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Budget distortion: Fear grips NASS

Senate

Fear has now gripped some top officials of the National Assembly over the revelation that they hijacked the budget sent in by President Muhammadu Buhari and used their positions to distort the fiscal document by allocating huge projects worth billions of Naira to themselves under the guise of working on the budget.

The affected influential lawmakers in the two chambers of the NASS, are said to be worried that the action they took to corner substantial amount of money in the budget, using the platform of ‘Constituency Projects’ has been punctured by the refusal of the president to sign the budget without the details.

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It was also gathered that the House of Representatives has agreed to address some of the concerns raised by the executive arm of government in the budget while some of the controversial allocations inserted into the budget by the principal officers for their constituencies would be redirected to finance other critical national projects.

The revelation has split the NASS into two factions, with one backing President Muhamadu Buhari while the other, is frontally opposed to him and his administration.

The ‘strong men’ of the NASS are reported to have cornered projects worth N1.6 billion each, leaving another level of committee men with N1.5 billion each and a general sum of N200 million for the ‘average’ or common member of the legislature.

This plot, Saturday Vanguard gathered, boomeranged when some loyalists of President Buhari, who were privy to the scheming of the powerful cabal in the NASS to change the budget for their own selfish interest, alerted him of the plot and cautioned him not to sign the budget when it eventually comes.

The President’s loyalists, who felt slighted but still played along with the ‘rebels’ in the NASS, promptly laid the antics of the cabals to the Presidency and it paid off even while Buhari was in far away Saudi Arabia at the time.

A Presidency source said that it was the tip-off by the loyalists in the NASS that informed Buhari’s insistence that he would study the budget approved by the NASS line by line, ministry by ministry before assenting to it.

Sources familiar with the development, told Saturday Vanguard that there was a serious rancour in the NASS over the disclosure that only a few members of the appropriation committees in the two chambers sat and decided on the budget and committed major distortions in the name of all the members.

Some of the lawmakers, who were left out of the budget ‘largesse’, are said to be ready to expose those involved to enable the Presidency sanction them as a deterrent to others.

One of the lawmakers, who cornered close to N2 billion projects for his constituency alone, is said to be worried about what steps Buhari might take against those involved in the budget distortions, in line with his vow to punish those who padded it.

However, Saturday Vanguard learnt that given the uproar that had greeted the 2016 budget, the NASS leadership had warned all members to sheath the sword and await the return of President Buhari from China.

One of the key functionaries of the administration hinted Saturday Vanguard that no further action would be taken by the NASS until they hear from the President on the subject matter.

It was learnt that Buhari might sanction those found to have exploited the budget for their selfish interest at the expense of the national interest.

“We have decided to put everything on hold until the President returns from China. On our part, we have declared a ceasefire for now,” one lawmaker from the north, said on Friday.

House agrees to address areas of concern Meanwhile, following a meeting between the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President Muhammadu Buhari over the controversy generated on the details contained in the 2016 budget, the House has now agreed to address some of the concerns raised by the executive arm of government in the budget.

It will be recalled that following the imbroglio generated by the budget, the House of Representatives at the end of its executive session on Wednesday directed the speaker to meet with the president with a view to finding a common ground on the budget in the interest of Nigerians.

According to a source in the presidency, the meeting between the Speaker and the president over the budget took place on Wednesday night and had in attendance, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the Ministers of Finance as well as Budget and National Planning, Kemi Adeosun and Senator Udoma Udoh Udoma and other key staff of the budget office.

The source who is privy to some of the decisions reached at the meeting told Saturday Vanguard that apart from reaching an agreement to accommodate some of the concerns of the executive over the budget, it was agreed that the over N4billion allegedly single handedly inserted into the budget for various projects in the constituency of the chairman of the House committee on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumin Jubrin, would be redirected to the financing of other more pressing national projects. Another N3b illion allocated for projects in the speaker’s constituency would also be used to finance other critical national projects. It was gathered that in order to placate the speaker, Hon. Abdulmumin had inserted the N3billion projects in the speaker’s constituency even when the speaker had expressly told him that he was not interested in having such huge amount for his constituency in one single budget.

The source who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the matter explained that the corrections expected to be carried out on the budget would be done at the committee level and would not necessarily have to go to the floor of the house again.

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