The Presidency has begun an investigation to determine the level of complicity of heads of some government’s parastatals and agencies in the “mutilated” 2016 budget sent to President Muhammadu Buhari by the National Assembly, The PUNCH has learnt.
Buhari has refused to sign the document, claiming that the federal lawmakers had doctored the fiscal bill.
“The executive is investigating the level of complicity of heads of parastatals, who are suspected to have colluded with the National Assembly. Heads may roll because we see it as sabotage,” he said.
The source said the executive arm of government was of the opinion that the budget passed by the National Assembly was meant to frustrate Buhari for his decision to be neutral in the current trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged false declaration of assets.
Giving an insight into the suspicion of underhand dealings by heads of parastatals with some members of the National Assembly, the Presidency source cited an example of the Nigerian Communication Satellite Limited in the Ministry of Communications.
He said it was surprising that out of the N5bn proposed for 36 capital projects in the ministry in the original budget presented by Buhari, the National Assembly decided to move N3.6bn to NIGCOMSAT.
He added that the N3.6bn allocated to NIGCOMSAT was not for capital projects but for training for the planned NIGCOMSAT-2.
Describing the allocation as ridiculous and suspicious, the source said up until now, the Federal Government was still negotiating for funds for the NIGCOMSAT-2.
He said the government needed to know what informed such decision; whether the management of NIGCOMSAT actually demanded such funds from the National Assembly outside the budget the President presented.
He said, “We are still negotiating the funding for NIGCOMSAT-2. If we are lucky and get the loan, the fund for training is already embedded in the project cost.
“The National Assembly cancelled 28 out of the Ministry of Communications’ proposed 36 capital projects. The lawmakers also reduced the money for the remaining eight that they approved.”
The source added that investigations had revealed that many of the federal lawmakers were not involved in the production of the budget details presented to Buhari.
He added that not even all members of the Appropriation Committees of the two chambers were privy to the content.
On why Buhari would not sign the document in its present state, the source said, “It is dangerous for the President to sign now and negotiate later. The lawmakers may turn round later to accuse him of non-implementation of the budget and begin the process of removing him from office.”
Presidential spokesmen, Mr. Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, were not available for comment on Monday as they were on the President’s entourage to China.
Also, there were strong indications on Monday that the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly might remove the chairmen of their appropriation committees following the embarrassment their work on the 2016 budget was causing the nation.
A presiding officer of the Senate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the leadership of both the Senate and House of Representatives were no longer comfortable with the tension and anxiety that the issue had continued to generate.
He explained that the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, might be removed from the committees this week over their alleged poor handling of the situation.
The presiding officer from the northern part of the country said both Saraki and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, expressed shock and disappointment over the ways both appropriation committee chairmen carried out their duties.
He said, “We have reports that both Goje and Jibrin, in most cases, sat and carried out unilateral decisions on the budget and even sometimes invite heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies for briefings without involving the chairmen of the respected committees in charge of the MDAs.
“Obviously, we in the leadership of the National Assembly are convinced that both Goje and Jibrin have personal issues which they wanted to exhibit through the budget process. People have even drawn our attention to their public statements in recent times.
“First, it was Goje, who condemned the inclusion of N500bn welfare scheme of the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government in the 2016 budget, describing it as ‘unimplementable’ and therefore called for its suspension till next year.
“We also watched Jibrin on national television this morning (Monday), calling the executive liars, who prepared ‘unimplementable’ budget, yet had the audacity to blame the legislature for their inefficiency.
“We are convinced that the two appropriation heads are on the verge of setting the executive and the legislature on a serious collision course and we would have to stop that before it happens.”
Attempts to speak with Goje on the allegations against him failed as he ignored repeated calls made to his mobile while he also failed to respond to a text message sent to his telephone.
But in a statement on Monday, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transport, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, confirmed that his committee supported the inclusion of the Lagos-Calabar rail project in the budget when Mr. Rotimi Amaechi defended his ministry’s budget before the Senate panel.
Ashafa said, “However, subsequently at the budget defence session before the Senate Committee on Land Transport, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, did inform the committee of the omission of the Lagos to Calabar rail modernisation project and indeed sent a supplementary copy of the ministry’s budget to the committee which contained the said project.
“The minister noted that the amount needed for the counterpart funding for both the Lagos to Kano and Lagos to Calabar rail modernisation projects was in the sum of N120bn, being N60bn per project.”
He said with regard to the Idu to Kaduna rail completion, the Senate Committee on Land Transport did not interfere with what was provided for in the budget as sent by the executive, being approximately N18bn.
The Senator representing Oyo South Senatorial District, Adesoji Akanbi, however, asked Nigerians to blame his colleagues in the appropriation committee, who are from the geo- political zones where projects submitted by the committee were excluded.
He said, “We have two senators from each of the six geo-political zones in the country represented in the appropriation committee. So what were they doing when such viable projects from their constituencies were being removed and replaced with others?”
Some of the senators from the South-South geo-political zone, where the Lagos-Calabar rail is located, spoke off the record that they were not carried along in the removal of the project.
However, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Senator John Enoh, confirmed to journalists on Monday that the project was included in the budget.
He, however, said he would address a news conference on the issue on Tuesday (today).
Meanwhile, the Senate spokesperson, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, defended the appropriation committee of both chambers, saying they did an excellent job that deserved commendation instead of condemnation from the executive.
Abdullahi told journalists on Monday that the first major challenge that confronted the National Assembly was when different versions of the document found their ways into its chambers.
He said, “Those two versions, did they emanate from Nigerians or the National Assembly? They emanated from the executive; about three or thereabout from the budget office.
“At the end of the day, we came up with projects that will be of overall interest to Nigerians. If anything, I want to believe that the National Assembly has been magnanimous and patriotic in the way we approached and handled this 2016 budget.”
In a similar vein, the House of Representatives on Monday asked Buhari to return the 2016 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly with an explanatory note if he would not assent to the document.
It said under the present circumstances, the formal procedure was for the President to forward the budget to the legislature with a covering note clearly stating why he would not sign so that both sides could resolve the differences in the financial bill.
The House noted that by resorting to the media to state its case, the executive was creating the impression that the two arms of government were fighting, which was not the case.
“We are not fighting; we are on the same page with Mr. President on his change agenda.
“So far, there is nothing before us officially saying that Mr. President will not sign the budget. This is our position,” the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, told reporters at the National Assembly in Abuja.
Namdas also addressed the controversial Lagos-Calabar rail line, which was alleged to have been removed from the budget by the National Assembly.
He claimed that contrary to the “impression” created in the public, the rail line was not in the corrected budget presented to the National Assembly by Buhari.
Rather, Namdas said it was Amaechi, who approached the House Committee on Land Transport with the proposal after the National Assembly had taken the original document from Buhari.
The lawmaker added that it was not the procedure of the National Assembly to receive budget estimates from ministers or any head of agency, but the President.
Namdas spoke further, “There is a smear campaign that we removed the rail project and replaced it with projects in the North, which is not correct.
“We could not have removed from the budget what was not there in the first place. What the minister did is what is called budget padding and we could not have worked with what the minister brought.
“So, the story that we are trying to frustrate Mr. President is not true.”
Investigations by The PUNCH indicated that many members of the House Committee on Appropriation had no knowledge of how Jibrin arrived at the details of the budget.
A source said, “The members were asked to stay back during the Easter break to work on the details of the budget.
“However, no meetings were called. We later got to hear that some consultants were hired to work on the details along with Jibrin.
“We heard that he later sent text messages to members and committee chairmen, informing them of the details and the need for them to accept them due to the exigencies of time.”
When contacted, the Leader of the Opposition in the House, Mr. Leo Ogor, said under Section 59 of the 1999 Constitution, Buhari could withhold assent and return the budget to the National Assembly if he found out that there were provisions “alien” to him.
But Ogor noted that where the President made serious allegations over the content of the budget, the National Assembly would have to ask its Committee on Appropriation to explain how the changes were made.
He added, “I am reading this from the newspapers that there are some errors and there are some projects that he thinks are there and the funds have been removed.
“Much as the National Assembly has the power to do that, if the President can convince the National Assembly that the action is neither in favour of his economic policy nor will it be of benefit to the Nigerian people, then questions have to be asked.
“Who authorised those removals because we agreed collectively that the various committees should go and carry out those jobs?
“So, it is now left for the committees to explain why they removed those funds and I think it is the job of the committees to convince the House, which is the National Assembly, why they removed those funds.”
The Federal Ministry of Transportation, however, on Monday night said the National Assembly, particularly, the House of Representatives, lied by saying Amaechi tried to introduce the Lagos-Calabar rail line into the 2016 budget.
According to the ministry, the rail line was in the original budget but was removed by the National Assembly.
The Director, Public Relations, Federal Ministry of Transportation, Mrs. Yetunde Sonaike, told one of our correspondents that the legislators removed the Lagos-Calabar rail project and increased the amount budgeted for the Lagos-Kano rail line.
Sonaike stated, “The proposal for the Lagos-Calabar rail line was in the original budget. I saw their claims in the newspapers and I’m confirming to you that it is a lie.
“The (budget for) Lagos-Kano was N60bn, the Lagos-Calabar rail was also N60bn, but the National Assembly didn’t look at the details and the permanent secretary, right there at the National Assembly, said they should look at it. That is why I said it was not the minister that later brought it.
“Lagos-Kano was N60bn; then the second was Lagos-Calabar, which will pass through a lot of cities in the South-West, South-East and the South-South. And this was in the first and original budget.
“In the proposal, it was N60bn for Lagos-Kano, but they added N32bn; and this brought the proposal for Lagos-Kano to N92bn. They carried the about N12.5bn to aviation for projects that we didn’t budget for.”