Buhari, Osinbajo, Saraki, Dogara meet to end budget impasse
• President may give assent next week
•77 senators move to resolve crisis
• World Bank gives condition for $2.5b loan
The much-awaited meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly finally took place last night with firm assurances between the executive and the legislature that the grey areas in the 2016 budget would be resolved in a matter of days.
Vice President Yemi Osinabjo accompanied the President to the meeting. The lawmakers were led by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara. Accompanying Saraki were his deputy, Ike Elweremadu, Chief Whip, Senator Adeyeye, Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio and Senator Biodun Olujimi, amongst others.
Doagra was accompanied by his deputy, Yususf Suleiman Lasun and the House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila.
The Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, the two Presidential Aides on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang and Abdulrahman Sumaila Kawu were also present at the parley.
The meeting which was held at the Conference Hall of the First Lady commenced around 9:20 p.m. and by 9:30pm the President was already out of the meeting, accompanied by Osinbajo.
Saraki, who briefed State House correspondents after the meeting said the two sides were taking steps to iron out the areas of differences between them. “We just finished a meeting with the president and vice president, and we came to let them know some of the solutions that we found in moving the budget process forward, and we are happy to say that we have agreed on the way forward and we believe that this process will be completed in matter of days rather than weeks.
“So it is good to Nigerians and all of us, we have found a way forward and in a meter of days the budget will be ready for president’s assent.”
But he would not go into the details of the solution. He assured, however, that both the executive and the legislature were committed to the signing of the budget within a very short period of time. In fact, Saraki assured the budget would be passed either on Monday or Tuesday next week.
Udoma also stated that both arms of government had agreed to work together to resolve all issues in the next few days, “and we have also agreed on the modalities of doing so.”
“So, it was a very good meeting, very positive and within the next few days, all issues will be resolved. We are working together, both the executive and the legislature, to sort those things out, within the next days, all matters will be resolved.”
Earlier yesterday, perturbed by the face-off between the executive and the legislature over the budget, a group of 77 senators vowed to rejig it by tomorrow for President Muhammadu Buhari’s assent.
The group of senators, under the aegis of G77, who addressed a press conference at the National Assembly yesterday promised Nigerians that it would ensure that the lawmakers sanitise the image of the Senate and deepen democracy in the upper chamber.
Akpabio, who led the group, said the intention was to deepen democracy, ensure good governance and shore up the image of the Senate, stressing that what Nigerians want from the current administration are dividends of democracy.
Akpabio said: “I want to assure you that the entire 77 senators who make up this group are all poised to ensure that there is good governance in Nigeria. And we want to support Mr. President to ensure that he gives out dividends of democracy to Nigerians.
“The intention of this group is to deepen democracy, ensure the sanitisation of the Senate and to give the President the needed support so that at the end of the day, we will have a better country for all.”
On the controversy surrounding the budget, Akpabio said: “The lingering issue is something that we feel is embarrassing to Nigeria and the National Assembly as a whole. If there has been a group like this, that issue would have been brought to an end.
“We are doing everything possible to rejig the details of the 2016 budget for Mr. President to sign as soon as possible. And we hope we can finish that by this Friday so that things can kick-start the Nigerian economy.”
According to him, all the social media reports that this group is meant to confront the executive are not true, because the group is not for some political parties but to discuss national issues.
“As I speak to you, aside from these 77 senators, most of my colleagues who have been in the red chamber for a long time are applying to join the group. And they want to move it to G 90 so that we can always speak in one voice.
“The group is apolitical and cuts across Labour Party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC). We are all senators of the eighth Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We are not interested in political parties, we are interested in Nigeria and we will be discussing only national issues. We are not set to confront any executive, rather we will work with the executive,” he added.
Meanwhile, the World Bank from which Nigeria is seeking about $2.5 billion concessionary loan to finance the budget deficit has demanded that the sought lifeline can only be released if both executive and legislative arms of government will offer a commitment that the over N500 billion social component of the plan shall be fully implemented.
Also earlier yesterday, in continuation of the search for an amicable resolution of the 2016 budget impasse, the Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara held a closed-door meeting with President Buhari in his office at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The meeting which lasted for about 33 minutes was attended by the Chief of Staff, (CoS) to the President, Abba Kyari and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly, (Senate), Senator ItaEnang.
Journalists were shut out from speaking to the speaker, apparently on the orders of the president’s top security aides.
Dogara, who arrived at the Presidential Villa at exactly 2:30 p.m., came out of the President’s office around 3:05 p.m., exchanged pleasantries with some top officials of the Villa, before heading into his official car. The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki did not show up for the meeting.
The meeting between the President and the leadership of the National Assembly has been dominating the media since Friday last week when it was aborted at the dying minutes without an explanation. Following media enquiries , a Presidency source had told The Guardian at the weekend that the meeting was merely re-scheduled for Monday, but it did not hold either.
While the Friday’s aborted meeting was recorded in the President’s official engagement as it was fixed for 3:00 p.m., it was not clear if yesterday’s meeting was also on the President’s daily schedules. Following a protest by the State House reporters over their inability to speak to Dogara, the Chief of Staff simply retorted: “If the National Assembly leaders are to meet the President, and the Senate President is not around, the Speaker cannot talk to you.”
Enang, on his part, said he could not speak on the subject of the meeting.