This comes as the president indicated his intention to present the 2019 Appropriation Bill before a joint session of the National Assembly on December 19
Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Anger boiled over at the House of Representatives yesterday as members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and their Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) counterparts squared up over comments credited to the Minister of Budget and Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, allegedly accusing the National Assembly of delaying the presentation of the 2019 budget by President Muhammadu Buhari. The lawmakers threatened to boycott the budget presentation by the President Muhammadu Buhari unless the minister apologised.
This is coming as President Buhari has indicated his intention to present the 2019 Appropriation Bill before a joint session of the National Assembly on Wednesday, December 19.
At the commencement of yesterday’s plenary, the Speaker, Hon Yakubu Dogara, had read a letter from President Buhari informing the House of the planned presentation of the 2019 Appropriation Bill next week.
As soon as Dogara finished reading the letter, Hon Chika Adamu, a member of the APC from Niger State, raised a Point of Order. Citing Order 6, Rule 14 of the House Standing Rules, he said his privilege as federal lawmaker had been breached by the Minister of Budget and Planning.
According to him, Udoma had told journalists on Wednesday that the National Assembly was delaying the presentation of the 2019 budget by President Buhari, as the legislature was yet to fix a date for presentation of the budget.
Adamu said the minister’s comment portrayed members of the National Assembly in bad light and lowered their esteem before the public.
He demanded that Udoma be compelled to apologise to the House, as well as retract the comments.
“Mr. Speaker, you have just read the letter from the President. My privilege has been breached by the Minister of Budget and Planning. Yesterday, the minister said they were waiting for the House to give them a date. We did not receive any communication from Mr. President until today. We are responsible people. We came here on our integrity. I cannot take it. The minister must apologise to this House. I cannot take it any longer. It is not acceptable by this honourable House,” the lawmaker stated.
Several lawmakers, who spoke on the issue, condemned the comments credited to the minister, with some of them insisting that he should be made to appear before the House to explain himself or they would boycott the budget presentation.
House Leader, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila sought to defend Udoma, saying the minister called him to deny comments credited to him.
He said: “The minister called me this morning; he was alarmed and upset and shocked. He said he was just reading something in the papers ascribed to him and that he never said such a thing and he is writing a rejoinder as we spoke.
“So I think we should tarry a while because you are accusing someone of lying. Let us not turn this house into a partisan house.”
Gbajabiamila explanation did not go down well with members of the PDP who accused him of always making excuses for the Executive arm of government.
Hon Mohammed Soba, who recently defected from the APC to the PDP, said it was appalling that the
House leader would stand on the floor of the House to defend the Executive on the issue under discourse. He insisted that Udoma must be summoned “to come and explain why he should disparage the House.”
Hon Mayowa Akinfolarin countered him, saying inasmuch as it was expected that members of the Executive should respect the legislators, lawmakers should also accord due respect to the House Leader.
At this point, the debate degenerated into a shouting match between the members of the APC and PDP, with lawmakers pointing fingers at each other.
Sensing the dimension the debate was assuming, Dogara quickly ended the debate and urged the lawmakers to soft-pedal, since Gbajabiamila said the minister was issuing a rejoinder.
According to Dogara, “this matter is a simple matter and I don’t think Nigerians are ignorant. This budget was only approved by Friday. Nobody has requested for the budget to be laid. This letter was only received this morning and read.
“It cannot take more than a paragraph to do a retraction. I want to plead with honourable members, in view of the fact that even the minister was once a member of this institution, let’s wait for a rejoinder. But if we don’t see that, then we have an issue. We should not allow this institution to be blackmailed. Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. That’s my ruling and I am not even referring it to any committee. If the rejoinder is not satisfactory, we will come back on Tuesday and take a decision.”
Reacting to this, Udoma, has denied saying he blamed the National Assembly for delay in budget presentation.
In a statement by his Special Adviser (Media and Communication), Akpandem James, the minister said there was no time he laid the blame at the doorsteps of the lawmakers.
James said: “The minister simply said that as is the procedure when the budget is ready, the Executive liaises with the National Assembly for a date, when the budget will be laid before the joint session of the Assembly; and that the process is on already.
“The minister, at no time throughout the interaction with the media, blamed the National Assembly for the delay in the presentation, nor gave the impression that there was any issue between the two arms of government over the 2019 budget.”