Against the backdrop of the on-going 2016 budget controversy, the Federal Government has maintained that the N60 billion Lagos-Calabar Rail Project was submitted to and accepted by the National Assembly for approval following proper procedure. This is as opposed to the claim by the lawmakers who also firmly insists that the said project was not captured in the budget submitted to them by the presidency.
The Federal Government’s assertion came on the same day the Senate said the protest of the executive over the budget controversy would not move it to go over the budget that was passed two weeks ago again, asking President Muhammadu Buhari to prepare and submit a detailed supplementary budget before it for consideration instead.
The Red Chamber arrived at its decision during a closed-door session, almost immediately after resumption of plenary, standing firm on their resolve that President Buhari has no choice but to assent the budget as passed, thus indicating that the legislature might override the President if he vetoed the bill as passed by NASS.
During the closed-door session, some Senators of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), forcefully demanded that the Lagos-Calabar rail project should be recorded in the budget, while those from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), insisted that the President must sign the budget and later capture the project in a supplementary budget. This gave rise to a fracas between the two parties.
According to Vanguard, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who presided over the session that lasted for one-hour, upheld the latter as a result of overwhelming support for it.
Speaking to newsmen later, Abdullahi Sabi, Chairman Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, disclosed that in the course of the session, Senators resolved that the President should endorse the budget as passed and incorporate things that were left out in the main budget in a supplementary budget.
Sabi firmly stated that the Lagos-Calabar rail project was not included in the budget as opposed to the position of the executive, and asked the executive to stop instigating Nigerians against the legislature which, according to him, has done so much in the budget to ensure dividends of democracy were speedily delivered to them. According to him:
“I know very well that the last one week has been full of the language you guys have already crafted ‘budget controversy’, even though for us, there is no controversy.
“Like you will recall, I issued a press statement yesterday (Monday), on behalf of the Senate to make our position very clear with respect to the issue of the budget. And let me make it very clear that we issued that statement simply to clarify the situation and not to confront any authority or threaten anybody.
“We are a democratic institution and whatever we do, we remain guided by the grund norm of the country which is the constitution.
“Today, we have resumed plenary, having come back from our recess and, of course, we went into executive session, which is the normal practice, to welcome one another and discuss issues that we believe pertain to the burning issues on ground, in this case, the issue of the 2016 budget and the smooth workings of the Senate and the National Assembly.
Mr. Abdullahi Sabi went on to state that the Senate has not shifted grounds based on the statement it released on Monday declaring its position with regards to the rail project saga, and that the statement was released based on facts, adding, “we would definitely remain guided by the tenets of the Nigerian Constitution as we did whatever we were supposed to do”. Acknowledging that the next important move is for the budget to be signed, he however addressed Nigerians saying:
“The constitution has taken note of this kind of scenario where you may have omissions or shortfalls of allocations and Section 81 of the Constitution is very clear on what you need to do, which is to sign the budget and then submit a supplementary appropriation.
“I want to assure you that the Senate is not unmindful of the cries of Nigerians. That we said, for example, that the Lagos-Calabar rail project was not in the budget does not in any way undermine the fact that it is a very, very important project for this nation to embark on.
In light of the above statement, the Senate spokesman noted that the National Assembly and the Senate are open if the executive presents a supplementary appropriation with respect to the Lagos-Calabar rail project as well as any other issue that they feel very strongly about. “We are ready and willing to consider such”, he said, adding that the “most important point to note is that we want to remain guided by the provisions of the constitution”
As Mr. Abdullahi Sabi said, with the passage of the budget, ‘we are moving into the second phase of our responsibility, which is oversight. So we want to appeal to Nigerians that the Senate is committed to doing its work diligently. It is committed to listening to the yearning of Nigerians and to do what is right’.