The fate of this year’s budget was yesterday hanging in the balance, with Senate President Bukola Saraki accusing Presidential Liasson Officer Ita Enang of printing a different version of the document presented by President Muhammadu Buhari on December 22.
He said the Senate will not consider the budget until the version presented by the President is made available to senators.
But to the President, the drama over the document is “laughable”, according to House Presidential Liasson Officer Sumaila Kawu.
Saraki spoke after a two-hour closed session to “thorougly discuss and to take far-reaching discussion on the budget”.
He recalled that the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions was told to investigate the matter.
He said the Senate discovered from the findings of its Ethics committee that Enang printed and submitted to the Senate a different version of the document.
He said: “We have received the report of the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions on investigations surrounding 2016 Appropriation Bill.
“Our finding is that Senator Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (SSA), printed copies of the 2016 Appropriation Bill and brought to the Senate.
“We have discovered that what he brought is different from the version presented by Mr. President.
“We have resolved to consider only the version presented by Mr. President as soon as we receive soft copy of the original document from the Executive.”
Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, told reporters immediately after Senate plenary that:
“The report of the investigation by the committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition has been submitted in the Executive session because it was a decision we took in the last Executive session on Tuesday.
“Now our findings are these, that Mr. President did lay the budget in the Joint session of the National Assembly.
“Thereafter, the Senate went on recess and upon resumption copies of the document were produced by Senator Ita Enang, who is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters for Senate and copies were submitted to both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“What we found out is that the document submitted by Senator Ita Enang upon our resumption has some differences and discrepancies with what was originally laid by Mr. President in the joint sitting of the National Assembly.
“However, the Senate in defence of its integrity and honour will not work with what has not been laid in the National Assembly.
“We are constitutionally mandated and duty-bound to consider only that budget that has been so laid by Mr. President.
“Right now, for reproduction, we are awaiting the soft copy of the originally submitted budget so that the National Assembly can reproduce copies of the budget itself.
“Because if we reproduce ourselves, then we have confidence in the fact that what we reproduced is what was originally submitted to us.
“The institution of the Senate will not and can not do anything that is illegal. We will not do any thing that will not promote the unity, integrity and welfare of Nigerians.”
Abdullahi said: “The budget submitted by the President is not missing. We already have copies of it but what we are saying is that for us to reproduce for our members, it is easier, based on the quantum of document that has to be produced, that we get the soft copy of that original version so that we can reproduce it.”
He insisted that “by next week, we want to go down to business; senators have picked dates to speak during the three days set aside for debate of the 2016 budget.”
Abdullahi also said that the Senate leadership was mandated to speak with all those concerned with the document. “That was why the Senate President was in touch with Mr. President.”
The Senate spokesperson, however, refused to speak on the claim by the House of Representatives that it had its own original version of the fiscal document.
He also declined to state the differences in the version submitted by Enang and the one presented by President Buhari.
“I am not in the position to say the differences between the document submitted by the President and the one brought by Ita Enang. The committee that investigated the issue did not include that in their report.”
Enang declined to speak on the matter, saying it is between “two of my bosses”.
.”I do not want to comment on the matter at the moment,” Enang said. “It is a very sensitive matter involving two of my bosses – the National Assembly and Presidency. I don’t want to talk about them.”
To Buhari, the drama over the budget is “laughable”, according to the House Presidential Liasson Officer Sumaiala Kawu. The President cannot direct his agents to “steal” the document.
According to him, the President has no reason to smuggle the document out of the Senate because he is aware of options he can explore to withdraw the document.
He also described the accusation directed at his Senate counterpart, Sen. Ita Enang as “unfair” because the former senator is an experienced lawmaker who once chaired Rules and Business Committees in the House and in the Senate.
Kawu said the missing budget rumour may have been strengthened by the locking away of the document in the Clerk of the National Assembly’s office.
He said: “It is a suprise to us and Mr President in particular; it is laughable. We just laughed when we heard of it.
“Being a joint sitting , Mr President laid one document on the floor; then it is for the Budget Office or National Planning Commission (NPC) to make copies.
“In this case, once it was laid, the Clerk of the National Assembly locked the document in his office because of the time of the year; it was holiday period and the lawmakers were going on holiday.
“The confusion might have been as a result of that.
“But our concern in this matter is why we were dragged into it.
“Actually, as our job entails, we lobbied the National Assembly to take a second look at the oil benchmark because our projection was no longer in tune with the current reality.
“We lobbied the National Assembly on the benchmark; it was not illegal or alien to legislature world over and it has nothing to do with stealing or smuggling it out of the Senate.
“We, as the Executive, have to take account of the volatile nature of oil price. The National Assembly was aware of this, but notwithstanding we still have no reason to withdraw it.
“Even if the document must be withdrawn, it must be done legally and there are laid down means of doing that, which the President can explore.
“Buhari will be the last person to assign his agent to be involved in such illegality.”
The presidential aide said the sad development was not a matter of lack of communication between the Executive and legislature but an act of mischief by those behind it.
He defended Enang, saying:
“Enang is a hands-on legislator that knows the rules. He was Chairman of Rules and Business committees of the House and Senate, so he knows the rules.
“This is the same lawmaker that tackled the then Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on different versions of Budget being implemented.
“He is very much aware of what is at stake and couldn’t have involved himself in such an illegality”.
On whether the budget may be withdrawn as a result of the crashing global oil price, Kawu said there was no plan for that.
“We will not withdraw the because the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) has taken into consideration a situation like this.
“We are aware that for Saudi Arabia to raise her domestic oil price and the United States exporting oil means there’s a problem.
“That was the reason why diversification of economy is a priority to this government, this budget wasn’t oil-dependent,” he said.
House of Representatives spokesman Abdulrazak Namdas said the House would only work with the document presented by President Buhari.
“He came with the document, and laid it on the table, and this is the document we would work on, as far as we are concerned as a House.
“By next week, we are commencing consideration of the document. Since our budget is not missing, nobody has withdrawn it,”.