OWEDE AGBAJILEKE, Abuja
Discussions and possible approval of the 2018 budget estimates, the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill as well as the constitution amendment bill are issues expected to top the agenda as the Senate resumes from the two-week Easter break.
Lawmakers are also expected to approve the remaining economic priority bills yet to be passed, and presentation and consideration of some crucial committee reports.
BusinessDay learns that due to the demise of the chairman, Senate Committee on Capital Market, Bukar Mustapha, the Senate is expected to suspend plenary on Tuesday, April 10, and hold a valedictory session in his honour on Wednesday, April 11.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari had on November 7, 2017 presented a N8.612 trillion 2018 appropriation bill to a joint session of the National Assembly, where he called for speedy enactment of the budget to allow for January to December budget cycle.
However, both legislative chambers have blamed the late approval of the bill to the refusal of heads of ministries, departments and agencies to show up to defend their respective budgets.
In a document made available to BusinessDay before they embarked on break, the upper legislative chamber named heads of ministries and agencies frustrating the quick enactment of the budget by the National Assembly to include: Finance minister, Kemi Adeosun; her works, power and housing counterpart, Babatunde Fashola; Rotimi Amaechi (transportation minister); minister of budget and national planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, as well as information minister, Lai Mohammed.
Others are: Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu; Adebayo Shittu (Communications); Adamu Adamu (Education); Mansur Dan-Ali (Defence); Isaac Adewale (Health); Kayode Fayemi (Solid Minerals); Godfrey Onyeama (Foreign Affairs); Okechuwku Enelamah (Trade and Investment).
Also listed are the acting chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu; National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Monguno; chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu.
The legislative body insisted that the heads of MDAs were yet to conclude their 2018 budget defences before the various standing committees.
The document also listed committees saddled with the responsibility of entertaining the budget defences of the indicted agencies. The committees yet to conclude their exercise as a result of non-appearance of heads of MDAs are Public Accounts, National Intelligence, Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Communications, Culture and Tourism, Defence, Education (Basic and Secondary), Finance and Foreign Affairs.
Other committees include Health, Housing, INEC, Industries (Investment), Land Transport, National Planning, Primary Health Care and Communicable Diseases, Privatisation, Science and Technology, Solid Minerals, Sports and Youth Development, Tertiary Education and TETFUND, Trade and Investment, Water Resources and Works.
More heads of agencies are expected to appear before their respective committees to conclude budget defence sessions upon resumption on Tuesday, a development that may further delay the process.
Although, speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara had assured that the National Assembly would pass the budget by April 24, chairman, House Committee on Appropriations, Mustapha Dawaki, deferred the approval of the budget till May 2018.
Another issue to top agenda is the resumption of legislative work on the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill, which has already passed First Reading in the Senate.
The move, which signals the commencement of overriding President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto to the amendment of the Electoral Act, has already divided the legislative body along the line of pro-Saraki and pro-Buhari senators.
While the pro-Saraki lawmakers say they have the required numbers to override the President’s veto, the pro-Buhari legislators claim otherwise.
Recall that President Buhari had on March 13, 2018, declined assent to the amendment of the Act. The new bill is sponsored by Suleiman Nazif, chairman, Senate Committee on INEC.
In an interview with BusinessDay, national coordinator, Election Monitor, Abiodun Ajijola, expressed concern that a new legal framework was not ready with less than a year to the general elections.
He therefore called on the legislature to treat the enactment of the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill as a matter of urgent public importance upon resumption from Easter break.
“My major concern is that as soon as possible they (lawmakers) should ensure that they pass the Electoral Act, either they have the numbers and they think they can override him (Buhari). If they don’t have the numbers, they have to send back to the President. But my point is that it should be seen as an emergency.
“The election is next year but activities for the election are commencing this year such as primaries, campaigning and logistics for INEC. Because in the bill, you have some areas that allow INEC to do certain things electronically and once this bill is not passed on time, it will affect what INEC can do or cannot do. But once the bill is passed, then INEC knows the option that is open. So, deliberate efforts should be made to accelerate the Electoral Act Amendment Bill,” Ajijola said.
Also, both chambers of the National Assembly are expected to pass the remaining economic reform bills.
When passed into law, the bills will not only improve Nigeria’s ranking in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business index but also help to create 7.5 million jobs and reduce poverty by 16.4 percent.
Nigeria ranks 145th position out of 190 countries in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index for 2018. Out of the 13 economic bills, only one: Secured Transactions in Moveable Assets Bill, has been signed into law by the President.
Economic bills already passed by the Senate include: the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, National Roads Funds Bill, Nigerian Independent Warehouse Regulatory Agency Bill, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill, Federal Roads Bill, National Inland Waterways Authority Bill, National Transport Commission Bill, Nigerian Railway Authority Bill and Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority Bill.
OWEDE AGBAJILEKE, Abuja