Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja
Senate yesterday began the long search to unravel the mystery behind the ‘missing’ 2016 Budget documents, which was presented to the joint session of the National Assembly on December 22, 2015 by President Muhammadu Buhari.
But two officers of the Red Chamber, however, denied any chance that the Budget documents had vanished into thin air.
This is even as the Senate President, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, rushed out of the National Assembly Complex to meet with Buhari behind closed-doors at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The UNION reports that the Upper Legislative Chamber was expected to begin work on the 2016 Budget proposal, which was presented to the lawmakers on resumption from a three-week end of the year recess yesterday (Tuesday).
Following the planned deliberation on the proposed Budget, the Senate went into closed-door session, which lasted for over two hours.
It was gathered that the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, shocked lawmakers at a closed-door session when he told them that the Budget documents had been stolen.
Ndume explained that deliberation on the Budget could, therefore, not begin until fresh copies of the documents were obtained from the Presidency, the Ministry of Finance or National Planning.
It was gathered that the Chairman, Senate Committee of Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, was allegedly mandated to lead a search for the hard and soft copies of the 2016 Budget documents, which are no longer with the lawmakers.
Goje was allegedly directed to liaise with the Presidency, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, and the Ministry of National Planning on the matter.
It was also gathered that the senators resolved that the matter be kept under top secrecy.
They noted that making it public could embarrass the Presidency, the National Assembly and the country.
But the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was not caged, as its senators were said to have accused the Presidency of being behind the theft of the documents.
However, senators of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), who rejected the accusation, reportedly said that it was too early to speculate.
Meanwhile, Ndume may have refuted the allegation that the 2016 Budget has disappeared.
“Budget cannot be missing. One copy can be laid; it is a symbolic copy. The Budget will be in (the) custody of both chambers.
“It cannot be stolen. It cannot be missing. Once the budget is laid in the National Assembly, it has become the property of (the) National Assembly,” Ndume said.
Similarly, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Aliyu Abdullahi Sabi, also denied that the Budget documents have gone without a trace.
“As far as we are concerned, we don’t know anything about the missing Budget. What we are waiting for is to produce copies for members so that we can commence the process of consideration. All those things that you people are hearing are nothing but mere rumours,” Sabi said.
In a related development, Saraki dashed out from the Complex for a meeting with Buhari immediately, after Tuesday’s Plenary was adjourned.
But Ndume’s defense of Saraki’s impromptu visit to the Villa may have confirmed the fact that the documents are actually missing.
“Saraki’s visit to Villa is for (the) Senate to know (the) President’s priorities. We want to see how we can fas track the passage of the Budget before the end of February.
“What is before the Senate is proposal. Once the President signs it, it cannot be amended. We can turn the budget upside down. It cannot be missing. If it is online, you can produce the budget. How can it be missing?” Ndume asked rhetorically.