President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday ruled out the possibility of signing the 2016 Appropriation Bill passed by the National Assembly last week early as expected by Nigerians and other stakeholders.
He said before he would append his signature to the document, he would do a ministry-by-ministry review of the budget to ensure that what had been returned to him was the same with what his administration submitted to the National Assembly.
According to a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, the President spoke on Thursday during a meeting with the United States Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, in Washington DC.
Buhari is currently in the US for the 4th Nuclear Security Summit.
He insisted that he would review the bill critically before assenting to it.
He said the thorough review was necessitated by alteration and padding of the budget proposals which were carried out by some unnamed persons.
The President said there was the need to review the appropriation bill to be certain that its contents tallied with the authentic budget proposal presented to the National Assembly.
“Some bureaucrats removed what we put in the proposal and replaced them with what they wanted. I have to look at the bill that has been passed by the National Assembly, ministry by ministry, to be sure that what has been brought back for me to sign is in line with our original submission,” Buhari said.
The President also used the opportunity of the meeting to promise that his administration would continue to vigorously prosecute its war against corruption.
He sought and received an assurance from Kerry that the US would facilitate the repatriation of all stolen Nigerian funds found within the American banking system.
“It will greatly help our country if you assist us to recover all our stolen funds which we can establish to be within your financial system,” the President told Kerry.
Responding, the Secretary of State said he had been told that the stolen Nigerian funds were in “billions of dollars”.
“It’s not easy to hide that amount of money and we are pretty good in tracing them,” Kerry assured Buhari.
He added that relevant US officials would meet with the Chairman of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Magu, to discuss further cooperation in that regard.
Kerry applauded the Buhari administration’s success in rolling back the Boko Haram insurgency, saying the US would continue to give Nigeria all possible support to ensure that the terror sect was finally eliminated as a threat to national and regional security.
The Secretary of State also hailed Buhari’s order that Nigeria’s Armed Forces must show greater regard for human rights in the theatre of operations against Boko Haram.
Acknowledging that the US had been of great help to his administration in the retraining and re-equipping of the Nigerian Armed Forces that had resulted in the significant success already achieved against Boko Haram, Buhari said the Federal Government was working very hard to restore normalcy to the north eastern states.
“Boko Haram no longer holds any local government area. We are reconstructing damaged facilities and preparing the police to take over and reassert civilian control over areas affected by the insurgency,” the President told Kerry.
Meanwhile, senators and members of the House of Representatives are unhappy with their respective chairmen of the Committees on Appropriation over the hasty recommendations that pushed the National Assembly into passing the 2016 budget without including the details, The PUNCH learnt on Thursday.
Findings showed that lawmakers in both chambers on the advice of the committees, had passed the estimates of the budget on Wednesday last week without the details in the hope that the committees would attach them before the Appropriation Bill was forwarded to the President for assent.
“As it turned out, this did not happen. Their action seriously places the National Assembly at a disadvantaged position whereby the Presidency found the opportunity to really hit lawmakers below the belt,” an influential National Assembly official told The PUNCH on Thursday.
“This was a budget that was full of errors from the side of the executive. The executive admitted that there were indeed errors and sent in corrections.
“Having taken so long to work on these errors, the committees were not expected to allow any loopholes regarding the issue of details, thereby turning the heat on the National Assembly.”
A former Governor of Gombe State, Danjuma Goje, chairs the Senate Committee on Appropriation, while a second-term lawmaker from Kano State, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, heads that of the House of Reps.
Investigations indicated that Buhari’s refusal to sign the 2016 Appropriation Bill without the details of the budget had jolted Senators and members of the House, who had all along thought that they had been properly guided by the committees.
A senior legislator, who did not want to be quoted, said Buhari was right to have refused to sign the budget.
He told The PUNCH that lawmakers were quite angry but found it difficult to openly condemn Goje and Jibrin because it would send the “wrong signals” that the National Assembly members were fighting against themselves.
The legislator added, “The President is right. How did we get to the point of sending the budget to him without the details?
“It is like asking Buhari to sign his own death warrant. Yes, the budget estimates are important but the details are the main issue. The devil that we talk about in budgeting, is in the details, not the highlights.
“If you sign the highlights, you have agreed to accept responsibility for any flaws in the details as well.
“It is our cross, let us carry it. After suffering to clean up the errors of the executive, we allowed ourselves to be bashed by this mistake of not waiting to fine-tune the details before rushing the bill to Mr. President.”
The PUNCH made fruitless efforts to get the views of the Majority Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, and the Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, on the development.
As of the time of filing this report on Thursday, text messages sent to the lawmakers by one of our correspondents had not been responded to.
On Wednesday, Jibrin had defended the action of the National Assembly in sending the budget to Buhari without the details.
He claimed that in the past, Presidents had signed the estimates without the details, which would normally come after one or two weeks of passing the budget.
He singled out former President Olusegun Obasanjo for having done that, admitting though that it was the prerogative of Buhari to refuse to sign until he had seen the details.
The Senate and the House had passed a budget estimate of N6.06tn on March 23.
The harmonised figure of N6.06tn passed was about N17bn less than the initial N6.07tn proposed by Buhari.
However, the National Assembly retained most of the projections of the President, including the $38 proposed as the crude oil benchmark.
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