• Says budget padding allegation careless, irresponsible, callous
Deji Elumoye in Abuja
Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, yesterday declared that former Lagos State Governor, Senator Bola Tinubu, and his associates will fail again like they did in June, 2015 if they attempt to foist a leadership on the ninth National Assembly due for inauguration in June.
Saraki, in a terse statement issued by his Media Adviser, Alhaji Yusuph Olaniyonu, in reaction to Tinubu’s allegation on Sunday that the National Assembly leadership padded the budget in the last four years, also described the allegation as careless, irresponsible and callous.
The Senate president said the grand plan by Tinubu and his co-travellers not to allow the wishes of federal legislators-elect to prevail in the election of presiding officers of the ninth National Assembly would fail as it was the case at the inauguration of the eighth Assembly on June 9, 2015.
According to him, “Tinubu should know that if there was any mistake made on June 9, 2015, it was the miscalculation by himself and his small cabal in the All Progressives Congress (APC) who felt they could decide for the senators-elect and House of Representatives members-elect.
“When they failed after their grand-standing that they could always get whatever they desired, they resorted to undermining the institution of the legislature and waging a campaign of calumny against the law making body.
“It is now clear that those who took senators away from the chambers contrary to the directive contained in the proclamation signed by President Muhammadu Buhari on June 9, 2015 are ‘mistake personified.
“It is obvious that if they repeat that arrogance during the inauguration of the ninth National Assembly, they will fail again because Nigeria is greater than them. The institution of the legislature is bigger than the over-bloated egos of these power mongers and dirty schemers.”
Saraki further emphasised: “It is obvious Tinubu’s arbitrary and tactless interference in the process for the emergence of the leadership of the ninth Assembly is already falling through.
“The frustration from this experience might have been responsible for these needless and baseless outbursts.”
He, however, advised Tinubu for the sake of the stability of the National Assembly to allow the members to elect their leadership in consultations with the party leadership.
Saraki said: “He should stop treating the legislators like hapless pupils receiving orders from a cane-wielding headmaster. A situation where he, Tinubu, is dictating to elected legislators and ordering them to either comply with his directives or get out of the party will not augur well for the legislature in the next dispensation.
“History should have thought him that only a leadership that truly enjoys the support of members can help the president and his administration to achieve their objectives. It is a good development that the candidates for the various positions are already reaching out to their colleagues and forging alliances. We can see that after he realised that he has misfired, he is trying to retrace his step and in his usual devious manner, he is looking for scapegoats.
“We advise him to leave Saraki out of his manipulations and ‘jockeying and maneuvering for influence and power’, as he termed it.”
On the allegation that national budgets were delayed, distorted, padded, new projects introduced, funds for projects reduced, “to halt progress of government,” the Senate president described it as unfortunate that a man like Tinubu who had been in the Senate (though for 22 months and under a military regime) should not have a better understanding of how the legislature works.
He stated that the passage of budgets is definitely not the exclusive responsibility of the leadership of the Senate as most of the work is done by the various committees.
He said: “These committees are headed by senators representing different parties. It is the level of co-operation between the committees and the MDAs in the timely defence of the budget proposals and the ability of the two chambers of the National Assembly to reconcile their figures that usually determine how soon the budget is passed. To put the blame of budget delay on the Senate president or speaker can only be mischief, or at best, playing to the gallery.”
Saraki further explained that any so-called delay in the passage of budgets under the eighth National Assembly is traceable to the refusal of heads of MDAs to defend the budget proposals for their agencies on time.
His words: “Last year, the president himself had to direct the Secretary to Federal Government to compel heads of MDAs to appear before the National Assembly committees following the report made to him by Dr. Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara.
“So, if a man like Tinubu is spreading this falsehood about budget passage and delay being deliberately orchestrated by the National Assembly leadership, one wonders whether he tries to even understand what happens in the federal legislature at all or is it that the only thing that is of interest to him is ‘jockeying and maneuvering for influence,’ as he puts it.
“To further make the points here clear, we invite Tinubu to look at the records of the time of submission of budgets and their passage since 2010 and he will see that with the exception of the 2013 budget, which was passed on December 20, 2012, all the budgets have been passed between March and May of the same fiscal year. This should give him a better understanding of the fact that the date the Appropriations Bill is submitted to parliament and the readiness of the MDAs to defend the proposals submitted as well as timely agreement on the figures by both chambers of the National Assembly are the main determining factors in when the budget is eventually passed.
“So, Tinubu should see that the facts cannot support his spins and fake narrative.”
He, therefore, challenged Tinubu to be specific about where he and the leadership of the National Assembly “sought to pad with pet projects” as the APC leader alleged.
He said: “Tinubu should be graceful enough to substantiate this allegation. We consider that allegation careless, irresponsible and callous. We, therefore, demand that he should withdraw it.
“However, there is need to let him know that it is the constitutional responsibility of the National Assembly to review the proposals sent by the executive and where it deems necessary, it is within the power of the legislature to make changes.
“A good example, is the decision by the National Assembly to include in the 2018 budget the one percent of the total budget, amounting to N33 billion, as allocation for Universal Health Coverage as provided by an extant law, which had been hitherto observed in the breach. Is this what Tinubu considers as budget padding? And this was a decision which was praised across the world as a real benefit to ordinary people across the country.
“Tinubu also claimed that the Senate leadership “stymied APC legislative initiatives while attempting to hoist noxious reactionary and self interested legislation on the nation.” We wonder what these “legislative initiatives” are because in the four years of the Buhari administration, it has only forwarded 11 bills to the Senate, apart from the routine annual appropriations and supplementary budget proposals.
“Two of these bills, the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill and the National Minimum Wage Bill, have been passed. One of the bills, the Money Laundering Prevention and Prohibition Act (amendment) Bill was withdrawn by the executive following the disagreement between the Attorney General and the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Also, another one, the National Water Resources Bill was rejected because it infringed on the rights of states to develop their water resources.
The remaining seven which are the National Centre for Disease Control and Prevention Establishment Bill, Federal Institute of Industrial Research for the Development of Micro, Small and Large Industries Bills, the Suppression of Piracy Bill, Communications Service Tax Bill, 2015; Federal Institute of Industrial Research Bill, 2017; Raw Materials Research and Development Council (Repeal and Re-enactment Bill 2018; Nigeria Natural Medicine Development Agency (Establishment etc) Bill, 2018- are at various stages of passage.
According to Saraki, the eighth Senate has passed 282 bills (the highest any Senate had passed is 129 bills recorded by the 5th Senate), among which is the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, Public Procurement Act (amendment) Bill, Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, Electoral Act (amendment) Bill, Police Reform Bill, Police Trust Fund Bill, Nigeria Railways Authority Bill, Company and Allied Matters Act (amendment) Bill, Secured Credit Transactions Act, Whistleblowers Protection Bill, constitution amendment bills, Discrimination Against Persons With Disability Bill, Electronic Transaction Bill, Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act, North East Development Commission (NEDC) Act, Witness Protection Programme Bill, Credit Bureau Reporting Bill, Sexual Harassment in Tertiary Educational Institution Bill and Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Bill, National Financial Intelligence Agency Act, Federal Audit Services Commission Bill, among others. It will be good to know which of these Bills Tinubu believes is “self interested” and not in the interest of Nigerians.
“We will like to point the attention of Mr. Tinubu to the fact that most of the bills listed above got international and national endorsement from stakeholders who lauded the Senate for the move. For example, the Financial Intelligence Database Agency (Ultrascan) commended the Senate for passing the NFIU Act which enabled the country to be re-admitted into the Egmont Group. Also, the Nigerian Police leadership have praised the Senate for passing the Police Reforms Bill and the Police Trust Fund Bill.
Again, when the National Assembly in the 2018 budget gave effect to the law allowing one percent of the budget to be devoted to Primary Health Care Delivery, it got kudos from Bill Gates, Bono, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of WHO, and various national groups who believe the move would bring health care delivery to the poor people across the country. The passage of the UBEC Act (amendment) Bill was praised by Pakistani child education campaigner and youngest Nobel Laureate, Yousafzai Malala.
“When the PIGB was passed, APC led by Tinubu, National Association of Petroleum Explorationists (NAPE), among others, hailed the Senate for a good job. Even, the World Bank commended the National Assembly for the passage of the Company and Allied Matters Act and Secured Transactions in Movable Assets and Credit Bureau Reporting Act. Of course, all these initiatives will be ignored by a man who is still sulking because his vow in 2015 that Saraki and Dogara will never lead the National Assembly did not materialize.
He reiterated that Tinubu was agonising on the erroneous belief that Saraki frustrated his ambition from becoming running mate to President Muhammadu Buhari through a Muslim-Muslim ticket in 2015.
“In his usual cavalier manner, he will stop at nothing to punish Saraki for that. We know that this attack is not about the interest of the nation or that of President Muhammadu Buhari. It is about his 2023 ambition and it is obvious in the statement as he struggled to explain this away.
Tinubu should know that while we await his attack for the next quarter, we can only advise him to stay on facts,” Saraki further said.