As the National Assembly members prepare to resume from their Yuletide break on Wednesday, there are indications that only 33 senators will be available to work on the federal budget of N8.83tn for the 2019 fiscal year presented by President Muhammadu Buhari on December 19, 2018.
It was learnt on Saturday that while 74 senators, who secured their parties’ tickets to contest this year’s general elections would relocate to their various constituencies to prepare for the polls, 33 senators, who lost their bid to return to the red chamber, would stay back to treat the budget.
The National Assembly members cannot resume on Tuesday, January 15, because of the Armed Forces Remembrance Day celebrations in which the two presiding officers of the National Assembly, Bukola Saraki (Senate president) and Yakubu Dogara (Speaker of the House of Representatives), are expected to be actively involved.
The federal parliamentarians are expected to adjourn plenary after five sittings. Our correspondent gathered that they would hold a plenary on Wednesday, January 16, and Thursday, January 17, before adjourning till Tuesday, January 22.
Upon resumption on January 22, the lawmakers would sit on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before proceeding on a three-week adjournment to enable most of them to participate actively in their re-election campaigns.
No fewer than 66 senators actually secured return tickets to contest the National Assembly polls in February.
While some are contesting the governorship election in their various states, only the 33 members, who lost their return bid, according to sources close to the Senate leadership, will stay back to work on the budget.
A principal officer of the Senate told SUNDAY PUNCH on condition of anonymity that his colleagues, who would not be vying for re-election, would take charge of the budget defence sessions with the ministries, departments and agencies of government.
The Senate official stated, “We would sit for five days on resumption and adjourn plenary for three weeks. Since we are not closing down other legislative activities, our colleagues, who are not contesting elections, will carry on with the budget.
“On the legislative activities on resumption next week, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, will read a comprehensive speech on Wednesday and he will speak on the general elections and the insecurity in the country.
“There will be a point of order on the clampdown on opposition lawmakers in the National Assembly and there will possibly be a resolution whereby a strong message would be passed to the President and the security agencies.
“Discussions on the general principles on the budget may start on the first day of resumption or on the second day. We will spend the five plenary sessions to discuss the general principles on the budget and the Minimum Wage (amendments) Bill that we are expecting from the President on January 23.
“We will definitely deliberate on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper and approve it because it is the benchmark for the budget proposals. We will, no doubt, start work on the 2019 national budget because our colleagues, who are not contesting elections, would stay back to do justice to it.”
Attempts to speak with the spokesperson for the Senate, Senator Ben Murray-Bruce, for the official agenda of the chamber on resumption failed on Friday.
Calls made to the senator’s mobile did not connect while he had yet to respond to the text message sent to him as of the time of filing this report.
However, a member of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Abdulfatai Buhari, said a serious consideration would be given to the budget upon resumption after elections in March.
He said, “We would come back immediately after the elections and give it (budget) a serious consideration. Members of the Appropriation may have to do a rigorous work to achieve speedy passage of the bill.
“What I can guarantee is that we would be able to conclude discussions on the general principles between the period of our resumption and the elections.”
The Chairman Senate committee on local and foreign debts, Senator Shehu Sani, also said, “We would discuss the general principles of the budget before we adjourn for the elections.”