The Presidency has begun an investigation to determine the level of complicity of heads of some government’s parastatals and agencies in the “mutilated” 2016 budget sent to President Muhammadu Buhari by the National Assembly, The PUNCH has learnt.
Buhari has refused to sign the document, claiming that the federal lawmakers had doctored the fiscal bill.
A top government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity on Monday, told one of our correspondents that the probe had become imperative because some top shots were suspected to have colluded with some members of the National Assembly to produce a budget that would be difficult to implement.
“The executive is investigating the level of complicity of heads of parastatals, who are suspected to have colluded with the National Assembly. Heads may roll because we see it as sabotage,” he said.
The source said the executive arm of government was of the opinion that the budget passed by the National Assembly was meant to frustrate Buhari for his decision to be neutral in the current trial of Senate President Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Tribunal for alleged false declaration of assets.
Giving an insight into the suspicion of underhand dealings by heads of parastatals with some members of the National Assembly, the Presidency source cited an example of the Nigerian Communication Satellite Limited in the Ministry of Communications.
He said it was surprising that out of the N5bn proposed for 36 capital projects in the ministry in the original budget presented by Buhari, the National Assembly decided to move N3.6bn to NIGCOMSAT.
He added that the N3.6bn allocated to NIGCOMSAT was not for capital projects but for training for the planned NIGCOMSAT-2.
Describing the allocation as ridiculous and suspicious, the source said up until now, the Federal Government was still negotiating for funds for the NIGCOMSAT-2.
He said the government needed to know what informed such decision; whether the management of NIGCOMSAT actually demanded such funds from the National Assembly outside the budget the President presented.
He said, “We are still negotiating the funding for NIGCOMSAT-2. If we are lucky and get the loan, the fund for training is already embedded in the project cost.
“The National Assembly cancelled 28 out of the Ministry of Communications’ proposed 36 capital projects. The lawmakers also reduced the money for the remaining eight that they approved.”
The source added that investigations had revealed that many of the federal lawmakers were not involved in the production of the budget details presented to Buhari.
He added that not even all members of the Appropriation Committees of the two chambers were privy to the content.
On why Buhari would not sign the document in its present state, the source said, “It is dangerous for the President to sign now and negotiate later. The lawmakers may turn round later to accuse him of non-implementation of the budget and begin the process of removing him from office.”
Presidential spokesmen, Mr. Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, were not available for comment on Monday as they were on the President’s entourage to China.
Also, there were strong indications on Monday that the leadership of both chambers of the National Assembly might remove the chairmen of their appropriation committees following the embarrassment their work on the 2016 budget was causing the nation.
A presiding officer of the Senate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the leadership of both the Senate and House of Representatives were no longer comfortable with the tension and anxiety that the issue had continued to generate.
He explained that the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, might be removed from the committees this week over their alleged poor handling of the situation.
The presiding officer from the northern part of the country said both Saraki and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, expressed shock and disappointment over the ways both appropriation committee chairmen carried out their duties.
He said, “We have reports that both Goje and Jibrin, in most cases, sat and carried out unilateral decisions on the budget and even sometimes invite heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies for briefings without involving the chairmen of the respected committees in charge of the MDAs.
“Obviously, we in the leadership of the National Assembly are convinced that both Goje and Jibrin have personal issues which they wanted to exhibit through the budget process. People have even drawn our attention to their public statements in recent times.
“First, it was Goje, who condemned the inclusion of N500bn welfare scheme of the All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government in the 2016 budget, describing it as ‘unimplementable’ and therefore called for its suspension till next year.
“We also watched Jibrin on national television this morning (Monday), calling the executive liars, who prepared ‘unimplementable’ budget, yet had the audacity to blame the legislature for their inefficiency.
“We are convinced that the two appropriation heads are on the verge of setting the executive and the legislature on a serious collision course and we would have to stop that before it happens.”
Attempts to speak with Goje on the allegations against him failed as he ignored repeated calls made to his mobile while he also failed to respond to a text message sent to his telephone.
But in a statement on Monday, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Land Transport, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, confirmed that his committee supported the inclusion of the Lagos-Calabar rail project in the budget when Mr. Rotimi Amaechi defended his ministry’s budget before the Senate panel.
Ashafa said, “However, subsequently at the budget defence session before the Senate Committee on Land Transport, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, did inform the committee of the omission of the Lagos to Calabar rail modernisation project and indeed sent a supplementary copy of the ministry’s budget to the committee which contained the said project.
“The minister noted that the amount needed for the counterpart funding for both the Lagos to Kano and Lagos to Calabar rail modernisation projects was in the sum of N120bn, being N60bn per project.”
He said with regard to the Idu to Kaduna rail completion, the Senate Committee on Land Transport did not interfere with what was provided for in the budget as sent by the executive, being approximately N18bn.
The Senator representing Oyo South Senatorial District, Adesoji Akanbi, however, asked Nigerians to blame his colleagues in the appropriation committee, who are from the geo- political zones where projects submitted by the committee were excluded.
He said, “We have two senators from each of the six geo-political zones in the country represented in the appropriation committee. So what were they doing when such viable projects from their constituencies were being removed and replaced with others?”
Some of the senators from the South-South geo-political zone, where the Lagos-Calabar rail is located, spoke off the record that they were not carried along in the removal of the project.
However, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Senator John Enoh, confirmed to journalists on Monday that the project was included in the budget.
He, however, said he would address a news conference on the issue on Tuesday (today).