In line with the National Assembly’s resolve to meet with the executive to iron out the differences over the 2016 Appropriation Bill, Senate President Bukola Saraki last night met with President Muhammadu Buhari to reach a truce on the budget.
His meeting followed a similar one held yesterday afternoon between the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, and the president on the budget.
Emerging from his closed-door meeting, Saraki informed State House correspondents that the National Assembly and the presidency had found a way of resolving the impasse over the budget.
He said the executive arm of government and the National Assembly agreed to set up committees that would work together to harmonise areas of disagreement.
Saraki said: “We just finished a meeting with the president and the vice-president. We came to work out the solutions that we found in moving the budget process forward and we are happy to say that we have agreed on the way forward, and we believe that this process will be completed in a matter of days rather than weeks.
“So it is good for Nigerians and for all of us, we have found a way forward and in a matter of days, the budget will be ready for the president’s assent.”
When asked what the way forward was, he said: “We have committees that have been set up on our side and also on the executive’s side, we will engage over the next few days, to just tidy up a few loose ends and ensure that the outcome is satisfactory to everyone.”
On if the budget would be signed this week, Saraki said: “You heard what I just said, I said in a matter of days and not weeks; so you can start counting the days which means that between now and Monday or Tuesday, I’m hopeful that the budget will be signed.”
Also speaking, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, who was at the meeting, said: “We have agreed to work together to resolve all issues in the next few days and we have also agreed on the modalities of doing so, so it was a very good meeting, very positive and within the next few days all issues will be resolved.
“We are working together, both the executive and the legislature, to sort those things out and within the next few days all matters will be resolved.”
Earlier yesterday, the speaker met behind closed-doors with the president on the same matter.
The Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, and Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang, were present at the meeting with Dogara.
The president’s meetings with the leadership of the National Assembly came on the heels of the move by 77 first-term senators, known as the G77, to resolve the budget impasse by Friday.
Briefing newsmen after its meeting in the National Assembly yesterday, the group said the protracted controversies over the budget had become embarrassing to the nation, adding that the group was committed to bringing the impasse to an end by Friday.
Speaking on behalf of the group, its chairman and Senate Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, added that the group was formed to promote good governance and simultaneously provide meaningful support to the president with a view to guaranteeing the delivery of the dividends of democracy to the citizenry.
Akpabio, who dismissed a media report that the group was formed to serve as a platform to confront the president, added that the group was committed to ensuring that the budget is quickly re-examined and sent back to Buhari for his assent.
He added that the objective of the group was not driven by political affiliation but targeted at deepening democracy.
He said: “All the social media reports that are thinking that this group is meant to confront the executive or ranking senators – those reports are not true.
“As I speak to you, outside these 77 senators, most of my colleagues who have been in the Red Chamber for a long time are applying to join the group. And they want to move it to G90 so that we can always speak with one voice.
“The lingering issue on the budget is something that we feel is embarrassing to Nigeria, not just to the National Assembly. If we had a group like this, by now that issue would have been brought to an end.
“But just to reassure you that Mr. President will have his budget, and we are doing everything possible to rejig the details of the 2016 budget for Mr. President to sign as soon as possible.
“We hope we can finish that by this Friday so that things can take off in the Nigerian economy.
“The group is apolitical and cuts across the Labour Party, PDP and APC. We are all senators of the Eighth Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We are not interested in political parties, we are interested in Nigeria and we will only be discussing national issues.
“We are not set to confront any executive, rather we will work with the executive. The intention of this group is to deepen democracy, ensure the sanitisation of the Senate and to shore up the image of the Senate and most importantly to give the president the needed support so that at the end of the day, we will have a better country for all.”
Earlier, Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, said the National Assembly leadership and the presidency had scheduled a meeting on the budget crisis for 3 pm last Friday, but the meeting was cancelled because the information was circulated after most lawmakers had left Abuja for their various constituencies.
He assured Nigerians that the meeting would hold this week, but dismissed speculations that a letter had been sent to the Senate by Buhari on the “grey areas” in the budget.
Ndume added that since appropriation was the business of the National Assembly, no one should have expected that the budget would have been returned to the executive without being tinkered with.
Also yesterday, the National Assembly Service Commission rejected the order from Saraki asking it to reverse the appointment of the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, as the acting Clerk of the National Assembly.
The commission last week announced the appointment of Sani-Omolori as replacement for Mr. Salisu Maikasuwa, who would proceed on terminal leave on May 14.
But Saraki ordered the reversal of the appointment, saying it did not follow due process because the Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly, Benedict Efeturi, is the senior officer to Sani-Omolori.
However, in a letter addressed by the commission’s Executive Chairman, Adamu Fika, to Saraki, the commission explained that Efeturi was not appointed as Maikasuwa’s successor because it is against civil service rules to appoint an officer whose terminal leave is around the corner in an acting capacity, pointing out that Efeturi would also proceed on terminal leave on August 2.
“In the light of the foregoing, Your Excellency will agree that reversing the decision of the commission appointing Mr. Mohammed A. Sani-Omolori as the acting Clerk of the National Assembly cannot be tenable in the circumstances,” Fika said.
Meanwhile, protesters clashed at the National Assembly complex yesterday, when pro-Saraki and anti-Saraki protesters stormed the parliament and respectively demanded the continuity or resignation of the Senate president.
While the pro-Saraki’s protesters first arrived at 10.30 am brandishing different placards with inscriptions: “Stop witch-hunting (sic) Saraki,” the anti-Saraki group arrived 30 minutes later under the aegis of Citizens United for Peace and Stability (CUPS).
Saraki is currently facing trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for alleged false declaration of assets between 2003 and 2011 when he was the governor of Kwara State.
The pro-Saraki protesters rejected the ongoing trial of the Senate president, describing it as nothing but an attempt to muzzle the Senate.
They called on Nigerians to resist any attempt by those they described as enemies of democracy to halt “the progress the Senate has made in defence of democracy”.
However, the anti-Saraki protesters who were mainly youngsters and clad in T-shirts with the inscription, “#Occupy National Assembly,” vowed to sustain their protest until Saraki is ousted from office. They vowed to besiege the National Assembly for four days.
The protesters attempted to force their way into the National Assembly complex but were prevented by security agents who quickly shut the main gate of the institution and stopped exit and entry into the National Assembly.
The development forced staff and visitors into the National Assembly to make use of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation’s (SGF) gate to gain entry and exit.
Other than demanding Saraki’s resignation, the anti-Saraki protesters also said they were occupying the National Assembly for alleged padding of the 2016 budget, a situation which they said was responsible for the delay in the president’s assent to the document.
According to them, the delay has resulted in untold hardship for hapless Nigerians.
Some of the inscriptions on placards carried by the protesters included, “Enough is Enough,” “Occupy NASS to Stop Corruption,” “Legislating, Yet, Legislooting, No,” “To Keep Nigeria Going, Nigerians Must Stand Up.”
Reacting to the protest, Ndume described the “Occupy National Assembly,” action as a dangerous trend not healthy for democracy.
According to Ndume, only constituents who elected lawmakers into the National Assembly have the right to demand their ouster through a process of recall.
He said: “That is why we are not trying to say anything about them because what is happening out there is a very dangerous precedent that we are trying to set and I want to even say that it is something that if you are right, you have to be able to prove; Nigerians and you too the press will have to be able to help to define these rights, know where your rights end and my own starts.
“I contested to be senator for Borno South. I did not force myself on my people and therefore somebody out there, especially the one that did not elect me, cannot force me out because I didn’t get here by force.
“I came in by the ballot, not by the gun, not by placards. I have posters but not placards. So if for example, I am short of performance and my constituents feel that they don’t have time to waste, there is a clear cut process to collect signatures and ask for me to be recalled.
“That is the democratic way, not by coming in here to stand and say you want to occupy National Assembly.”