* Buhari holds closed door meeting with NASS leadership
*Saraki, Dogara report IGP to President
Seven months after President Muhammadu Buhari presented a draft copy of the N8.612 trillion 2018 budget estimates to a joint session on the National Assembly, both the Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to pass the budget next week.
Both the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara had, at different times last week, hinted that the 2018 budget would be passed this week.
As planned, the Budget document as approved by the Senate would be laid today (Tuesday), while the final process of passage would be perfected before the close of legislative week on Thursday.
Saraki, while playing host to some elder statesmen from four geo-political zones, led by Pa Edwin Clark, last Thursday, said emphatically that the Senate would pass the budget eventually.
He told elderstatesmen that “the Senate will revisit the issue of devolution of powers the moment we finished with the passage of the 2018 budget, already fixed for next week (this week)”.
The 2018 Budget had suffered months of delay amid perceived stand-off between the Executive arm of government and the Federal Parliament, occasioned by some political considerations.
The leadership of the National Assembly and the Presidency had had occasions to disagree on the content of the Budget, which both the Senate and the House complained against severally.
The lawmakers had also complained against the little co-operation they said came from representatives of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) during the period of budget defence.
The Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC Niger North), had last Wednesday, assured Nigerians that the Committee on Appropriation would lay the considered estimates of the budget today (Tuesday) for final consideration.
Nigerians across the board had protested against the long delay in passage of the 2018 budget, even as some civil society groups had staged protests to that effect, a development said to have prodded the immediate reaction of the legislature on passage.
By implication, the 2018 budget estimates has been the first to undergo a long process and period of passage since year 2000 when a full fledged yearly budget was first presented to it.
To hasten the process of passage, however, the Senate on February 14 this year read a riot act to heads of the agencies who, notwithstanding, hesitated in heeding the summons on them for budget defence.
The ultimatum was sequel to complaint made to that effect by the Senate Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan through a point of order.
Senator Lawan through the order, drew the attention of the Senate to the fact that out of 64 government agencies, only the National Communications Commission (NCC) had submitted details of its 2018 budget proposal three months after presentation of estimates by the President.
He said, “I want this Senate to give an ultimatum of one week to all the agencies to submit the details of their budget to our committees to consider for appropriation”.
Also, the Senate President had expressed disappointment that the MDAs disregarded due process by failing to submit details of their budget proposals, saying that “This has been a matter we have been talking about for a very long time and these agencies continue to have total disregard for due process.
“I think it is very clear that the mandate we give to them is one week. Our cooperation should not be misread as weakness or not knowing what to do. Definitely, we can mandate the Ministry of Finance to ensure that they do not further order releases because they are breaking the law”.
In a related development, President Muhammadu Buhari, on Monday, met behind closed doors with the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, at the Presidential Villa Abuja.
The meeting came shortly after Buhari returned from his party’s Ward congress at the weekend in his hometown, Daura in Katsina State.
Both leaders of the National Assembly at the end of the meeting, told State House correspondents that they reported the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to the President over his handling of the case involving Senator Dino Melaye and his disdain for the National Assembly.
Saraki and Dogara also said that the meeting which was at the instance of the President discussed the issue of the 2018 Appropriation Bill still before the National Assembly, the recent invasion of the Senate during which the mace was taken away and Buhari’s recent visit to the United States of America during which he met the US President, Donald Trump.
They, however, said the issue of the impeachment process being contemplated in the National Assembly over Buhari’s approval for the payment of $496m for fighter jets before he sought the approval of the Federal lawmakers was not discussed at the meeting.
“We came on the invitation of Mr. President. He wanted to brief us on his trip to the United States and also the issue of the budget.
“We also talked on the issue of concerns to us: the invasion of the National Assembly, which he showed great concern and he said action will be taken to investigate that,” Saraki said.
When asked when the budget will be ready, Saraki said: “Hopefully, it should be laid this week. It can be laid this week and passed early next week. We are hoping it will be laid this week.”
The Senate President said the President saw the invasion of the Senate as an embarrassment to the country and promised that the incident would be properly investigated because it was not just about the National Assembly but about the country.
When asked what was being done to improve the relationship between the executive and the legislature, Saraki said that the National Assembly had always been ready to support the Executive.
He said: “Our being here was the initiative of Mr. President to brief us on his visit to America and to engage in discussions and I think that is a good sign. We, at the National Assembly, have always been ready to give all our support to the executive and we will continue to work along those lines.
“As I said, the presidential system that we operate, we sometimes have the responsibility to check the excesses of the executive. So, there will always be times we will disagree but by and large, we will always work for the interest of Nigerians and always keep on moving on.”