The Presidency and the National Assembly inched towards resolving the controversies surrounding the 2016 budget on Friday following alleged “fruitful exchange of ideas” between Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara.
The House of Representatives had on Wednesday resolved to “re-examine” the budget for the sake of “overriding national interest and the prevailing economic situation in the country.”
Members took the decision after a two-hour closed-door session, where they mandated Dogara to meet with President Muhammadu Buhari to find a common ground on the dispute.
“The House in executive session, was briefed by the Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, on the budget.
“We delegated the speaker to go ahead and engage the executive, identify the areas of concern and report back to the House.
“If the issues of concern are of national interest, we will look at them again by accommodating them in the budget”, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, had told reporters soon after the closed-door session of the House.
In the absence of Buhari, Saturday PUNCH gathered that Dogara met with Osinbajo instead.
Findings by Saturday PUNCH showed that the Presidency, in the course of the exchange of ideas, itemised the “grey areas” in the N6.06trn budget, politely requesting the National Assembly re-work them.
“What happened was that the speaker received a list of items from the VP and the understanding is that the National Assembly should retain some of the provisions in the budget the way they came from the executive.
“There were distortions, which were itemised and they are to be re-worked and retained the way they came originally from the executive”, a senior legislative official, who was privy to the development, confided in Saturday PUNCH in Abuja on Friday.
Investigations showed that, flowing from the understanding, a letter from the Presidency to formalise the understanding is expected to be read on the floor of the House on Tuesday, next week.
“The Senate too is expected to work in line with what the House will do”, the source added.
It was learnt that all the projects that generated the controversies would be returned to the Committee on Appropriation.
The committee will in turn revert to the affected Ministries, Departments and Agencies where the projects are domiciled, for the differences in the details to be sorted out through their relevant standing committees of the National Assembly.
“All of this will not alter the total budget size of N6.06tn; it is only to correct the details and resolve the differences that created the controversies in the first place,” the official added.
It was further gathered that among the lawmakers, most of the “lopsided” projects injected into the budget by the Committee on Appropriation to the exclusion of other constituencies, would be re-adjusted.
Among the projects are the N40bn inserted in the budget for projects in the geo-political zones of the leadership of the Senate and the House.
It had been programmed that principal officers in the two chambers would benefit N20bn projects apiece in their areas from the budget in line with a tradition kept since 1999.
But, owing to the protests that have trailed the inclusion of such projects this year, they will be re-ordered to free the N40bn.
Jibrin too is to forfeit projects worth N4.169bn, which he allocated to his constituency in Kano State. The projects were not in the budget proposed by the executive.
Among Jibrin’s controversial projects are rehabilitation of Gwarzo Kiru, Kwanar Maiyaki road, N180m; sum of N100m for town hall; construction of roads in Kiru/Bebeji, N150m; solar street lights, N300m; Badaf road construction, N405m; and Bebeji earth dam, N270m.
Namdas confirmed to Saturday PUNCH that he was aware that Osinbajo and Dogara met.
But, he declined to give information on the “items” submitted to Dogara, saying that “the speaker prefers to handle that aspect by himself on the floor.”
Speaking in a similar vein, the Senate said it was on the same page with the House of Representatives with respect to the 2016 budget.
It said that the decision of the House to revisit the budget did not mean the process would begin afresh.
Senate Spokesperson, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, said this in a telephone interview with one of our correspondents.
Abdullahi said, “We have one single national budget in a year. If we say we are going to follow a particular provision of the constitution, then we have to do what needed to be done now.
“So there is no difference between what we are saying in the Senate and the position of the House of Representatives to revisit the issue.
“Revisiting the issue of budget means that the House of Reps is also considering incorporating supplementary budget.
“When you are revisiting something that means you are not done with it. There is only one single budget.
“We in the Senate have made it very clear that we are not opposed to that (Calabar – Lagos) project. It is a very important national project and we support it in totality.
“National Assembly is one and we are working together. There is no conflict, there is no difference.”
When contacted on the matter, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enag, said, “All I can confirm to you now is that the President is not yet back.”