The Presidency has described the controversy surrounding the alleged missing 2016 budget as “laughable”, saying President Muhammadu Buhari cannot direct his agents to “steal” the document.
The Senate had last week upon resumption from its three weeks recess, accused Senator Ita Enang, who is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters for Senate, of distributing a 2016 budget, which upon investigation, was found to be different to that presented by Mr. Buhari before a joint session of the National Assembly on December 22, 2015.
“What we found out is that the document submitted by Senator Ita Enang upon our resumption has some differences and discrepancies with what was originally laid by Mr. President in the joint sitting of the National Assembly”, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, told reporters.
Reacting to the allegation at the weekend, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters for the House of Representatives, Hon. Sumaiala Kawu, said President Buhari has no reason to smuggle the document out of the Senate because he is aware of options he can explore to withdraw the document.
He also described the accusation directed at Enang as “unfair” because the former senator is an experienced lawmaker, who once chaired Rules and Business Committees in the House and in the Senate.
Kawu said the missing budget rumour may have been strengthened by the locking away of the document in the Clerk of the National Assembly’s office.
He said: “It is a surprise to us and Mr President in particular; it is laughable. We just laughed when we heard of it.
“Being a joint sitting, Mr President laid one document on the floor; then it is for the Budget Office or National Planning Commission (NPC) to make copies.
“In this case, once it was laid, the Clerk of the National Assembly locked the document in his office because of the time of the year; it was holiday period and the lawmakers were going on holiday.
“The confusion might have been as a result of that.
“But our concern in this matter is why we were dragged into it.
“Actually, as our job entails, we lobbied the National Assembly to take a second look at the oil benchmark because our projection was no longer in tune with the current reality.
“We lobbied the National Assembly on the benchmark; it was not illegal or alien to legislature world over and it has nothing to do with stealing or smuggling it out of the Senate.
“We, as the Executive, have to take account of the volatile nature of oil price. The National Assembly was aware of this, but notwithstanding we still have no reason to withdraw it.
“Even if the document must be withdrawn, it must be done legally and there are laid down means of doing that, which the President can explore.
“Buhari will be the last person to assign his agent to be involved in such illegality”.
The presidential aide said the sad development was not a matter of lack of communication between the Executive and Legislature but instead an act of mischief by those behind it.
While defending his Senate counterpart, Kawu said: Enang, “Enang is a hands-on legislator that knows the rules. He was Chairman of Rules and Business committees of the House and Senate, so he knows the rules.
“This is the same lawmaker that tackled the then Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on different versions of Budget being implemented.
“He is very much aware of what is at stake and couldn’t have involved himself in such an illegality”.
On whether the budget may be withdrawn as a result of the crashing global oil price, Kawu said there was no plan for that.
“We will not withdraw the budget because the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) has taken into consideration a situation like this.
“We are aware that for Saudi Arabia to raise her domestic oil price and the United States exporting oil means there’s a problem.
“That was the reason why diversification of economy is a priority to this government, this budget wasn’t oil-dependent”, he said.