Before Thursday when public discourse in Nigeria substantially changed to the budget, President Muhammadu Buhari’s “medical follow-up” letter to the Senate had kept pundits, social media, newspaper stands and ‘inside molue’ analysts busy, with everyone becoming a grammarian, law interpreter and expert on the inner flow of thought of any letter drafter all at once.
On Tuesday, the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, had announced to his colleagues, journalists and observers the receipt of an executive communication which turned out to be Mr. President’s indefinite medical vacation notice. For what has counted to his credit, the President relied on Section 145(1) of the Constitution to inform the lawmakers of his travel, thereby, with force of that referenced part of the law, effectively transferring full powers to the Vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo.
But it would not be that simple; the Senate has a critical reader in its fold, Mao Ohuabunwa, PDP-Abia. There is one aspect of the Senate proceedings that has never been reported: Mr. Ohuabunwa has reason to either correct or delete one unit of grammatical structure or the other in prayers that follow nearly all motions. He is well-known for that; and a high prospect is there for him to make a great career in proofreading. That may not be as lucrative as being in government anyway.
So, after Mr. Saraki had read Mr. Buhari’s letter, the Abia senator raised a Point of Order and pointed to the second paragraph of the correspondence, which read: “While I am away, the Vice President will coordinate the activities of the Government.” By using “coordinate” instead of “perform duties of my office” and “act on my behalf” as used in previous letters on the President’s medical vacation, according to the senator and as interpreted by many Nigerians, Mr. Buhari did not transfer power to Yemi Osinbajo as the acting president, but merely made him a “coordinating vice-president” or coordinator. So, for Mr. Ohuabunwa, the letter had to be rejected because the Constitution does not recognize “coordinator”.
No sooner had he stopped his interpretation than Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, rose with counter force to explain that the most important instrument of making any vice-president an acting president is Section 145(1) of the Constitution which the President invoked in his letter. Consequently, Mr. Saraki was quick to rule Mr. Ohuabunwa out of order.
That ended it at the Senate level; but it would remain the hottest topic for analysts in the public space. Many believe Mr. President’s handlers inserted “to coordinate”, instead of previous operational words with an ulterior motive. In any case, the right to make authoritative decisions, allocate resources, command the armed forces, veto any passed bill, sack any minister or even declare war is derived from the Constitution – not wording of any letter – and it currently resides with Mr. Osinbajo, acting on behalf of Mr. Buhari, the Senate declared.
2017 Budget Passed, lawmakers finally #OpenNASS
Early Tuesday, just after midnight, sources close to the Senate President, Mr. Saraki, got through to PREMIUM TIMES Senate correspondent by phone to disclose the outcome of the National Assembly leaders’ meeting – between late Monday and early Tuesday – held at the sprawling residence of the Senate President at Maitama, Abuja. The joint leadership of the bi-cameral legislature had just decided to bow to Nigerians and disclose details of the National Assembly budget, last seen in 2009.
“It is now certain,” the excited source said, “the budget of the National Assembly will be laid this morning, the leaders of the National Assembly, Senate and the House of Representatives have decided. The Speaker was also here.”
PREMIUM TIMES had been at the vanguard of using the instrument of the press to demand that the National Assembly open up its budget for public scrutiny. So, the reason why the source first disclosed the #OpenNass decision to this newspaper was understandable. We broke the report that the details of the budget of the National Assembly would be disclosed.
So, finally on Thursday just about same time the national appropriation bill, 2017 budget, was passed, the media office of the Senate President released to the public the about 30-page document, a line-by-line details of N125 billion expenditure of the National Assembly, taking a radical departure from previous years when the public only had knowledge of the total sum as one line item in the whole national budget.
In 2010, when the budget hit a shocking record sum of N154.2 billion, David Mark, Mr. Saraki’s predecessor, decided to block Nigerians from knowing details of how the National Assembly’s jumbo allocations were spent, especially how much members earned in allowances, thus wrapping up the federal legislators’ finances in utmost secrecy.
“Prior to today, the last time the citizens saw the details of NASS budget was in 2009. Historic. Impact,” tweeted Budgit, a civic tech platform, well known for #OpenNass campaign.
Out of the N125 billion, for capital and recurrent expenditures, the Senate and the House of Representatives have N31,398,765,886 and N49,052,743,983 respectively. In sum, therefore, N80.45 billion was appropriated for the both chambers, consisting of 469 lawmakers, for salaries, security equipment, insurance premium, cars, computers, internet service, office maintenance, telephone charges, electricity charges, water rates, committees’ activities, travels, training and medical expenses among others.
So, on average, it will take about N171.57 million to maintain each lawmaker in 2017.
However, individual earnings differ. Apart from the fact that there are differences in earnings based on whether a lawmaker is a Senator or Reps member and whether an ordinary member or principal officer, most of the sum does not go to lawmakers, but services and other capital items to keep their offices running.
In terms of specific salaries, the House of Representatives has N4.9 billion to pay salaries and wages of the 360 members, translating to N13.6 million for each member annually. About N1.8 billion goes to the Senate for salaries and wages of its 109 members, bringing the earnings of each senator to N17.58 million annually.
But there are still areas the National Assembly spokespersons, Aliyu Abdullahi and Abdulrazaq Namdas, may have to clarify. Apart from raising its budget by N10 billion, the document contains some rather vague votes like House chamber activities, N1 billion – apart from House administration given 619 million; Senate programme activities, N2.6 billion – different from Senate committee activities allocated N1.2 billion; Senate chamber, N549 million. Huge Allowances earned by the lawmakers may possibly be spread under these items and others like travels, training, public and investigative hearing etc.
National Budget Raised By N143 Billion
Unlike last year when the National Assembly slightly cut the sum proposed by the president, the lawmakers in 2017 raised the budget estimate by N143 billion, thereby passing a N7.44 trillion budget. The President had presented a N7.28 trillion budget.
According to the lawmakers, the oil price benchmark was raised to $44.5 from $42.5; so, with the additional projected revenue from the increase in the benchmark, provision was made to raise the budget by N143 billion.
Among others, the addition was appropriated for the National Assembly, N10 billion; judgment debts in the Justice Ministry, 10 billion; backlog of Corps members allowances (Youth Ministry), N13. 06 billion; repairs of Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport runway (Transport Ministry), N5.8 billion; increase in personnel cost (18 MDAs), N5.1 billion; UNESCO assessed contribution (Education) N1.2 billion; subscription to Shelter Afrique (Power, Works & Housing) N3.6 billion.
Others are: Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (Service Wide) N2.5 billion; Amnesty Programme (Service Wide) N10 billion; National Identity Management Commission (SGF) N5 billion, and Roads Nationwide (Power, Works and Housing) N25 billion.
The lawmakers also included a vote for “Abeokuta airport”. Details about this provision are still unclear. But Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, on Friday justified the N10 billion the lawmakers added to their budget. He said the National Assembly was building the National Institute for Legislative Studies (NILS) meant for capacity building of legislators and non-legislators.
“You need to have a national assembly that is really poised, wired and competent to produce good laws,” said Mr. Lawan.
“Imagine a national assembly where you have so many experts, many retired people from the industry, security services, even presidents, for example, coming to the National Assembly.
“So, we should have a national assembly that is properly and fully kitted and with adequate capacity.”
After the Senate passed the budget on Thursday, it reconvened about 40 minutes later to pass the votes and proceedings in order to transmit the passed appropriations bill to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo for assent.
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