Monday, 3 April 2017

President, Saraki, Dogara meet over budget, rift

BEHIND closed doors and separately, President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday met with Senate President Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara in Abuja. Expectedly, the festering rift between the Presidency and the National Assembly took the centre stage. The President first met with the Speaker before meeting the Senate President —for about 40 minutes each. The meetings confirmed yesterday’s The Nation story — that the President was billed to meet with the leadership of the National Assembly as part of efforts to address the strained relationship between the Executive and the Legislature. It was learnt that the meetings also discussed Budget 2017, the amendment to the Electoral Act 2010 and other national issues. The Senate President and the Speaker, who spoke to State House correspondents after the meetings, said they had “routine consultation’’ with the President. Saraki told reporters that the relationship between the two arms of government remained cordial. His words: “The relationship is very cordial; you cannot examine (the National Assembly) by one or two issues. That is the point I’m making. You cannot examine (the relationship) based on NDDC or examine it based on EFCC. “We have other issues like the ministerial (names) we are going to work on and the amnesty we will soon work on. We have the budget that is more important, we have INEC; we have the PIB (Petroleum Industry Bill); we have so many things and I think it is a mixture of all that that should guide us. So, don’t let us overheat the polity.’’ On the six months suspension of Senator Ali Ndume, Saraki said he lacked the power to recall the former Senate Leader as being advocated by some individuals and groups. He said: “We should try and understand how the parliament works. I wish I had such powers; these powers you give me, I wish I had them. The President or Speaker is first among equals. They are just presiding officers. “But, unfortunately, you know the legislative arm is the youngest people don’t understand. People give us these powers that we have. Decisions that are taken in plenary are decision of all. But, I have a role to be able to convey the message. “I will convey the message of the visit of the Governor of Borno and the Senate is one. We are all one family. There will be issues like that; there is nothing that is sacrosanct or rigid.” He added that the National Assembly is working hard on Budget 2017. According to him, one of the reasons for visiting the President was to let him know how far the National Assembly had gone on the budget. He said: “We are on course, as you noted last week, we did ask all the sub-committees to submit their reports to the appropriation Committee. All that has been done now. It’s now collation and review. Then, hopefully, it will be passed very soon.” On the suspension of screening of Resident Electoral Commissioners, he said: “As I said, this is a routine meeting. There are many things that are important. But there are other things that are even more important to do, which is the budget. “We talked also about the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Bill that we have passed. I took the President through some of the areas; very important areas. Because you know the President over many years is somebody that has gone to many elections. So, that was something he was really excited about. Some of the new amendments like electronic voting, talks about electronic process for collation. Those are landmark achievements that we hope that very soon, the House will concur and we will all come here for the President to assent. “Some of these other issues will happen, but I don’t think it’s a major issue. But we are still moving ahead and still consulting.” On his views on the reconciliatory committee set up under the chairmanship of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Saraki said: “Good development. But like I said, there will always be issues on one or two things. It doesn’t mean that it is the foundation of it. “When you have an arm of government that has to do with confirmation, there will always be…for example, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Bill. We rejected three people from NDDC. We keep on moving. We are all part of one government. That is why despite all these, still major decisions are taken. “Like I said, we did critical amendments on INEC by Tuesday or Wednesday (today or tomorrow). For the first time in the history of the legislature, we are going to lay a report on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) for consideration. It has never happened. For the past 20 years, it has not gotten to this stage. So, it’s work in progress in the interest of Nigeria. “Don’t let us get distracted by one or two infractions. It’s bound to happen. Even America that we are copying, today as we are watching, see what is happening on the Supreme Court. These are things that happen in a democracy. But, I can reassure Nigerians that it’s just a drop in the ocean. It is not an issue that should stir the whole nation; be rest assured.” Also speaking on the outcome of his meeting with the President, Dogara dismissed speculations that he was at the Villa over crisis between the executive and the legislature. The Speaker said: “It baffles me when people see you visiting Mr. President, the assumption out there is that something is going wrong. Nothing is wrong. It is just a routine consultation. “You might look at it as crisis but I don’t look at it as crisis. You know I have always said this that as a government our value will be the problems we have solved. “We can’t be remembered for avoiding or running away from problems. It is only whený we provide solution to some of the things you refer to as crises and we look at them as opportunities to begin anew that people will now remember us for putting down enduring legacies.” On the proposed protest against the recent activities at the National Assembly, Dogara said Nigerians were free to express their views peacefully. He said: “This is a democracy we are running and we have to open the space to civil society, to everyone who feels aggrieved to be able to air his grievances. “So, if they have grievances against the institution of the legislature, we will take it.’’

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