MOVES to reconvene the National Assembly remained unsuccessful yesterday, even as the row sparked by the long recess grew.
Senate President Bukola Saraki and House Speaker Yakubu Dogara said there was no agreement that the National Assembly should reopen. Saraki is the chairman of the Assembly.
But All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders in the National Assembly insisted that there was an agreement to reopen the Assembly.
House Deputy Speaker Yussuf Lasun, Senate Leader Ahmed Lawan and House Leader Femi Gbajabiamila said presiding officers must reconvene the Assembly immediately to avoid any form of sabotage, which will not augur well for the APC.
Saraki and Dogara said that no date was fixed to reconvene the two chambers of the National Assembly to consider the budget for the 2019 elections.
Saraki and Dogara, in a joint statement issued yesterday, said no date had been set for the reconvening of the Senate and the House of Representatives to consider the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) 2019 elections budget request forwarded by President Muhammadu Buhari on July 17, 2018.
The statement by the media aides of Saraki and Dogara, Yusuph Olaniyonu and Turaki Hassan, said that “the leadership of the two chambers had met and agreed to reconvene to consider the proposal this week before which a meeting between the Joint Senate and House of Representatives Committees on Electoral Matters and officials of the INEC must have held on or before Monday August 13, 2018.”
The joint committees, it said, were also expected to meet with the joint Senate and House Committees on Appropriations, Loans and Debts on the Eurobond loan request after which two reports would have been ready for presentation in the two chambers.
“However, no such meeting had taken place yet as a result of which both Senate and House of Representatives cannot reconvene as there is no report to consider.
“Until the Committees have a ready report for the consideration of the two chambers, it will be most irresponsible to recall members from recess, especially those that may have travelled to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj,” the statement said.
It did not say, however, if the committees were already meeting.
The failure to reconvene the National Assembly, to the APC Assembly chiefs, could spark a constitutional crisis that will pose a potential threat to the current democratic dispensation as it will affect the preparation of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for next year’s elections.
Speaking at a meeting with the members of the National Working Committee of the party in Abuja, Lasun, Lawan and Gbajabiamila said presiding officers must reconvene the Assembly immediately.
House Speaker Dogara did not attend the meeting.
The Deputy Speaker said it was unfortunate that the National Assembly could not reconvene on Tuesday as earlier agreed by the presiding officers.
He said: “I am not particularly happy that we are not able to reconvene the Assembly today because we decided few days back that we are going to sit and consider those items that are very important and may likely hamper the function of INEC and other programmes without which the implementation of the capital component of the 2018 budget would have been slightly difficult.”
Lasun asked the leadership of the party to make good on their promise not to abandon the legislators, saying: “We are party members and I must say that I like the assurance of the chairman that members are not going to be abandoned because it is always very hot outside there.
“I have always told people that if you want to become part of the endangered species, come to the National Assembly. That is why whatever efforts we make while conducting our businesses while in the hallowed chamber must be adequately compensated for by the party.”
Lawan said the APC Senate Caucus and the House caucus would ensure that the constitutional crisis hanging in the air is averted by ensuring that the Assembly reconvenes to pass the budget of INEC.
Lawan said “We have been talking and yearning for the National Assembly to reconvene, but it appears to be a dream. The deputy speaker had informed us a few days ago that we may reconvene either today or tomorrow. Well, tomorrow is yet to come.
“We are insisting that the National Assembly reconvene and reconvene quickly so that we pass the budget request of Mr President for INEC to start its preparation for 2019 in earnest. We also need to pass the request by the Federal Government for loans from foreign countries which will be the only basis for now for the funding of our capital budget.
“To do otherwise would amount to sabotage because we are in a very unusual time; we have the leadership of the National Assembly divided between the opposition PDP and the APC. We have to work hard to ensure that our government is not sabotaged.
“If we don’t pass the budget request, it serves the PDP very well, but it doesn’t serve us at all because it will negate what we stand for and all the promises we made to Nigerians. In fact, it could spark a constitutional crisis because if INEC is not able to conduct the election in 2019, that will be a serious constitutional crisis.
“So, we insist the National Assembly reconvene immediately. We are working on this in the Senate Caucus and we will continue to liase with the House caucus to ensure that we are on the same page on this so that we could get the National Assembly reconvened.”
Gbajabiamila said: “We have to find a find a way of reconvening the Assembly because as it is, we are heading for a constitutional crisis and an inevitable government shutdown because the two things that need to be done if the budget for the election and the funding of the capital project and without the approval, that will be difficult.
“I was with the Minister of Finance a couple of weeks ago and she told me in no uncertain terms that if she does not get the necessary approval from the National Assembly by end of August, we should forget funding for the capital budget. That is why I said it is a task that must be done.
“A lot of our members are supposed to be in Saudi Arabia right now.
“We had to go to the Hajj Commission to have their flight delayed because today was supposed to be the last day. They agreed to delay the last flight till Thursday, with the hope that we will reconvene today and tomorrow and do what is necessary.
“I know that these members will be rewarded for their unalloyed loyalty to the party. We have 196 members in the House and that is about 40 members more than the PDP. With that number, we can do the party agenda in the House. Even within the PDP, we also have some members who will join us.”
APC Chairman Adams Oshiomhole assured the legislators that the party will ensure that the high turnover of legislators is curtailed.