A whopping N200 billion was smuggled into this year’s budget before it was transmitted to President Goodluck Jonathan for his assent, a bewildered member of the House of Representatives said.
The development, which came as a surprise to members of the House of Representatives, has also forced the President to withhold his assent to the Bill.
He has, therefore, returned it to the National Assembly, saying the N200 billion items were illegally inserted into the document.
Piqued by the news of the smuggled item, lawmakers, who were in the gallery sought explanation from the leadership.
This made the House leaders to okay an Executive Session to provide explanations to the lawmakers. The closed door session lasted for more than two hours.
The bewildered lawmakers described the development as a potential source of scandal.
We learnt that several lawmakers who were at the meeting sought to know from the principal officers what really happened to the budget after it was passed in the House but no one could provide a satisfactory answer.
A source at the meeting disclosed that the said N200billion was inserted into the budget after the House and the Senate had harmonised their separate versions of the Bill.
“What we discovered was that the Budget has been tampered with illegally. The President, we hear has returned the Bill but the leadership has not made it public. We hear that some secret meetings are taking place in the residence of the Speaker, Hon. Dimeji Bankole, to resolve the problem,” the source said.
Jonathan had last December presented a budget proposal of N4.226 trillion to the joint session of the National Assembly based on a benchmark of $65 per barrel, an expected crude oil production of 2.3 million barrels per day and an exchange rate of N150 to a dollar.
But in passing the Appropriation Bill, the lawmakers raised the figure by N745 billion from N4.226 trillion to N4.971 trillion. The benchmark was increased from $65 to $75.
Prior to the present development, the federal government had said May 3 that it had agreed with the National Assembly to amend budget with a view to making it implementable, assuring that with the level of discussions with the legislature, the budget would soon be assented to by Jonathan.
Director-General, Budget Office of the Federation, Dr. Bright Okogu, who disclosed this at the launch of International Monetary Fund (IMF) Regional Economic Outlook in Lagos, had said the budget was being restructured by the Ministry of Finance in collaboration with the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, the bid by the House to resume consideration of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) also ran into some hitches with some of the lawmakers questioning the inability of the joint committee working on it to meet the laid down rules and standard procedures for the consideration of the report in the House.
The controversy started when Honourable Ita Enang, (PDP Akwa Ibom) raised a point of order on the standard of the report the Joint Committee on the PIB presented to the House.
Enang argued that the report did not meet the acceptable standard for it to be considered by the House.
The report, Enang said, should be returned to the committee for it to be put in the right order before it could be considered by the committee of whole.
Enang’s point of order raised temper among members who said what they expected was not another controversy but a resumption of the consideration of the report.
Chairman of the Joint Committee, Hon Igochukwu Aguma, said if the report was submitted in the format proposed by Enang, it will be three times the size of the current document. He urged Enang not to draw the House back on the issues since he (Enang) had enough before now to make such corrections.
“We have been on this matter for four years so there is not going back. I am afraid if those campaigning against this Bill have not infiltrated this Assembly”, Aguma said.
But as if the attack on the Bill was not enough, the Chairman, House Committee on Police Affairs, Hon. Abdul Ningi, warned that the House should not allow emotion to override its judgement, adding that since a previous Bill was suspended for not meeting acceptable standards, the PIB which he said was incomprehensive should also be stepped down until it met the standards. In spite of this, the consideration of the Bill resumed after the controversies subsided.