The near acquiescence of opposition senators in debating the 2024 budget proposal from President Tinubu gives a foresight into the vibrancy or otherwise of the 109-member Senate under the Bola Tinubu presidency
The Senate passed the N27.5 trillion 2024 budget for second reading on Friday, 1st December, 2023. This was after senators subjected the general principles of the budget to a two-day debate which seemed more of a ritual and evidently lacking in rigours. Each contributor was given a time frame of 3 minutes to speak. This can be excused by the fact that the detailed scrutiny of the budget is often left to the standing committees of the Senate, which, for the purpose of budget defense, have to act as sub-committees of the appropriation committee.
A multi-party Senate…
But the contributions of opposition senators are worthy of note given that, for the first time in the history of the National Assembly, there are currently six political parties represented in the Senate making it a multi-party legislature (it was initially seven at the inauguration of the assembly but there has been a defection to the ruling party). The Senate, as currently constituted, has 60 members from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), making it the majority party. The 49 other senators are split into the Peoples’Democratic Party (PDP) with 36 seats; Labour Party (LP) with 8 seats; the New Nigeria Peoples’ Party (NNPP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) with 2 seats each; and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) with 1 seat.
Of the 109 Senators in the Senate, only 44 of them, which is 40.36%, made contributions during the debate. Of this number, 26 senators (23.85%) were of the APC; 15 (13.76%) of the PDP; and only one LP and APGA (0.9%) senator respectively, spoke.
What the opposition said…
Opposition senators, as the name implies, were however expected to point out faults or errors in the proposed 2024 budget but, interestingly, a majority of them resorted to heaping praises on President Bola Tinubu on the ‘renewed hope’ budget and pledged to support and work with his administration. Below is a summary of contributions from opposition senators:
Senator Seriake Dickson (PDP, Bayelsa West) argued that the budget proposal does not demonstrate the federal government’s commitment to road projects. He also called on President Tinubu to adequately finance the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). “This government, by what they have presented, is not committed to road projects. This National Assembly should use its powers to provide more funds to complete the east-west road. I want to call on Mr President to use this budget to fund the NDDC.”
Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe (PDP, Abia South) said the proposal does not address the issues bedeviling the power sector. “In the main budget itself, what was put for power was just three percent of the total percent of the budget. I think we should look at this budget and reprioritise. If not, what we will see is garbage in, garbage out.”
Senator Ekong Samson (PDP, Akwa-Ibom South) highlighted the challenge of budget implementation: “I have seen attention in respect of security and it is very key because we cannot get anywhere if our space is not secure. There is a critical issue of implementation. I want to ask that we ensure the budget is implemented. The people of Akwa-Ibom South have very high hopes for the budget.”
Senator Oyewunmi Olalere (PDP, Osun West) voiced his displeasure with some committees regarding their failure to ensure accountability in terms of project monitoring. “A lot needs to be done by the National Assembly to ensure that the various committees take responsibility for the end of the year monitoring. A lot of projects from last year have been abandoned, we appeal that the 2024 budget should capture it and all other necessary aspects should be captured. In my senatorial district, a major road there is bad. I want to call on the Senate to add it. My people have been calling from my senatorial district to confirm if it is part of the budget.”
Senator Victor Umeh (LP, Anambra Central) expressed delight with the level of borrowing indicated in the budget and called for commencement of the eastern rail line. “The budget deficit of N9.18trn for 2024 is commendable. The issue of railway, the funds that will be borrowed, I would hope that some money will be used to start the Eastern rail line.”