President Buhari’s purported decision to shelve the planned budget presentation was reportedly informed by recent developments in the National Assembly
Fred Itua and Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Strong indications have emerged that President Muhammadu Buhari might not personally present the 2019 budget to a joint session of the National Assembly, as earlier proposed.
Instead, the president may send his Minister of Budget and National Planning, Mr Udo Udoma to lay the budget separately before the two leaders of the National Assembly.
In a letter to the National Assembly leadership, President Buhari had last Thursday said he would be at the complex tomorrow to present the 2019 budget proposal before the two chambers of the National Assembly.
Daily Sun reliably gathered from multiple sources that barring any last minute change, Mr. Udoma would present the budget to the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki in his office, with a cover letter from President Buhari and replicate the same with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.
President Buhari’s purported decision to shelve the planned budget presentation was reportedly informed by recent developments in the National Assembly, especially threats by some members of the House of Representatives to boycott the exercise and ongoing industrial action by workers of the National Assembly.
It was further learnt that some lawmakers, particularly members of the lower legislative chamber, were plotting to boo or interrupt the president during the planned budget presentation.
The second reason, Daily Sun gathered, is the unfavourable security report coming in from the National Assembly.
Activities at the National Assembly complex was, yesterday, crippled as members of the Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) commenced a four-day warning strike.
The workers who gathered as early as 6.30am blocked all entrances into the National Assembly complex.
PASAN, through a December 14 statement by its Chairman, Mr Musa Muhammad, had issued the strike notice expected to run till Thursday.
It was learnt that as soon as workers issued the strike threat, leadership of the National Assembly, specifically Saraki, reached out to the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Ibrahim Idris and the Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mr Yusuf Bichi, to provide security.
The leadership had also pleaded with the two security chiefs to deploy their men and officers to provide security cover to lawmakers. However, Daily Sun learnt that the request was rejected. As at the time of filing in this report, there was no police or DSS presence in the National Assembly, beside the statutory officers on regular duties.
Although no official statement had been issued by the management, the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, has however, assured that the issue would be resolved.
Lawan who spoke in his office in the heat of the total shut down, disclosed that the leadership of both chambers and management of the National Assembly have planned an emergency meeting to discuss a quick and lasting solutions to the crisis.
Meanwhile, some top officials of the National Assembly bureaucracy have been accused of allegedly withdrawing about N10 billion from the Account of the National Assembly with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The workers, who are demanding the payment of arrears of 28 per cent increase in their salaries since 2010, claimed a memo from the CBN to the management of the National Assembly showed that the amount was available while their allowance of N5.8 billion remained unpaid.
According to the memo, the account, with number: 0020168142065, had a balance of N10,455,891,967.43.
In the November 21 letter addressed to the Clerk of the National Assembly and copied to the Director of Finance and Account, the management was asked to confirm to external auditors the balance in the account within “one week of receipt of this letter.”
The letter signed by the Director of Finance and Director, Banking and Payment System Department of the National Assembly, asked the National Assembly whether the record was in tandem with what was contained therein.
The workers claimed the money had been spent by the leadership of the National Assembly, hence the inability to pay them.
Although the Director of Information in the National Assembly, Mr Rawlings Emmanuel denied the claims, it was, however, learnt that the alleged withdrawal has not gone down well with protesting workers.
Mr Emmanuel in a telephone chat with Daily Sun said: “I don’t have the full details yet. But I can tell you the claim can’t be true. There is no way such a withdrawal will be made and the EFCC will not track it. If the National Assembly has such funds, it will immediately use it to settle all outstanding demands.”
Addressing the protesting workers at the entrance to the complex, one of PASAN leaders, Mr Odo Chris, said neither lawmakers, management staff from Grade Level 14 and above nor visitors would be barred from the complex for the duration of the strike.
“It is the members of the union that will not go and work. Everybody else can go in and do whatever they want to do. As a union, we don’t even have the power to stop Grade 14 officers and above from going in to perform their duties because they are not our members.
“I am appealing to you to be careful and apply wisdom as we carry out this strike because we have a law that guides us. This is not picketing. There should no fighting. There should be no breakdown of law and order.
“Right now, some of us will go in and shut off electricity supply. By the time the environment becomes unbearable for those that are working, they will leave as well. The president can go in and present his budget if the place is conducive enough,” Chris said.
The aggrieved workers, had two weeks ago, shut down the National Assembly, stopping lawmakers from sitting. They blamed the management of the National Assembly for their plight and demanded the removal of the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani Omolori.
Reacting, the All Progressives Congress (APC) described the industrial action as a shameful development and a sad reminder of what Nigerians witnessed under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) administration.
According to a statement by its spokesman, Lanre Issa-Onilu, APC said the PDP’s 16-year rule was characterised by such incidences of unpaid salaries, ghost workers and a shocking disdain for workers’ welfare.
“While the minority PDP usurpers who parade themselves as the National Assembly leadership have promptly paid themselves their allowances, National Assembly workers under the umbrella of Parliamentary Staff Association of Nigeria (PASAN) are owed their duly earned 28 per cent increase in their salaries since 2010.
“Perhaps, if the National Assembly leaders have focused on their core legislative business and operations rather than resort to subterfuge with the sole intent of undermining the APC government, the welfare of parliamentary workers would not have been taken for granted.”
The APC called on the Bukola Saraki and Dogara to do the needful by attending to the demands of the parliamentary workers.
“The welfare of workers is a cardinal policy of the APC administration. We, therefore, call on the PDP-led National Assembly to save the country this national embarrassment,” he said.