THE peace in the Senate has been rocked by last week’s disagreement over the passage of the Revised Budget 2020 forwarded by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Multiple sources in the upper lawmaking chamber told The Nation that dusts were raised following Senate President Ahmed Lawan’s proposals on the passage of the document.
The advisory by Dr. Lawan, rejected by senators at the executive session, and the misgivings pointed out, it was learnt, include:
- giving senators one week to pass the revised budget which the executive spent about two months to revise.
- allowing the senate Appropriation Committee to review the budget and make recommendations
- alleged padding errors which only the different committees can spot in the document and
- lopsidedness in allocation of the N200 billion National Assembly’s constituency projects
It was learnt that many senators were shocked to discover that a member of the Senate Appropriation Committee allocated N12 billion worth of projects to his constituency while some Senators only got between N300 million and N500 million.
Another Senator got about N5 billion projects for his district.
The development led to an uproar at the executive session to demand what they termed “equity and justice.”
President Muhammadu Buhari presented an Appropriation Bill of N10,330,416, 607,347 for 2020.
But the National Assembly raised the proposal by N200 billion leading to the passage of N10.594 trillion 2020 budget.
The highlights of the final figures, assented to by the President, are N10,594, 362,364,380, including N560,470.827,235 as statutory transfers; N2,725, 498, 930 for Debt Servicing; N4, 842, 974, 600, 640 for Recurrent (Non-Debt) Expenditure and N2, 465,418,006,955 to the Development Fund for Capital Expenditure.
But following COVID-19 pandemic and the drastic fall in oil price, the executive is seeking the Revised Budget of N10,509,654,033,054.
According to a source, it was learnt that based on the need to fast-track the revised budget, Lawan appealed to members at the executive session to ensure a speedy passage.
He said the nation was facing economic challenges and the Legislature must rise to the occasion to assist the government accordingly.
He specifically pleaded that the revised budget be passed tomorrow.
He urged senators to allow “only the Appropriation Committee” to go through the Revised Budget presented by the executive.
Although, Lawan initially allowed two senators to respond to his remarks, he increased the number to three, following pressure.
Firing the first salvo, Sen. Uche Ekwunife cautioned the Senate against being a rubber stamp without going into the details of the revised budget.
A source from the Northwest, who was at the session said: “Ekwunife took up issues on the one-week timeline. She said if it took the executive two months to revise the budget while the National Assembly was waiting, the President of the Senate should allow the senators to go through it for at leat two weeks.
“She said since the Capital Expenditure had been adjusted, it is important for senators to study the revised budget and align it with the needs of Nigerians.
“She also faulted the Senate President’s recommendation that only the Senate Appropriation Committee should consider the revised budget and report to the Senate. She said each committee should be allowed to go through it.”
Senator Adamu Aliero spotted the imbalance in the allocation of capital projects.
Another source said: “Aliero observed that the South has more capital projects than the North. He said there is need to address the imbalance.”
The session became rowdy when Senator Aishatu Dahiru Ahmed (Binani) observed that the allocation of N200 billion Constituency Projects in the budget was lopsided and unfair to most senators.
She exposed how some senators took undue advantage of being in privileged committees, especially appropriation, to allocate billions of naira projects to their districts.
She cited the case of a Senator who allocated projects worth between N10 billion and N12 billion himself while some senators got between N300 million to N500 million projects for their districts.
Another Senator, according to her, got N5billion projects for his district.
A Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senator said: “Although Sen. Ahmed praised the leadership focus of the President of the Senate, her revelations were stunning. She got a standing ovation for her delivery. We rejected such inequality.
“For about five minutes, the situation was rowdy at the Executive Session. It was the first time the President of the Senate would see the other side of the Senators.
“The President of the Senate was surprised that such a thing could be happening. To make matters worse, the senator who allocated N12 billion projects to her district is not even a principal officer. Sen. Aishatu said while it is acceptable for principal officers to get more projects than other Senators, why will a colleague be so daring.
“The implication is that projects meant for many Senatorial Districts have been diverted by the said Senator.”
“This development has caused disquiet and we are suspecting the padding of the 2020 Budget by the same clique because some allocations to some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are questionable. In some cases, the budget proposals of some MDAs were increased for no just cause.
“Now, we have demanded for more time to study the 2020 Revised Budget. We do not need to pass it in a hurry.”
It was gathered last night that the President of the Senate had started reaching out to senators to douse the tension.
“Yes, the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, has taken charge. He is reaching out to senators to douse the tension. He is appealing to us to pass the Revised Budget on time.
“In fairness, Lawan has been involving all members in his administration, but we will no longer accept cheating. Some of his associates are greedy. If they don’t relent, we will show our true colour. We thank God that those affected cut across parties,” another senator added.