The National Assembly, NASS, has tampered with the 2016 Appropriation bill sent to it by President Muhammadu Buhari to the extent that the President has refused to assent to it in the form it was sent to him before his trip to China which begins Sunday.
According to a source, the President had wanted to assent to the bill before his trip, but upon receipt of the details of the bill as passed by the NASS and the convening of the emergency meeting of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who is head of the President’s Economic Team, the alterations were seen as fundamentally at variance with the President’s developmental goals, hence the bill could not be assented to by the President.
According to the source, the President has, instead, decided to engage the leadership of the NASS in a dialogue aimed at addressing and resolving the observations so that the bill could be signed into law as soon as he returns from his trip.
The President, the source recalled, had indicated that he will review details of the budget Ministry by Ministry when it is received from the NASS to ensure that what is passed is in line with his strategic agenda for the country.
According to him, “the NASS transmitted the details to the President on Thursday, April 7, 2016 and because he was desirous of giving assent to the Appropriation Bill before leaving for China, he directed that the Ministers should review the provisions/appropriations of their respective ministry to fast-track the process.
“The document was distributed same Thursday to all ministers and a meeting was agreed for Friday to get everything sorted out for the President’s briefing and assent. That was why the Vice President, who is the Head of the Economic Team presided over the meeting and not the President.
“At the meeting, it was noticed that some very key aspects of the Budget, which have to do with government’s core infrastructural focus were removed. One of which is the subject of the President’s trip to China – the Coastal Railway project – for which a counterpart funding of N60bn was provided, but which was completely removed by the National Assembly. The Executive is working on two major rail arteries, among other rail projects, to service the northern and eastern part of the country – the Lagos-Kano line and the Calabar – Lagos line. While the Lagos-Kano provision was left untouched, the Calabar – Lagos line was removed. The projects are to be funded jointly between the governments of China and Nigeria. It is one of the main reasons for the President’s scheduled trip to China.
“Also, the amount proposed for the completion of the Idu-Kaduna rail project which has reached an advanced stage was reduced by N8.7bn, a development which will make it difficult for the project to be completed.
“The other fundamental area noticed was in respect of completion of on-going road projects. While the Executive had provided for the completion of all major road projects across the country, the National Assembly reduced the amounts provided and instead included new roads which studies have not even been conducted. The amounts provided by the National Assembly for the projects can neither complete the on-going road projects nor the new ones proposed. At the end of the year no significant progress would have been made.
“The other is in the health sector. Proposals made for the purchase of essential drugs for major health campaigns like Polio and AIDs for which the store is fast depleting were removed and the amounts allocated to provision of ambulance, which the Ministry did not ask for.
“It was also observed that certain provisions made in the areas of Agriculture and Water Resources to further the Federal Government’s diversification project where either removed or reduced while the funds were moved to provision of rural health facilities and boreholes, for which provisions have been made elsewhere.
Because of the fundamental nature of these observations, the well informed source said, “the President is engaging further with the leadership of the National Assembly to resolve them and hopes that it would be resolved for his assent by the time he returns from his trip to China.
“The President is desirous of signing the bill into law so that implementation of the provisions could begin in earnest for the benefit of the people. That is why the moment he received the document on Thursday, a meeting was convened for Friday to immediately start work on it, he pointed out.
President Buhari’s working visit to China, according to a statement by Femi Adesina, Special Adviser to the President (Media & Publicity), is aimed at securing greater support from Beijing for the development of Nigeria’s infrastructure, especially in the power, roads, railways, aviation, water supply and housing sectors.
He said that President Buhari’s talks with President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Peoples’ Congress, Zhang Dejiang will also focus on strengthening bilateral cooperation in line with the Federal Government’s agenda for the rapid diversification of the Nigerian economy, with emphasis on agriculture and solid minerals development.
“It is expected that in the course of the visit, several new agreements and memorandums of understanding to boost trade and economic relations between Nigeria and China will be concluded and signed.
“The agreements include a Framework Agreement between the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment and the National Development and Reform Commission of the Peoples’ Republic of China to Boost Industrial Activities and Infrastructural Development in Nigeria.
“Others are a Framework Agreement between the Federal Ministry of Communications and the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, and a Memorandum of Understanding between Nigeria and China on Scientific and Technological Cooperation.
“In keeping with his administration’s prioritization of economic diversification and industrialisation to boost employment, President Buhari and his delegation will tour the Shanghai Free Trade Zone and the Guangzhou Economic and Technological Development Zone to gain more useful insights and understanding of the policies that underpinned China’s astronomical economic growth in recent years.
“The President, whose entourage will include some state governors as well as the Ministers of Agriculture, Water Resources, Transport, Defence, Power, Works & Housing, Industry, Trade & Investment, Federal Capital Territory, Science & Technology and Foreign Affairs, will also open a China-Nigeria Business/Investment Forum in Beijing and meet with members of the Nigerian Community in China before returning to Abuja at the weekend, Mr. Adesina said..