the matter.”
But the decision of the acting president was accompanied by protests from some senators who accused the presidency of undermining their legislative powers by failing to assent to bills they passed as one of the senators reminded his colleagues of Senate’s power to override the president’s veto.
However, Saraki said issues raised by the senators were noted as he promised to forward the returned bills to the National Assembly’s legal department for proper legal advice on the bills to enable them know the way forward.
Meanwhile, the Senate again suspended plenary yesterday for another two days following reports by chairmen of the sub-committees of the Appropriation Committee that the ongoing budget defence was characterised by monumental flaws which they said made it impossible for them to meet the deadline for the conclusion of the budget defence.
The senators also said the failures of heads of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) to personally appear before the respective committees to present details of disbursement of funds and expenditure in the 2016 budget as well as non-availability of breakdown of proposals in 2017 budget and other inherent flaws made the budget process complex and complicated.
However, Saraki in his remark, said the heads of the agencies must appear before the committee today and tomorrow to make necessary submissions meant to aid the completion of the budget process at the nick of time.
He also said the leadership of the National Assembly would meet the acting president later in the evening (yesterday) over emerging challenges on the budget.
Also, the Senate had threatened to ensure zero allocations to MDAs whose heads fail to appear before relevant committees today and tomorrow to present their budget details.
According to Senate’s spokesman, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, the decision had become compelling in view of the parliament’s commitment to pass the budget second week of March.
The Senate will resume plenary on February 28.
However, the Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, said while the National Assembly can override the veto of the acting president on the bills, it was necessary that members are aware of the reasons for the rejection.
Briefing journalists after plenary, the spokesman of the House, Hon. Namdas Abdulrazak, said the acting president had already assented to seven bills from those sent to him, but returned four.
“The Committee on Justice and the relevant committees would look at the reasons proffered by the Acting President,” he said.
Namdas also announced that the house would not sit today, to allow committees continue the 2017 budget deliberations.