For the second time, President Goodluck Jonathan fails to address the National Assembly joint sitting on 2014 budget
| By Vincent Nzemeke | Dec. 2, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
ON Tuesday, November 19, the expectation was high across the country. On that day, President Goodluck Jonathan was to present the 2014 national budget to a joint sitting of the National Assembly at 12 noon. Nothing gave the impression that the event would not hold as scheduled. Early that morning, security agents combed the National Assembly premises to ensure that security of the area was ship-shaped before the arrival of the president.
But the event was not to be as the president changed his mind after members of the Senate and House of Representatives had assembled at the green chamber waiting to receive him. Jonathan’s failure to present the 2014 budget before the National Assembly has stirred up fresh controversies in the country. Twice in the month, the president had written to the assembly craving the indulgences of the lawmakers to allow him time at noon of November 12 and 19, respectively to make the annual ritual. But the president did not show up on both occasions. In his first letter on November 12, the president requested that the presentation be rescheduled for November 19, due to “emergent circumstances”. The request was granted by both chambers of the national assembly and the new date was accepted.
On the said date, the president requested that the presentation be postponed again. In his letter to the two chambers, the president cited differences between the two arms of the National Assembly on the benchmark price for oil revenue for next year as contained in the medium term expenditure framework, MTEF, as his reason for not showing up.
The president had explained his absence thus: “Please recall that I had written requesting the Honourable House of Representatives to grant me the slot of 12 noon on Tuesday 19th November 2013 to enable me address a Joint Session of the National Assembly on the 2014 Budget. However, considering the fact that, whereas the Distinguished Senate has approved the Medium Term Expenditure Framework MTEF, based on a benchmark of $76.5 per barrel, the honourable House of Representatives has used a benchmark of $79 per barrel, it is infeasible for me to present the budget in the absence of a harmonised position on the MTEF. “In the circumstance, it has become necessary to defer the presentation of the 2014 Budget to a Joint Session of the National Assembly until such a time when both respected chambers would have harmonised their positions on the MTEF. It is my hope that this will be in the shortest possible time. Please accept, honourable speaker, the assurances of my highest consideration and esteem.”
But that excuse did not go down well with many members of the assembly. Some of them alleged that contrary to the issues of MTEF, the real reason the president did not come was because of the crises rocking the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, where he is a member. They said that Jonathan was trying to avoid an embarrassing reception from some aggrieved lawmakers, especially those loyal to the Kawu Baraje led faction.
In a swift reaction, the House of Representatives faulted the position of the president on MTEF. It insisted that budgets were presented in the past even without a compromise on the benchmark. Zakari Mohammed, the house spokesman, who briefed journalists on the development said: “Before we came in, we heard information that the President will not come and that he will send a representative. Eventually, the representative was not sent and he had to forward a letter. Of course, the basis of the letter is that we don’t have a harmonised benchmark position and the MTEF has been passed and that is exactly why he did not come and I want to refresh your memories. In 2011, we had a similar situation and the benchmark by the two chambers was not passed. Of course, he presented the budget. Last year, the House of Representatives passed its MTEF, when the Senate had not passed its version. Of course, he still went ahead to present the estimates. Last year, it happened. This year, the Senate has passed its own MTEF.”
Ogbonna Nwuke, representing Etche/Omuma Federal Constituency, Rivers State, in his own reaction, said that it was unfortunate that members came with the expectation of seeing the president present the budget estimates but that he couldn’t come.
Responding to assertions that PDP members planned to boo the president, Nwuke said: “Am I a magician to know whether there were plans to boo the President but I think the way democracy works in other climes, the President’s lobbyists ought to have been doing their work. Lobbying is not about money. It is about articulating positions clearly to an extent that lawmakers will feel compelled regardless of their position, if any, to support a strong argument. Now, I don’t know where that story about booing the president is coming from. Perhaps, those who are telling those tales are those who were behind a similar situation in the House.”
Analysts believe that what is currently playing out between the executive and the legislative arms of government now is akin to an age long saying that where two elephants fight, the grass suffers.