As the controversy over the true state of the Nigerian budget raged on Monday, the Nigerian Senate asked Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi to apologise for stirring one of the issues which is budget padding, urging him, to then resign.
Part of the controversy that tended to create a crisis of confidence between the executive and the legislature was the alleged omission of a vote for Lagos-Calabar rail project.
While the Senate and the House of Representatives insisted that the project was not in the budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari last December, a clarification was however made by Senator Gbenga Ashafa, who heads the Senate Committee on Land and transportation, that the item was presented to the committee by Amaechi.
But the Appropriation Committees of the National Assembly appeared not to recognise this backdoor approach by Amaechi and insisted they only recognised the budget submitted by President Buhari, including the amended version sent after errors and paddings were detected in the first budget.
“We hereby demand from Mr Amaechi a publicly tendered apology if he is not able to show evidence that the Lagos-Calabar road project was included in the budget. Otherwise, he should resign forthwith”, said Sen. Aliyu Abdullahi, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs.
“Finally, by the provision of Section 81 (4) (a) and (b) of the Constitution, the President is allowed to sign the budget and kick-start the implementation of the other areas that constitute over 90 percent of the budget’’.
It said that the president should sign the budget and begin implementation of areas “where there is agreement between both arms, even as we engage ourselves to resolve the contentious areas, if there were any.
“ We therefore maintain that even these contrived discrepancies are not sufficient excuse not to sign the budget into law.
“We therefore urge the President to sign the 2016 budget without further delay.
“For every additional day that the president withholds his assent from the bill, the hardship in the land, which is already becoming intolerable for the masses of our people, gets even more complicated.
“Certainly, as primary representatives of the people, we shall not vacate our responsibility and watch the people continue to suffer unduly’’.
The Senate urged the Presidency to tell Nigerians the true state of the 2016 Budget.
Sen. Abdullahi said “the National Assembly had bent backwards to produce a coherent document out of the excessively flawed and chaotic versions of the budget proposal submitted to it.
“While executive is mandated to prepare and lay before the National Assembly a proposed budget detailing projects to be executed, it should be made clear that the responsibility and power of appropriation lies with National Assembly.
“If the presidency expects us to return the budget proposal to them without any adjustments, then some people must be living in a different era and probably have not come to terms with democracy.
“We make bold to say, however, that the said Lagos-Calabar rail project was not included in the budget proposal presented to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari.
“And, we challenge anyone who has any evidence to the contrary to present such to Nigerians,’’ it said.
According to the senate, the National Assembly has suffered all manners of falsehood, deliberate distortion of facts, and outright blackmail, deliberately aimed at poisoning the minds of the people against the institution of the National Assembly.
“We have endured this with equanimity (calmness) in the overall interest of Nigerians even when the original submission was surreptitiously swapped.
“We ended up having two versions of the budget which was almost incomprehensible and heavily padded in a manner that betrays lack of coordination and gross incompetence.
“We refused to play to the gallery and instead helped the Executive to manage the hugely embarrassing situation it has brought upon itself, but enough is enough.
“This latest antic of this particular Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, is reckless, uncalled for and dangerously divisive.
“Apart from setting the people of the southern part of the country against their northern compatriots, it potentially sets the people against their lawmakers from the concerned constituencies and sets the lawmakers against themselves,’’ the senate said.
The statement added that “this manner of reprehensible mischief has no place in a democracy.