Yar'Adua in frantic move to end Senate-House feud
President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua was making frantic efforts last night to resolve the supremacy battle between the Senate and the House of Representatives as fears of a prolonged dispute on the passage of the 2010 budget gripped the Presidency.
A disagreement had ensued between the Senate and the House of Representatives over the venue of the joint session to receive the 2010 budget, thereby forcing Yar'Adua to defer the presentation of the fiscal proposal. Yar'Adua asked the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to wade into the rift.
Speaking through his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Olusegun Adeniyi, the President said the early resolution of the disagreement was necessary to avoid undue delay of the budget presentation. “This is a democracy and issues like these have come up in other countries and were resolved in the interest of the people.
The same will happen in this instance,” he stated. Amid expectations yesterday, heightened by security beef-up in and around the premises of the parliament Yar'Adua's Special Adviser to the National Assembly, Senator Mohammed Abba-Aji, told Senate correspondents that the president would present the proposal at a later date.
Arrangements had been put in place with two sets of army bands stationed in both the Senate and the House of Representatives wing of the White Building housing the two chambers.
But it was not until about 11.30am that it became evident to National Assembly bureaucrats and other persons on official assignment in the complex that the scheduled budget presentation would not hold. The Senate immediately launched into a closed door session to review the development and take a decision on the next step.
The session lasted for about two hours. The Upper House did not brief the press at the end of the session. But it was gathered that it resolved to address the disagreement using the instrumentality of the PDP.
The party controls the majority in the 109-member Senate with 86 members (minus Adamu Aliero's seat that is vacant after his appointment as a minister and Iyiola Omisore's seat that was voided by the Court of Appeal and now up for fresh election). It also controls the majority in the House of Representatives. THISDAY learnt yesterday that the principal officers of the Senate (from the PDP) led by the Senate President, Senator David Mark, held a reconciliation meeting presided over by the party's National Chairman, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor.
Speaker Dimeji Bankole and PDP leaders in the House were also said to have been invited to the meeting, which was held at the party secretariat. PDP was said to have directed that the old tradition of using the chamber of the House of Repres-entatives be allowed to prevail. At the meeting, Ogbulafor and the members of the National Working Committee (NWC) heard first hand the bone of contention. According to a top member of the PDP NWC, Mark said it was the decision of the Senate that the bill is presented at the chamber under the Upper House since he is the presiding officer in a joint session.
But Bankole reportedly said that the Senate chamber is too small to accommodate all the dignitaries that would accompany the president and the PDP officials to the budget presentation. Bankole further said that several members of the diplomatic corps have been invited for the budget presentation and it would amount to great inconvenience for all the invited dignitaries to sit at the Senate chamber.
Addressing newsmen after the meeting, the National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Prof. Ahmed Alkali said: “We learnt that the Senate wants the presentation done in their chamber. All we know is that all of us are students of history and students of politics. What we are saying is something that this is not new because traditionally what happens is that budget presentation is often done in the House of Representatives. It is a larger place.
The Senate president presides. After the entire occasion, the Speaker gives a vote of thanks. “This is a thing that is known by the Nigerian Constitution, the tradition and all countries where we have bicameral legislature. So, I don't think this should now take us back.”
It was gathered that the desire by the party leadership to intervene made Yar'Adua to defer his presentation of the budget. The view in National Assembly circles yesterday was that Yar'Adua should have gone ahead to lay the budget separately before both houses as provided for in Section 81(1) of the 1999 Constitution – although this was one of the options explored by the president but was later shelved. But a legislator on the platform of an opposition party who was at the closed door session in the Senate told THISDAY that the PDP caucus agreed to resolve the problem in-house since it was in the party's court as the majority party.
However, briefing Senate correspondents yesterday, Abba-Aji dismissed insinuations that Yar'Adua deferred the budget presentation because of some health challenges, saying: “He is in perfect health, there is no doubt about that.” He said: “Our purpose of today's (yesterday's) briefing is to inform you that the scheduled presentation of the 2010 budget before a joint session of the National Assembly will not hold as scheduled. It will now hold at a later date. That is the purpose of the briefing.”
He stated that “it (presentation) is not holding because we have a policy of non-interference with respect to separation of power and you all know that there is a little house keeping left to be concluded in the National Assembly between the two chambers, so we are allowing them time to put their house together.”