President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday presented a budget proposal of N8.83 trillion to a noisy joint session of the National Assembly.
The entire programme was punctuated with cheers and boos, climaxing with the president having to leave the chamber even before the formal conclusion of the session.
There were also moments of heated verbal exchanges and fisticuffs.
Shortly before the arrival of the president, a lawmaker of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Bashir Baballe, snatched a placard from Linus Okorie, a member of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
This led to a brawl, which eventually drew the participation of other lawmakers.
Earlier, there had been uncertainty about whether or not the president would present the draft. But at about 11.00 a.m., it became certain he would attend the session.
The realisation forced a sudden change in atmosphere. A number of lawmakers have seen smuggling placards into the chamber.
Thirty minutes into Buhari’s arrival, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo appeared but could not proceed to the venue of the presentation as members of the House of Representatives held a closed-door meeting in an attempt to douse tension.
Stranded alongside some ministers at the lobby, Osinbajo was led to the office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang, where he waited for some 20 minutes before the chamber was reopened.
The floor became charged as senators walked in, many chanting solidarity songs.
As Buhari entered at exactly 12.30 p.m., he was greeted with protest songs. The drama however intensified as other lawmakers loyal to the president quickly mobilised and began cheering.
The chaos worsened as Buhari began to list some capital projects his government claimed it initiated across the country. Many lawmakers shouted, “No!” “Not correct!” “Propaganda!”
When he mentioned his government’s anti-corruption war, his words were met with shouts of “Liar!” and “Grasscutter!” the latter being a reference to a financial scandal that involved cutting of grass amid allegations the president was shielding the perpetrator.
Embarrassed, the president paused. “May I appeal to senators and honourable members that the world is watching us. We are supposed to be above this,” he said.
He also attracted further verbal attacks when he mentioned his administration’s social intervention programmes like Tradermoni, N’Power and the school feeding initiative.
Some lawmakers shouted: “Vote buying!” “Propaganda!” “Lie!”
The budget proposal is based on the following assumptions: oil price benchmark of USD60; crude oil production of 2.3 mbp; exchange rate N305/USD; real GDP growth of 3.01 percent; and an inflation rate of 9.98 percent.
The proposal consists of N4.04 trillion for recurrent expenditure and N2.03 trillion for capital development.
The president noted that a total sum of N2.14 trillion is voted for domestic debt servicing while N120 billion is for sinking fund.
The proposal also has statutory transfers of about N492.36 billion. The deficit is N1. 89 trillion and is to be funded through borrowing.
“The budget deficit is projected to decrease to N1.86 trillion (or 1.3 percent of GDP) in 2019 from N1.95 trillion projected for 2018. This reduction is in line with our plans to progressively reduce deficit and borrowings,” he said.
He added that he was committed to addressing the issue of a new minimum wage and would soon send a bill to the National Assembly on this.
The APC and PDP thereafter traded blame over the rancorous session. In a statement, the APC condemned “the disgraceful conduct”, saying it “could bring the image of the PDP to disrepute in the eyes of Nigerians.” But the PDP in a counter- statement maintained that the jeering indicated a vote of no confidence in the president.
The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) meanwhile disclosed yesterday that the nation’s unemployment rate moved from 18.8 percent in the third quarter of 2017 to 23.1 percent in the third quarter of 2018.
Some labour leaders, however, interrogated the figure, insisting it was actually worse.
The Director General Designate, Nigerian Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Timothy Olawale, said the figure was conservative, considering the high rate of unemployment in the country.
President of the United Labour Congress (ULC), Joe Ajaero, also disagreed, saying: “They underestimated the figure. It’s either they don’t want to batter the image of the country or they did not fully cover the areas they were supposed to.
“If unemployment has grown with a difference of just 4.3 percent within the third quarter of 2017 and 2018, what about the issue of underemployment that is getting worse daily? Almost all jobs are being casualised.”
PDP’s presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar said: “We expected a terrible job report, particularly with the comment on live television from the president’s spokesman, Garba Shehu, that President Buhari had ordered the Statistician General of the Federation, Dr. Yemi Kale, to fudge the latest job reports.
“However, the job report released by the National Bureau of Statistics on Wednesday, December 19, 2018, is not just terrible, it is catastrophic. They show that under the All Progressives Congress administration, a whopping 20.93 million Nigerians have lost their jobs!”
In a statement signed by his media adviser, Paul Ibe, he added: “We urge Nigerians to note that a president who can’t create jobs or wealth in his own private business cannot create jobs or wealth for the public because you cannot give what you do not have.”