The remarks earlier this week by the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala that the deadlock over the 2013 Appropriation Act between the Federal Government and the National Assembly might lead to the government being broke by September has earned a rebuke from federal legislators.
The members of the National Assembly accused Okonjo-Iweala of deepening the row between the Executive and the Legislature over the 2013 budget amendment proposals and her comments amounted to blackmail against them.
To show the extent of their displeasure with the minister, members of the House of Representatives have summoned her to appear before their Joint Committees on Appropriation/Finance and Legislative Compliance on Tuesday, next week, to “throw light on her utterances.”
A resolution the House passed during plenary in Abuja accused Okonjo-Iweala of “blackmailing the National Assembly and inciting Nigerians against the Parliament.”
The sponsor of a motion on the matter, Mr. Sampson Osagie, recalled a comment credited to the minister on Monday that the “Nigerian economy will shut down by September” if the National Assembly failed to pass Jonathan’s amendment proposals to the budget.
Osagie, who is the Minority Whip of the House, said, “This is an attempt by the minister to blackmail the National Assembly. She is also inciting workers. This minister seems to know everything about the economy more than any other Nigerian. We can no longer take it.”
Osagie also quoted the minister as saying that the Federal Government would no longer be able to pay the salaries and allowances of workers if the amendment proposals were not passed.
The lawmaker told his colleagues not to allow themselves to be stampeded by Okonjo-Iweala’s comments.
He argued that the proposed amendments should not stop the Executive from implementing the 2013 Appropriation Act, “duly signed into law by Mr. President.”
Osagie said, “The House notes that there is a valid Appropriation Act, which is the 2013 budget. That the proposed amendments are not an excuse to stall the implementation of the subsisting budget.
“The House informs Mr. President and Nigerians that there is a budget that must be implemented to the letter.”
The motion was passed in a unanimous voice vote at the session presided over by the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha.
In the Senate where members suspended plenary to honour the late Senator Pius Ewherido, Senate Spokesman, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, said they did not receive Okonjo-Iweala’s comments kindly.
According to him, the National Assembly found it unacceptable the statement by the minister that the government would shut down if the budget amendment proposals were not considered.
He noted that because of the volume of the proposals sent by the President, more time to study them and make a good judgment was required.
Abaribe said, “We find it not to our liking when a comment is made that tends to say that government will shut down if the National Assembly doesn’t do anything. We do not agree with that.
“What we got from the President which is actually a third amendment is a set of documents amending the budget. Now, we find that these documents are even larger than the budget itself and there is no way the Senate and indeed, the National Assembly can consider these amendments until we come back from our vacation this year.
“There is absolutely no way amendments of this nature would be considered with the short time we have until we go on our vacation. The point really is that we thought that if there are differences and these were discussed with the Presidency that we take those few differences and deal with them.
“Coming to now bring up a whole list of amendments that are even much more than the original documents, I do not hope that the Presidency will not expect us to take time to look through it. In addition to all this, we already have other things that we have to deal with.”
Abaribe said the President was expected to bring the 2014 Budget in September, and with what he termed a “humongous budget” a difficulty had already been created.
“So when you bring these humongous documents and you are also going in this same September to bring us another document what do you expect us to do?” he asked.
On the comments by Okonjo-Iweala, Abaribe said, “The feeling of the Senate and the National Assembly is that we do not expect ministers and appointees of Mr. President to make comments that tend to give the impression of a collision course with the Executive because we are all working towards the same purpose – to make sure that we take care of the welfare of Nigerians.
“And so, we expect that effort should not be made to put us on a collision course. We are all interested in making sure that the budget as passed would be implemented in such a way that everybody would get its benefits.”
The Senate will be going on recess on July 25 and will not return until the end of September.
Okonjo-Iweala could not be reached for comments as calls and text messages put across to her Special Adviser on Communication, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu was not replied.
Jonathan had first sent an amendment bill to the N4.9tn budget to the Legislature in March.
The House in particular complained over its details. A week ago, it rejected the bill on the grounds of lack of details.
Twenty-four hours later, Jonathan itemised the sections he sought to be amended and sent the proposals back to the lawmakers.
However, on Monday, the House again said it needed more explanations from the President on his “virement proposals.”
According to the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media, Mr. Victor Ogene, Jonathan has to explain why he is seeking to “move money from some sub-heads to other sub-heads.”