Fred Itua and Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The presentation of the 2019 Appropriation Bill by President Muhammadu Buhari was nearly marred by fisticuffs, jeers and cheers.
The showdown, which was between All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers, happened on the floor of the House of Representatives, where a joint session was held.
President Buhari, who came into the chamber at 12.42pm, contrary to his earlier schedule of 11am, was received by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and other government officials from the Executive.
Trouble started shortly before the arrival of the president, when an APC lawmaker from Kano State, Bashir Baballe snatched a placard from a member of the PDP, Linus Okorie.
Other lawmakers joined the fray, thereby leading to a rowdy session. As soon as the president stepped into the chamber, where lawmakers were already seated, jeers and cheers erupted. For over five minutes, Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, who presided, tried without success to restore order to the House. The duo had to ignore the commotion to commence the business of the day.
As soon as the president stepped into the podium to present his budget, shouts of ‘Sai Atiku’, ‘Sai Buhari’, ‘You’re a liar’, ‘Show us the results’ ‘Grasscutter’, rever- berated in the chamber.
“This will be my last bud- get presentation to the Eight National Assembly,” Buhari started and PDP lawmakers
One of the high points of the dramatic presentation occurred when the presi- dent said the economy had recovered, a claim which was immediately greeted with jeers and cheers.
Disturbed by the frequent interruptions, a visibly angry president chided the lawmakers to observe some decorum, reminding them that the world was watching them.
“We are supposed to be above this,” he noted
About 30 minutes into his remarks, the sound system malfunctioned. Again, the president was jeered and cheered. Normalcy was restored after 10 seconds.
Detailing his administration’s achievements in the last one year, the president rolled out sector by sector successes. He blamed the initial setbacks on poor prices of oil in the international market, insurgency in the North East, hostility in the Niger Delta and fall in revenue drive.
He listed roads, bridges, and other infrastructural projects his administration has started and completed. He also dwelt on the number of school children currently benefiting from the feeding programme. He said millions of Nigerians have been lifted from poverty through some intervention programmes.
Buhari, who revealed that the 2018 budget has already reached 65 per cent performance in terms of capital releases, told lawmakers that more milestones will be covered before the end of his administration next year.
As soon as he concluded the presentation, PDP lawmakers started chanting ‘aluta’ songs, while APC lawmakers hailed the president.
For over 10, the two presiding officers lost control of the House. Even when Saraki and Dogara stood up to calm angry nerves, lawmakers refused to retreat. At this point, security operatives attached to the president, stepped in and formed a wedge around him.
After several failed attempts to restore order to the House, the national anthem was hurriedly recited and the president was whisked away from the chamber.
For the first time since 1999, the two presiding officers of the National Assembly did not give their opening and closing remarks during a budget presentations as a result of the rowdy session and the abrupt end of the day’s legislative business.
Reacting, the APC blamed PDP lawmakers.
According to a statement by the party spokesman, Lanre Issa-Onilu, the PDP has further confirmed its unsavoury image in the eyes of well meaning Nigerians that the party is largely populated by self-serving and unpatriotic members, whose sole aim in politics is to promote their self-interests at the expense of the country’s interests.
“By law, respect for the office of the president or head of government in any clime is not a matter of choice but a civic obligation sanctioned by laws. Being an opposition party or critic is no licence for such wayward conduct by the PDP legislative caucus; most especially against the president of the country,” APC said.
“We call on the National Assembly to rise above political and selfish interests by putting the country first in its consideration of the proposed N8.83 trillion 2019 national budget.”
Meanwhile, Saraki has reiterated the preparedness of the National Assembly to work with Buhari, on the people-oriented programmes of his administration to ensure success.