President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday formally received the detailed copy of the 2016 budget as transmitted to him by the National Assembly.
The transmission is coming barely a week after the Presidency’s observation that the lawmakers had merely sent to it highlights of the budget as they passed a fortnight ago, without the details.
Meanwhile, former President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday denied claims by the Chairman of the Appropriation Committee of the House of Representatives, Abdulmumini Jibrin that he, Obasanjo and the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua signed budgets into law without getting details.
The budget copy was received on behalf of Buhari by his Chief of Staff, Malam Abba Kyari at the State House. Before he received the copy, the president was briefed at a short meeting in his office.
Present during the submission were the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma, the two Senior Special Assistants to the President on National Assembly (Senate), Sen. Ita Enang and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Abdulrahman Kawu Sumaila.
Enang, who was seen clutching a file containing the document, confirmed to State House correspondents that it had been transmitted to the Presidency, noting that what remained was for the normal constitutional procedures to take place leading to the presidential assent.
Sumaila, who also spoke later on the development gave a firm assurance that the president was ever ready to sign into law and commence the implementation of the budget within a very short period of time because of his concern for the country’s masses whose lives he had vowed to impact on positively.
Though he would not go into the details of the procedures, he insisted that there were laid down procedures that had been prescribed by the constitution before the president assents to a budget, noting that when those procedures were followed the budget would be signed into law within a very short time.
However, The Guardian learnt that in line with the president’s declaration in Washington last week that the budget would be critically scrutinised ministry-by-ministry to ensure that what was done by the lawmakers conformed with what was sent to them by the Presidency, a committee under the Vice President, Osinbajo, had been raised to go through the document.
Though details of the membership of the committee Osinbajo is heading remained sketchy yesterday, it was learnt that ministers and other top level officials in ministries, departments and agencies(MDAs) are expected to participate in the exercise.
In fact, an aide to the Budget and National Planning Minister confirmed that copies were being sent to the various ministers for them to scrutinise and make quick observation to the president for further engagement with the leadership of the NASS before eventual assent of the document by Buhari before his trip to China next week.
Sumaila, who later spoke on the matter said the budget, though received by the Presidency, “would have to be scrutinised within a very short period of time to see what they have done before we can tell Nigerians the real situation of things.”
Reminded that Nigerians were anxious that the implementation of the budget should commence immediately, he said, for the past 16 years, there was no budget that had not been scrutinised.
He said that each time lawmakers finish their work, the executive would also look at it before the president could sign it or otherwise. “This has been the tradition,” he said.
Asked if the executive was suspecting any foul play in the exercise, he said with or without suspicion that had been the tradition, and that this was how it would continue, adding: “It did not start with us and definitely, it will not end with us.”
Asked if they could conclude the scrutiny within one month, he said it might not take that long.
“We are not interested in holding on to the budget because it is the desire of the president to see that the signing and implementation of the budget commence without delay,” he said.
He noted, however, that if there were areas of disagreement, both the legislature and the executive would sit down and reach a necessary agreement. He parried a question on the allegation that the lawmakers had reviewed upward the constituency project allowance to N100 billion, saying he was just hearing about it for the first time.
Asked if the money would be removed or not, if discovered in the budget, he said: “I cannot say whether it would be removed or not because I’m not the one signing or executing the budget.”
The aide to the Minster of Budget and Planning who spoke on a condition of anonymity also confided in The Guardian that one area of possible conflict would be the Constituency Project Fund.
But he was quick to reassure that Buhari would definitely go ahead and sign the budget to revive the economy while engagement with the legislators would continue.
Besides, it has been observed that while the president segregated the budget for the police and their formations in the budget estimates sent to the National Assembly from the Ministry of Interior which is now the supervisory ministry of the police, the legislators consolidated it with that of the Interior Ministry.
Before now, the police and their formations were provided for in the Ministry of Police Affairs which has been scrapped.
After meeting with Buhari at the Presidential Villa on the state of insecurity in the north east, Obasanjo had expressed surprise when asked if, indeed as alleged by members of the House of Representatives, he had signed a budget without the details.
His response: “I signed a budget without details? Anybody who told you that, go and ask him again.” The former president, who offered his thoughts on the controversy surrounding the delay in the signing of the 2016 budget by the president said the constitution allows the executive to continue with the budget “provided you did not go beyond the previous year. That can be done up to the middle of the year.”
However, he would not speak on the budget itself because he had not read the details of the document. His words: “Before I will be able to tell you something about the budget, I have to read it and know what it contains and what it does not contain, to know what to talk about.”
Obasanjo said his visit to Buhari was in connection with his recent visit to some troubled north east states.