2013 BUDGET ULTIMATUM: SENATE UNDER PRESSURE TO BACK DOWN - INVESTIGATION
There are strong indications that the Senate has come under a deluge of pressures from the presidency and some interest groups to moderate its stance on the 2013 budget.
Going by its subsisting plans, the Senate was expected to commence the process of overriding the president's imminent veto of the 2013 budget bill this morning.
LEADERSHIP had exclusively reported that the upper chamber handed down a deadline of Tuesday (today) for President Goodluck Jonathan to sign the budget bill or it will override his veto by two-thirds majority.
But LEADERSHIP investigation revealed that the presidency, facing the obvious reality of a major battle, decided to deploy some high level foot soldiers to broker an understanding that could see the senators giving the president a soft landing.
A source disclosed last night that the president was asking for some few days to enable him and his economic team to tidy some loose ends in the budget bill.
Again, it was learnt that the leadership of the Senate was scheduled to meet last night to take a definite stand in the light of the presidency's approach.
'The meeting would, for sure, point the way forward. The outcome will set the stage for the next line of action,' said the source who craved anonymity.
The presidency, it was also learnt, reached out to the Senate with the spin: that delay in signing the budget did not mean that the bill had been vetoed by President Jonathan.
The presidency was said to have even directed the attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN), to furnish it with legal advice on the application of veto powers, apparently faced with a constitutional dilemma as pointed out by the Senate when the statutory 30 days required to assent to the bill lapsed last week. The time lapsed February 14.
But chief economic adviser to the president, Dr. Nwanze Okidegbe, alluded to the reconciliation theory when he told a press conference in Abuja on Sunday that the executive and the legislative arms had reached an understanding how government would continue to function pending the resolution of contentious issues and subsequent signing into law by the president.
The presidency had hinged the reason for the delay on constituency projects injected into the budget by the legislators, and the reduction in the personnel estimates submitted by the executive.
Nonetheless, he gave the assurance that the president was keen to sign the 2013 budget as soon as possible if discussions with the National Assembly were fruitful.
But speaking to LEADERSHIP last night, Senate's spokesman, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, said that the upper chamber can only act based on available communication.
He said: 'For now, the president has not sent any communication to the Senate as to the status of the budget bill. But I can tell you that Senate will react appropriately when it is formally communicated by the president. Nobody knows the status of the budget bill. The law requires the president to communicate us.'
On the threat to override the president, he said: 'Senate cannot override a veto that is non-existent. What if after we do that the president sends a communication indicating that he has assented to the bill? There must be something to act on.'
On whether the Senate is under pressure, Abaribe said when two arms of government are working for the common good, one cannot rule out coming under pressures to find an amicable solution.
'Pressure may be there, but the reality is that the president is yet to communicate Senate on the exact status of the bill. Such communication will direct the Senate's appropriate response,' Abaribe added.
Before now, the Senate was said to have advised the president, during the series of meetings to resolve the impasse, to first sign the budget and send a supplementary bill if necessary.
Mark, Aliyu Clash At Aso Villa Over 2015
A mild drama ensued over the controversy trailing the fate of President Goodluck Jonathan on the 2015 presidency as Senate President David Mark and Niger State Governor Muazu Babangida Aliyu of engaged themselves in a verbal exchange over the need for Jonathan and his cabinet to deliver on his campaign promise and leave the seat of power in 2015.
Trouble started when, at the opening of the Presidential Summit on Water at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Governor Aliyu said that Nigerians should have the right to sue governments if they fail to provide necessary amenities.
Irked by the governor's comment, the Senate president, in his own speech, told Governor Aliyu that, while the responsibility for the provision of water belonged to state and local governments, the people of Niger State should sue him (Governor Aliyu) if, by 2015, he is unable to provide potable water to every household in the state.
Aliyu had specifically named President Jonathan, the first lady Dame Patience Jonathan, Vice President Namadi Sambo and the Senate president, while declaring that it was their responsibility to be able to deliver dividends of democracy and walk away at the end of their tenure in 2015 as happy people.
The governor said, 'And I do know that the combination of Patience, Goodluck, Namadina (Namadi) and Dauda (David), who is the Senate president, I believe we will be able to deliver, so that, by 2015, when you combine these, we will be able really to walk away happy, and people happy with us'.
Querying whether it was not possible that, in terms of water and agriculture, the federal government should be able to institutionalize, through law, that people who do not get them can take government to court, Aliyu said: 'If we do that, then we will be able to emphasise what is needed. Many of us who have gone to say give education priority, give health priority, give agriculture priority, people will say that you are not performing because the result is not immediate.
'They prefer to see a building, even if nobody enters it, a sky scrapper; that is their concept of development. No. Development is about the people and we must all join hands to help the people.'
But Mark abandoned his goodwill message at the occasion and took a swipe at Aliyu, saying that while he agreed that people should be able to sue non-performing governments, the people of Niger State should exercise the right if their governor was unable to provide them water in 2015.
Mark said: 'I agree entirely with Governor Aliyu Babangida because I still represent Niger State in so many other areas that if a state fails to provide water to her citizens, the citizens should have the right to sue the government. I agree entirely with you. But let me also emphasise here that it is my conviction – and I have said this time without number – that the provision of potable water to houses and to the people is the responsibility of the state government and the local government.
'Therefore, if a man in Niger State doesn't get water in his tap, I believe that he has every right to sue Governor Aliyu Babangida. And I hope that before the end of his tenure and, indeed, everybody in Niger State, it is my wish, will get pipe-borne water in homes.'