Both the Senate and the House of Representatives through joint committees, have been having budget defence sessions with Ministries, Departments and Agencies under their purviews. TAIYE ODEWALE reports 

Budget Defence Sessions

In line with parliamentary practices and procedures, after presentation of budget for a  particular fiscal year by a serving President, the parliament or in the case of Nigeria, the National Assembly carries out debate on general principles of such proposals for the purpose of giving it second reading and committing it to its various standing committees, for defence sessions with heads of the  various government owned Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

In carrying out the procedure, both chambers of the National Assembly after presentation of N27.5trillion 2024 budget proposals to them at joint session by President Bola Tinubu penultimate Wednesday, commenced debate on general principles of the proposals penultimate Thursday, Friday and Saturday with passage for second reading.

For expeditious consideration and passage as requested for by the President, both Chambers at the end of the general debate session penultimate Saturday, announced suspension of plenary for one week for budget defence session at committee level.

First to appear for budget defence session, was the Attorney – General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, who on Monday last week, lamented that his Ministry only got releases for Capital expenditure in the 2023 budget on the 1st of December 2023, less than 30 days to the end of the fiscal year.

The minister who made the lamentation  before the National Assembly joint  committee on Judiciary, said in the outgoing budget cycle for 2023, the Ministry was allocated N3,321,283.533.00billion as Capital Budget and N4,688,847,054.00billion as Recurrent Budget. 

“With  less than 30 days to the end of the financial year, the Ministry has only had releases of N617,456,896.00million for capital expenditure and N2,734,110,775.62billion, for recurrent expenditure.

“Late releases of budgetary votes, has greatly constrained the performance of the Ministry in its mandate areas.

“From my first-hand assessment of the justice sector upon assumption of office, it Is obvious to me that a major challenge in the sector is underfunding. 

“This critical sector requires significant Investments for us to drive the much-needed legal and judicial reforms, achieve Satisfactory compliance with human rights, democratic governance, the rule of law, etc”, he said.

Making similar lamentation of inadequate funding during budget defence session last week, was the Comptroller General of the Nigeria Correctional Service (NCS) Haliru Nababa, who told the National Assembly Committee on Interior that  monies spent on dogs, are more  than those spent on inmates.

He pointedly told the committee headed by Senator Adams Oshiomhole (APC Edo North), while an  inmate is fed on N750 per day, dog is fed by N800 daily.

“The Nigeria Correctional Service has severally  written the Minister of Interior requesting for the review of the amount we are using to feed the inmates from N750 per day, to N3,000 per day but still waiting for approval”, he lamented.

In a similar lamentation at another session, the Director General of Micheal Imodu National Institute for Labour Studies, Comrade Issa Aremu told the labour committee that the N1.4bn projected for the Institute for the  2024 fiscal year, was inadequate.

He said, “This budget is very small, and it’s consistent with what the ministers have said. N2.6bn was our proposal, but this is what they are giving us, N1.4bn.

“It’s surprising that the parent ministry itself has a budget of N10billion, out of a national budget of N27.5tn. How can the ministry perform?

“The only way we can assist the President (Bola Tinubu) in its job creation agenda, is for us to be properly funded.”

From lamentation of under funding to sabotage

Lamentation galore at the budget defence sessions shifted from underfunding to sabotage on Friday last week when the Group Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL), Mele Kyari, appeared before the appropriations committee.

He specifically lamented the high rate of illegal connections on oil pipelines in the country by illegal refiners ,which according to him, has affected the functionality of the over 5,000 kilometres oil pipelines across the country.

He said: “As it is today, about 4,800 illegal connections are made on the over 5,000 oil pipelines across the country.

“The illegal connections on oil pipelines in the Niger Delta is so rampant that within 100kilometres of the affected pipelines, 300 insertions are made on them, which eventually made the pipe to be weak to the point of not being able to hold pressure of oil pumped, let alone, delivering it to targeted destination.

“Additionally, it is abnormal to engage non – state actors to protect critical assets  like oil pipeline. We have however responded abnormally and getting results, because unlike as it was in July 2022 when less than 1.2million barrels of oil were produced by day, it has been 15million barrels per day within the last two to three months”.

New twist to the lamentation

At the continuation of budget defence session on Monday this week, the lamentation shifted from heads of agencies to federal lawmakers as witnessed at the joint committee on Agriculture.

In their separate remarks at the session, Hon Dahiru Ismaila Haruna from Toro federal constituency in Bauchi state and Hon Ademorin Kuye from Shomolu federal constituency, Lagos state, raised the alarmed on urgent need by the federal government to address the high rate of hunger in the country largely caused by insecurity. 

Hon Haruna in his remarks said, “Hon Minister, being from the North East, the picture i’m about to paint shouldn’t be strange to you at all.

“The pathetic picture of people dying of hunger on daily basis while majority of those surviving, feed once a day.

“Making it worrisome is the fact that even people from neighbouring countries like Chad, Niger, Benin Republic and Central Aftrica, are trooping in to mop up the little food, signalling total famine in the area if not urgently addressed by stockpiling the silos”.