There were indications on Thursday that President Muhammadu Buhari would not immediately proceed to sign the corrected version of the 2016 Budget, transmitted to him by the National Assembly, as being expected in some quarters.
Ministers, who raised concerns on the earlier version received by the President, would study the new document again, it was learnt.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, confirmed this to The PUNCH on Thursday.
Shehu was responding to a question on when exactly the President would sign the budget.
He stated, “The question now is that have those concerns been corrected 100 per cent?
“We should not mix things up. The process is that ministers, who raised the initial concerns, should study the new document and ascertain that the concerns have been addressed 100 per cent.
“It is based on their findings that the Minister of Budget and National Planning will advise the President. The decision on whether the President should sign or not will be based on the advice of the minister.”
Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, who spoke with one of our correspondents on the telephone in Abuja, said the President might sign the budget on Friday (today).
Ndume said the document left the National Assembly earlier on Thursday.
He said, “We have completed our work on the budget at the National Assembly and it is already with the executive. We hope the President will sign it tomorrow (Friday) so that it would become operational.”
Also, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, confirmed in a telephone interview with The PUNCH in Abuja that the budget had been sent to the President.
When asked if the clean copy of the budget had been transmitted to the President. Enang said, “Yes please.”
In response to another question as to whether the issues contained therein had been resolved, he also answered, “Yes.”
The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yussuf Lasun, wanted to address a news conference at the National Assembly on Thursday to announce that his committee had returned the budget to the President but later changed his mind.
“The deputy speaker was advised by a superior opinion to shelve the news briefing since there was no conflict over the fact that the budget had been returned,” a senior legislative official told The PUNCH.
The Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Jonathan Gaza, confirmed that the budget had been forwarded to the Presidency when his views were sought.
He stated, “The budget has been completed and it is our hope that everything will be over in days.”
Buhari, had last month declined assent to the budget, which was sent to him by the National Assembly because of its alleged padding by the legislature.
Prior to the passage of the budget by the National Assembly, there were controversies over its distortion and padding by civil servants.
Projects, such as the Lagos-Calabar rail, were dropped from the approved budget by the National Assembly members, who allegedly inserted constituency projects in it.
After a brief meeting in Abuja on Wednesday last week, Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly agreed to set up a committee to reconcile the ‘grey areas’ in the budget.
Findings indicated that among the grey areas, which would now be deleted from the budget, was the N40bn the lawmakers added to the original vote for zonal intervention projects in the budget.
The President initially proposed N60bn for the projects, but the lawmakers jacked it up to N100bn.
The PUNCH equally learnt that the controversial Lagos-Calabar rail project was among the projects that the reconciliation committee of the National Assembly accommodated in the reworked 2016 budget.
Investigations by The PUNCH showed that though the reworked document retained the original total figure of N6.06tn, the details were “remarkably” different.
Besides the Calabar-Lagos rail line project, it was learnt that funds, slashed from projects Buhari included in the budget to fulfil his campaign promises, were restored.
A source stated, “The vexed issues included the fact that Mr. President was not happy that key projects he intended to use to fulfil his political campaign promises had their votes slashed in the first details sent to him.
“The votes have been restored.”
Findings indicated that the funds were slashed by the National Assembly’s Committees on Appropriation to be used to cover costs for projects that the legislature introduced into the budget without the prior knowledge of the executive.
“Generally, most of the distortions were resolved, including the issue of 40 per cent cut in the project heads in some of the projects dear to the President,” another legislative aide disclosed.
A Principal Officer of the House, Mr. Leo Ogor, told The PUNCH that the main issues included the “political campaign projects” of the President.
He added, “The National Assembly has accommodated the projects that the President feels are in line with his promises to the people.
“The Calabar-Lagos rail line project is, of course, one of them, I believe,” he said.
After the Presidency got the ‘‘clean copy’’ of the budget on Thursday, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo-Udoma, was said to have met with key government officials, including Enang, over the document.
The meeting, which was held at the headquarters of the ministry, according to a source, started in the morning and lasted till about 4pm.
The officials, who pleaded not to be named as he was not officially permitted to speak on the matter, said for several hours, the meeting deliberated on how the budget would be ready for the President before he could give his assent.
Meanwhile, the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki; and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, were on Wednesday evening put on the spot over the 2016 Budget impasse, The PUNCH has learnt.
It was learnt on Thursday that the issue formed one of the major agenda of a late night meeting Buhari had with leaders of the ruling All Progressives Congress at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
A source, who attended the meeting that ended in the early hours of Thursday, told one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, that the President and party leaders did not mince words in condemning the leadership and members of the National Assembly for inserting items which had been described as “grey areas” into the budget.
The source said Saraki and Dogara, however, made efforts to exonerate themselves.
He said, “In fact, the two of them told the meeting that they were not aware of the padding because they entrusted the process to the chairmen of the Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Appropriation.’’
The President is expected to leave Abuja on Friday (today) for his home state, Katsina, where he is scheduled to take part in the state’s economic summit among other engagements.
According to his itinerary, Buhari will travel out of the country from Katsina either on Monday or Tuesday.
He is scheduled to travel to the United Kingdom to participate in an anti-corruption summit that is expected to be attended by about 60 world leaders.