Upon its resumption from Sallah on Tuesday after four weeks break, the Senate on Tuesday charged President Muhammadu Buhari to begin full implementation of the 2018 budget.
Recall that President Buhari had while signing the budget said that it would be difficult to implement because of the additions by the National Assembly.
In his welcome address, Senate President Bukola Saraki said that the budget implementation became necessary so as to positively impact the lives of the people, linking the growing tensions in the land to economic condition of the citizenry.
He said: “Happily, the 2018 Budget has been signed by the President. We call on the executive to expedite the release of funds for budget implementation, so that our people can begin to see the positive impact in their lives without delay. The work is not done.
“We as the Senate must continue to exercise our oversight functions to ensure successful implementation and value for money. Naturally, we continue to work towards reforming the budgetary process.
“Clearly, it is necessary for the Executive and the Legislature to work towards a more robust engagement on the need for a better budget environment and process, going forward.”
The Senate has also condemned the protest against the National Assembly regarding the issue of constituency projects.
The Senate, which fingered a serving minister and a governor as sponsor of the protest, called on President Buhari to investigate their alleged involvement, adding that those sponsoring the protests were destroying the sanctity of parliament.
Senate condemnation of the protest came under a motion sponsored by Senator Barnabas Gemade (APC, Benue State).
Expressing disappointment over the development, the Senate noted that constituency development projects were the only government projects that cut across the country.
Leading debate on the motion, Senator Gemade warned that no amount of blackmail would stop the lawmakers from approving money for constituency projects, lambasting the sponsors of the protest as ignorant of parliamentary operations.
The lawmaker pointed out that unlike heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), senators now “go with cap in hand to beg Ministers to finance their constituency projects. This is shameful and this has to stop.”
The Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, who linked the protest to unemployment and poverty, said, “there is unemployment in Nigeria. This has given people the opportunity to create jobs. That is why we now have professional beggars. What they do is just to approach a government official who doesn’t like the Senate. He will ask for funding and they will collect N1,500 for each protester.
“In the end, they give only N500 to each protester. I feel sad when I see these people at the gate protesting. They protest what they don’t believe in. And this protest against constituency projects is very embarrassing.
“It was late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua who then as President, insisted that lawmakers must be part of the process of budgeting. He said about N100 billion should be set aside every year to cater for that need. He recognised the importance of lawmakers and how close they are to the people.
“Nigerians should be made to appreciate their constituency projects as the only way to spread projects to every nook and cranny of this country.
“The President should investigate those behind the protests. The protesters will tell him the Minister and Governor giving them money to protest. The irresponsibility of some people in government should not be allowed.”
Ekweremadu, however, described those against constituency projects as enemies of the state, adding, “no amount of blackmail should stop us from continuing with this constituency projects which is helping our people.”
Other senators, who supported the motion expressed displeasure over the protest.
In his contribution, Senator Isah Hamman Misau, disclosed that the Governor behind the protest is from the North, while the Minister is from South-South, wondering why President Buhari has not called them to order.
In his closing remark, Saraki, however, said that the lawmakers would continue to educate the public on the importance of constituency projects.
Earlier, the protesters sealed off the entrance to the National Assembly, forcing the lawmakers, staff and visitors to the National Assembly to take the entrance used by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF).
Because of this development, armed policemen had teargassed hundreds of protesters at the entrance of the National Assembly who attempted to forcefully gain access into the building.
As tension increased, soldiers and more armed policemen were deployed to provide additional security.
The protesters, who came to National Assembly under the aegis of Coalition for Good Governance and Transparency in Nigeria, were seen carrying various placards with inscriptions such as, ‘Where are the killers in the National Assembly?’, ‘We have not forgotten Offa robbery incident and Kogi state assassination so soon’.
Other signs are: ‘Saraki must resign and stop mocking the dead, the world is watching’, ‘Insertion of thousands of projects into the budget is tantamount to hijacking of the budget’.
‘Stealing is corruption and padding is a crime against Nigerians’, ‘Nigerians are not represented in the sharing of the loots via constituency projects’.
Speaking on behalf of the group, Comrade Solomon Adodo, who led the protest, said that Bukola Saraki might be looking at every Nigerian like a fool, but the Coalition has come out to take strong exceptions to his Machiavellian politics and send a clear signal to him that Nigerians have rejected his style of leadership and want him out.
Adodo said Saraki’s corruption trial with the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), over his alleged non-assets declaration was still ongoing in the anti-graft court and insisted that the path to honour for the Senate President was to step aside to clear his name.
He tasked members of the 8th Senate to do the needful by immediately impeaching Saraki as the Senate President should he fail to resign, adding that such development would bring sanity and restore the lost glory to the upper chamber of the National Assembly in particular and Nigeria in general.
Trouble, however, started at about 9.30am on Tuesday, when the protesters in their numbers, who came with a public address system and loudspeakers, which were strategically positioned in the entrance leading to the National Assembly, took positions and started stopping motorists and pedestrians from entering the National Assembly.
Some senators and members of the House of Representatives were trapped in the protest for over an hour. Some of them abandoned their vehicles when the protesters became violent. Pedestrians also ran for safety.
Policemen attached to the National Assembly, however, released tear gas canisters to disperse protesters, when they were making attempt to forcefully gain access into the National Assembly.