President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday signed the N4.987tn 2013 Appropriation Bill into law thereby putting an end to the bad blood between the Executive and the legislature over their differences on the budget.
The President, however, signed the budget in secret contrary to previous years when it was done in full public glare.
He signed the document in secret despite the fact that State House correspondents, who were earlier mobilised for the signing ceremony, were waiting at the lobby of his office.
Except for the period when the late President Umaru Yar’Adua was sick and members of his kitchen cabinet claimed that he signed the budget on his sick bed abroad, successive heads of government had been signing the fiscal document in the full glare of media representatives and some members of the public.
The event is usually witnessed by the leaders of the two arms of the National Assembly or their representatives.
Tuesday’s drama started at about 5.30pm when journalists, most of who had already left the Presidential Villa, were quickly mobilised to come and witness the signing ceremony, which was not included in the President’s schedule for the day.
While journalists were waiting for the event to start, the President was meeting the President of the Senate, David Mark; and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwwal, in his office.
They were joined in the meeting by Vice President Namadi Sambo; Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Director-General, Budget
Office, Dr. Bright Okogu; Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emordi; and some senior presidential aides.
A few minutes before the meeting ended, a message was sent to the waiting journalists to leave as the Presidency would only communicate the signing of the budget to them through a press statement.
Photojournalists and television cameramen, who were already gearing up for the annual ritual of recording the President while signing the budget, were also asked to leave.
No sooner had the journalists returned to their base near the Council Chambers than Mark and Tambuwwal were sighted coming out of the President’s office.
Before they could be approached for comments, the two National Assembly leaders zoomed off in the same car.
Emordi, who came out shortly after the departure of the two principal officers, also declined comments when journalists approached her.
“See, this is the Presidential Villa, if you were in the National Assembly, of course I will be able to talk. You meet Abati, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity. You know we have a spokesperson for Mr. President, I can’t come here to be doing his work,” Emordi said as she made her way out of the Presidential Villa.
Shortly after she left, Okonjo-Iweala and Okogu also emerged from the President’s office.
The minister also refused to answer reporters’ questions. When asked why she refused to talk despite the questions being thrown at her, she said, “I smile,” and hurriedly left the premises.
The President’s spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, later issued a statement that Jonathan signed the budget after consultations and an agreement between the two arms of government.
Abati said in resolving the matter, Jonathan reached an understanding with leaders of the National Assembly that the observations of the Executive on the budget would be considered through legislative action.
The statement read, “Following consultations and an agreement between the Executive and the Legislature on the 2013 Appropriation Bill, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan today (Tuesday) signed the bill into law.
“President Jonathan wishes to reassure all Nigerians that the consultations have been in the best interest of the country and in pursuit of understanding and mutual cooperation between both arms of government.
“As part of the understanding reached with its leadership, the observations of the Executive arm of government about the Appropriation Bill as passed by the National Assembly will be further considered by the National Assembly through legislative action, to ensure effective and smooth implementation of the 2013 Appropriation Act in all aspects.
“The administration remains fully committed to the positive transformation of the country, and effective and efficient service delivery for the benefit of all citizens.
“All ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government have, therefore, been directed to work very hard to ensure that all the services, projects and programmes contained in the budget are successfully delivered on schedule in spite of the slight delay in its enactment.”
A Presidency source, however, told our correspondent that the decision to sign the budget on Tuesday was hurriedly taken because the President did not want the document to remain unsigned till March.
He added that the move was also meant to stop the National Assembly from overriding the President’s veto on the document
“The President will be leaving for Cote D’Ivoire on Wednesday (today) and he will not return to the country until Saturday. By that time, we will be in March already and he does not want the document to remain unsigned till March. It is also in the President’s interest to ensure that the National Assembly does not override his veto. That was why you saw what you saw,” the source said.
It will be recalled that Jonathan had recently written to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke, seeking his advice on the veto power of the National Assembly following the delay in signing the 2013 budget.
The Chief Economic Adviser to the President, Dr. Nwanze Okeidegbe, said this on Sunday in Abuja during an interview with journalists.
He said the advice had become necessary owing to the unresolved issues on the budget between the Executive and the Legislature.
The details of the budget were transmitted to Jonathan on January 14 by the office of the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mr. Salisu Maikasuwa.