The impasse over the 2016 Budget passed by the National Assembly and awaiting presidential assent may be broken at the House of Representatives which expressed a readiness to ‘re-examine ‘ it yesterday.
The decision to take a second look at the budget at the lower federal legislative chamber is to ensure a cordial relationship with the executive arm of government and in the interest of Nigerians, according to Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr .Yakubu Dogara.
At the Senate which has also passed the budget and vowed not to review it despite divisions over some items, especially the Lagos-Calabar Rail project, there were indications that its leadership has moved to end the rift.
It has also emerged that Interior, Defence and Education which are among 10 federal ministries and agencies with the highest allocation in the budget are to spend more on salaries and overheads.
Dogara who spoke after deliberations on the budget imbroglio said: “In the interest of our people and considering the prevailing economic situation in the country, we have agreed to re-examine the 2016 budget. We will engage the executive arm and iron out grey areas. We will ensure we have a workable budget that can be implemented.”
The chairman of the House committee on media and publicity, Mr Abdulrazak Namdas, who shed light on the outcome of the session disclosed that Dogara would lead the team that would re-examine the budget with the executive arm.
He said notwithstanding the resolution, the House was yet to hear from President Muhammadu Buhari on areas of concern in the budget other than speculative reports in the media.
He stated: “I want to state clearly that up till now that I speak, there is no communication from the executive or the President to the National Assembly. So we cannot just say this is the problem. All that we read in the media are people’s opinion but Mr. President has not come out to say this and this is my problem with the budget that has been passed because as we were told this budget has been taken back to the ministry to review and taken back to the president.
“And that is why we have asked our Speaker to liaise with the executive. Let’s know what is the issue because we are elected by the people. We are here to serve Nigerians and therefore if these things are done in the national interest, we are open to accommodate them.”
He reiterated that in spite the viability of the Calabar- Lagos rail project , it was not included in the budget proposal submitted by Buhari on December 22 last year.
Asked what becomes of the Budget Bill in the event it has to be altered, he said he would not want to put the “cart before the horse” on the issue.
He insisted that as things stood, the budget has been passed and it behoved President Buhari to sign and implement it in the interest of Nigerians.
Following claims by the executive arm that the project was included in the budget but removed by the National Assembly, some Senators had expressed concern about the reasons for such action.
At the executive session of Tuesday, the Senate leadership was said to have advised Senators from the southern part of the country not to allow the Lagos-Calabar Rail project to create a division in the upper legislative chamber.
The chairmen of the Appropriation Committees of both chambers, Danjuma Goje (APC, Gombe) and Jibril AbdulMumuni (Kano), were accused of inserting projects in the budget without the knowledge of other members of the panels.
Senators from the South were said to have expressed displeasure about the promotion of infrastructural development in the North against the interest of their regions.
The disclosure by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Land Transport, Gbenga Ashafa, that the rail project was in the budget, heightened the suspicion of some Senators from the South regarding the motive for the removal.
Matters got worse when Ashafa was said to have alleged that he received threat messages over his press statement which exposed the fact that the Lagos-Calabar Rail project was recommended by his committee and later removed by the appropriation panels.
It was learnt that consequently, some Senators from the South have resolved to ask President Buhari to withhold his assent if the Appropriation Committees of both chambers of the National Assembly refused to include the Calabar – Lagos rail project in the 2016 budget bill.