The formal request followed controversy over the alleged secret extraction and doctoring of the original budget document. The controversy over the budget had raged all through last week, as the National Assembly resumed after a recess and the legislators prepared to begin deliberation on the budget.
It emerged that the budget saga, which became the source of an ever-growing confusion, arose from Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang’s alleged adoption of a sneaky approach in the pursuit of an otherwise legitimate objective.
It was gathered that Buhari had discovered after presenting the 2016 budget to the National Assembly that some of the figures proposed for operations in the Presidency and the State House were being publicly criticised as outrageous and higher than those of his predecessor, former President Goodluck Jonathan. Given Buhari’s austere nature and the change agenda of his party, the figures for the subheads in the budget for the office of the president, vice president, and a few ministries, which went viral on the social media and had become a major topic of discussion on both the print and broadcast media, were a huge embarrassment.
To reflect the public mood, the president was said to have directed the recall of the 2016 budget from the National Assembly for review. Ordinarily, the review process should have entailed a written request from the president to the National Assembly calling for the withdrawal of the budget. But Enang, allegedly, embarked on a surreptitious process of changing the budget figures, which went awry.
The senate had at its plenary on Thursday accused Enang of doctoring the contents of the 2016 Appropriation Bill presented to the National Assembly by Buhari. “What he distributed is different from what was presented by Mr. President and we have resolved not to address any version until we receive the version presented by Mr. President,” Saraki announced to the senators after an executive session that dwelled on a strange confusion about the substitution of the budget, which had raged since Monday. Enang’s indictment followed an investigation by the ethics and privileges committee of the senate.
THISDAY checks revealed that when Enang wanted to swap the original document, he attempted to reach the Clerk of the Appropriation Committee by telephone but could not get through. He then decided to call the Acting Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr. Nelson Ayewoh, and told him how he had attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to reach the appropriation clerk to collect a document from him.
Ayewoh, it was learnt, accepted to call the appropriation committee clerk and ask him to call Enang, but without knowing that the communication was in connection with the budget document.
Ayewoh was said to have told the investigating committee that he did not know what Enang wanted to discuss with the appropriation clerk but only showed him respect by drawing the clerk’s attention to Enang’s call.
However, THISDAY was reliably informed that when Enang appeared before the committee, he denied communicating with both Ayewoh and the appropriation clerk over the budget. He also allegedly said he never had their numbers.
Efforts to reach Enang for his reaction to the budget controversy did not succeed. He appears to have decided to reserve his comment on the matter. In the heat of the controversy last week, Enang was quoted as saying, “I do not want to comment on the matter at the moment. It is a very sensitive matter involving two of my bosses – the National Assembly and Presidency. I don’t want to talk about them.”
Also yesterday, the Senate and former Interim National Chairman of APC, Chief Bisi Akande, exchanged diatribes over controversy surrounding the 2016 budget.
Apparently unaware that the President had written the National Assembly on the budget controversy, Akande, in a chat with newsmen in his Ila country home as part of activities marking his 77th birthday, said the claim of missing 2016 budget from the upper legislative chamber was the furtherance of the indiscipline that produced its leadership.
The former interim national chairman of APC also said that the APC still did not believe in the composition of the upper legislative body.
He said: “When I first read in the newspapers that budget was missing in Abuja, you know I live in Ila and I don’t have all the details of what goes on in Abuja. I called the lawmaker representing my constituency and he told me that the budget presented to the House of Representatives was not missing. That showed some complications.
“The whole thing is borne out of indiscipline. You know when foundation of an assembly is indiscipline, the whole thing is bad. That assembly was not constituted the way my party wanted it. The process was hijacked and the leadership was constituted the way it is.
“So from such an assembly, you should expect all kinds of stories. The development regarding the missing budget may be caused by mishandling by people, who are not supposed to be in position. Mr. President should not be blamed for what is happening
“Come to think of it, how can a document as voluminous as the budget of a whole nation go missing? With my experience in government, just a ministry may have up to 10 pages or up to 100 pages. Imagine you have 30 ministries, that means you will have a documents of 30,000. How on earth will such a large document get missing?”
The Senate however deplored the comment by Akande, describing his reaction as another expression of the frustration which accompanied his inability “to impose his lackeys on the Senate as leaders.”
In a statement last night, the Senate said it was regrettable that a man of Akande’s status could respond to speculations without cross-checking his facts, alleging that the former governor was always eager to exploit any available opportunity to bring into disrepute the leadership of the Senate because his candidates lost out in the power game.
According to the statement signed by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, the parliament said if only Akande had chosen to check his record properly, he would see that “at no time did the Senate say the 2016 budget was missing.”
He said the Senate had insisted through several official statements and press interviews by its principal officers that the budget was not missing but two different versions of the budget were seen by senators.
“We have said it several times that the budget was not missing; that two versions of the details of the budget exist and this is no longer in doubt as the Presidency has equally admitted this. We expect a man of Akande’s calibre to cross-check his facts and take us up on our words. That he decided to ignore the facts and make comments on speculations is regrettable. He is a man who had served in government. He is a leader of the party with the majority in the Senate and he has several channels of cross-checking facts as against speculations,” the statement stated.
The Senate further said contrary to the description of what happened as indiscipline on the part of the leadership, the position of Senate leadership is a demonstration of the regime of openness, transparency and accountability which he said had become the hallmark of the current upper legislative chamber.
It added: “Chief Akande is still sulking after his group’s failed attempt to impose certain individuals as the leaders of the Senate last year. So, he was in a hurry to condemn the leadership. We want him to know that the leadership of the Senate can only emerge through the provisions of the constitution and the standing rules of the institution. As a democrat, Akande should know that once the majority has elected the leadership, all parties to the contest ought to accept the decision.
“To continue belly-aching and working to undermine the institution because of the failure to get one’s choice candidates elected casts doubts on his democratic credentials. It appears he is only a democrat when he has his way. We advise him to move on and let us help the legislative institution to focus on its agenda to serve the people in line with the much needed change that President Muhammadu Buhari promised the nation.”