Spokesman of the House of Representatives, Hon Benjamin Kalu yesterday revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari ignored the previous invitations of the 8th assembly to speak on the escalating security situation because it habitually withheld the annual budget.
Fielding questions from journalists in Abuja on the heels of a resolution of the House, Tuesday, inviting the President to brief the parliament on the subject-matter, prompted by the massacre of over 43 rice farmers in Borno State last weekend, Kalu said the present 9th National Assembly has always passed the Appropriation Bill timeously, a ground that would make Buhari honor their call.
Kalu who is also the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs added that the present Assembly has been people-oriented, stressing that the President would honor their invitation which was reflective of the people’s wish.
He however preferred the declaration of a state of emergency to the invitation.
He said: “Inviting Mr. President is not the only thing that was discussed at the plenary. What was discussed also included asking President Buhari to declare a state of emergency on security and to me that’s more important. It’s more important concerning what we intend to achieve.
“We want to give Mr. President that leeway to be able to use other sources, mechanisms to solve. Unless there’s a declaration of a state of emergency on security, Mr. President’s hand will be tied to do what the former president Jonathan did which was asking for external help and bringing in external help: he mercenaries and the rest of them, to make sure we fight to clear the issue of security. The constitution will not allow Mr. President to act in this direction.
“Nigerians should be proud that we’ve tied our resolutions with that of the northern governors who have asked that a state of emergency be declared on security and that’s the wish of most of the northern state governors. The invitation that the House gave to Mr. President is not as important as the declaration of a state of emergency which will help the nation to achieve what they want to achieve.
“Is it in order to invite Mr. President? The answer is yes. We are on the side of the people. If the people are saying that the President should answer to the parliament, that call is in order. The President has been invited so many times but he was invited by those who were in warfare with him.
“Remember the people who invited the President before were the ones who held his budget for six months and then you invite him and expect him to come? You want him to answer questions on issues he supposed to use the money that you’re supposed to appropriate? When you’re holding the money and you’re inviting him?
“But this Assembly has not withheld the budget of Mr. President. We have given Mr. President his budget in good time. So, he has no reason not to oblige the request of the Nigerian people. We are looking at solutions. If he visits us and we interact with him, the question you will ask me is after the visit of Mr. President what next? Okay, he walks through the door and we interact with him. Has that stopped the killing in the North? No. He will come but beyond the coming of Mr. President, what we’re saying today is that the House has equipped Mr. President with the mandate to declare a state of emergency on security”.
The Chairman added that the leadership of the House will determine if the meeting will be made open to the public or not.
“On if the meeting will be closed doors or open door, the House regulate how we conduct ourselves. It is in the wisdom of the leadership to decide whether it’s going to be open or closed. Either way, what’s important is that there’s an interaction between the parliament and the president”, he said.
Speaking on the Service Wide Vote considered a slush fund spent only by the President without recourse to the national assembly, the lawmaker said that though Buhari was constitutionally empowered to spend the money at will, the parliament will however monitor it to ensure it was expended on the public utilities.
While reiterating the commitment of the House to pass the 2021 Appropriation Bill into law before the end of the month, Kalu dropped hints of a legislative action to compel the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and the Federal Inland Revenue Service to publicly declare their respective budgets in subsequent fiscal years.
“On service-wide votes, you know Buhari has power given to him by the constitution to go the extra mile when the need arises to be able to take care of budget needs. The question should not be whether it’s being spent, the question should be whether it’s spent within the limit allowed by the law and even the question is that he should be accountable to the people.
“That’s a question in the right direction and that is a job our committee on special duties will take up because if it has to do with the Presidency, it’s that committee that handles that.
“So, we are going to ask them that the public needs to know what’s happening with the service-wide votes. Granted but not conceding, granted because it’s the entitlement of the Presidency to utilize service wide votes but not conceding that it should be done without reference to the mandate of the constitution or enabling laws and accountability of the usage of such funds, it’s the right of the citizens and more transparent it is, the better for the country and I’m sure this government will not hide anything from the public.
“For the first time, NNPC came and presented their budget openly. That needs to show you the commitment of the 9th Assembly. We believe that certain things are not achieved just by flexing muscles and boxing each other. Several Assemblies did that but we went by reasoning and I was part of the team that worked hard to ensure that the NNPC showed a transparent account to the public. And I’m happy the MD came himself and he sat there to take questions.
“Now on CBN and FIRS, the need for them to be more transparent is true. As a people’s parliament, we’re on the side of the people. If the people want to get details as taxpayers of what is being done with their fund, I think it’s the right call and the feedback I’m taking from this is that we are going to speak to the Chairman of, Committee on Banking and currency to look into this. For FIRS, I’m sure the chairman, the finance committee will also look into that. If we have missed it in this budget, I am sure in the coming budget, it’s going to be looked at. It’s a promise”, Kalu said.