Expectations at the business community was high last week amidst the legislative week commencing last Tuesday that the 2017 Appropriations Bill would be laid for third reading and passed in the Senate, as well as the House of Representatives, for transmission to the President.
It was just days before the expiration of the 2016 budget, which, based on provision of the 2016 Appropriations Act, became invalid on Friday.
But the expectations were not met on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday – the three days National Assembly have plenary sessions in a week. The report on the 2017 budget expected from the joint committee on appropriations and finance chaired by Danjuma Goje and John Enoh respectively was not laid.
Although, the presentation of the report was listed as the first item on the Senate’s Order Paper for Thursday, the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, successfully moved that it be stepped down and taken “by the Grace of God” on Tuesday in the coming week. Reason: Mr. Goje (APC-Gombe) and Mr. Enoh (PDP-Cross River) and their members, were “currently” meeting with their counterparts in the House of Representatives on the last-minute harmonisation of the budget proposal.
In any case, even if the Senate, nay the National Assembly, had passed the budget by Thursday, it would not have been possible, realistically speaking, to make it operational by presidential assent before Friday, expiration of the 2016 budget. A passed budget bill will be transmitted to the president who, reasonably will spend days to consider and review it, with his team, including the vice president, who heads the country’s economic team, before assenting to it. The lawmakers have now spent five months to review the budget proposal presented by President Muhammadu Buhari in December last year.
With the expiration of the 2016 budget without one for 2017, what next? There has been confusion. There has been fear of government shut down. But no. Despite the non-passage of the budget before expiration of the 2016 last one, the development would not result in a government shutdown. This is because Section 82 of the constitution allows the president to authorise withdrawal from the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the purpose of meeting expenditure necessary to carry on services of the government until the coming into operation of the new budget.
Speaking on this, Eze Onyekpere, a fiscal policy expert and Lead Director of the Centre for Social Justice said the government is empowered by law to “continue to spend” after expiration of the current budget, until a new budget is approved. The Director of Information at the Ministry of Finance, Salisu Danbatta, also expressed a similar view.
Having failed on budget, what else did the Senate do in the previous week?
First, on Tuesday Nigerian Peace Corps bill suffered set back in the Senate, after both chambers of the National Assembly had passed endorsed the bill. It was just for the Senate to endorse the conference report on the bill; but, alas, some lawmakers, including James Manager (PDP-Delta) and Godswill Akpabio (PDP-Akwa Ibom) rose against the bill, causing the Senate to step it down; thereby sending shock to thousands of youth who saw hope of employment in the effective taking off of the Peace Corps as a statutory body. Jocularly, Mr. Akpabio likened passage of the NPC bill to legitimization of MMM, Ponzi scheme.
The Senate also referred the screening of 27 nominees for the positions of Resident Electoral Commissioners to its committee on INEC now chaired by Nazif Suleiman, following the suspension of Ali Ndume. The consideration of the nominations had been suspended in April after the lawmakers asked the president to act against Ibrahim Magu, acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and Babachir Lawal, eventually suspended federal cabinet secretary.
The report of the Shehu Sani-led ad hoc committee on the humanitarian crisis in north east was presented on Wednesday. The report detailed damning cases of procurement fraud, diversion of grains and negligence of duty by agencies of government. The big victim of the report is Mr. Lawal, who is atcentre of scandalous bribery and contract fraud allegations. The Senate insisted on his prosecution.
Most importantly, before the report on the north east was presented, the Senate screened Suleiman Hassan and Stephen Ocheni for ministerial jobs. They were confirmed after displaying impressive performances, while responding to questions posed by lawmakers on their respective areas of competence and backgrounds.
Equally important was the passage of the James Manager-sponsored bill for the establishment of the Nigerian Maritime University at Okerenkoko in Warri South-West Local Government Area of Delta State, following the report of the committee on tertiary education and TETFUND, chaired by Jibrin Barau. The university, now ordered for immediate operation by President Muhammadu Buhari as part of Niger Delta peace-building efforts, is to be funded with 15 per cent of the annual budgetary allocation of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA.
But before it becomes a statutory body, it still has two hurdles to scale: transmission of its establishment bill to the House of Representatives for concurrence and, ultimately, to the president for assent.
Then, in what might be shaping up to be a means of exploiting institution to reach private end, Hope Uzodinma raised a Point of Order on alleged mismanagement in import and export procedures as well as the operations of the Nigerian Ports Authority. He wanted the Senate Committee on Marine Transport to join the Customs Committee to unravel the “continued defrauding of the nation”.
And Good News After all … Anti-Corruption Bill Came up
On Thursday, the report of the joint committee on Judiciary, Foreign Affairs and Anti-Corruption on the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters between Nigeria and other Foreign States Bill 2017 SB. 224 was laid by David Umaru (APC-Niger). The bill was sent by the executive in January 2016, seeking to elicit international assistance in criminal investigations, recovery, forfeiture or confiscation of property in respect of offences.
There is no report yet on the second one, Money Laundering Prevention and Prohibition Bill, sent same day as the one on mutual legal assistance.
The way the Senate dilly-dallied, and still does, on the consideration of the anti-corruption bills has fuelled anti-legislature criticisms.