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By PUNCH, Nigeria

The 2014 budget passed second reading  in  the House of Representatives on Thursday after it went through three days of debate by lawmakers.

The budget of N4.6tn was later referred to the committee stage where the various standing committees of the House would invite agencies to defend their proposals.

However,  the session was not devoid of drama, as the Peoples Democratic Party members and the Minority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, exchanged words several times.

The PDP members made efforts to distract Gbajabiamila as he contributed to the debate, by interjecting with shouts of “point of order”, “point of order”, “point of order.”

The All Progressives Congress  lawmaker from Lagos State came under a barrage of attacks when he described the Appropriation Bill as a document of “voodoo economics.”

“What we have here is not a budget but a document of voodoo economics and make-belief”, he said in his opening remarks.

His choice of words immediately drew angry reactions.

The Majority Leader, Mrs. Mulikat Akande-Adeola, rose to say that Gbajabiamila was using abusive language.

“He is not addressing the House in the language of the rules book. He is telling us that this is not a budget but voodoo economics; what we are discussing here is the budget”, Akande-Adeola  said.

The Deputy Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor;  the Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Mr. John Enoh; the Chairman, House Committee on Power, Mr. Patrick Ikharaile; and Mr. Robison  Uwak, also kicked against the Minority  leader’s choice of words.

They pointed out that under the House rules, debate on the general principles of the budget should be confined to “ the financial state of the country and the economic policy of government.”

Although Gbajabiamila  modified his language after the Speaker, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, intervened, the APC lawmaker went ahead to explain why he called the budget a budget of “voodoo economics.”

He argued that only a budget of “voodoo economics” would allocate 23 per cent of funds (N1.1tn) to capital projects and vote 15 per cent (N712bn) to debt service.

Gbajabiamila  said, “Mr. Speaker, it is voodoo economics when you have a deficit of N912bn. By this, you are saying that much of your capital is going to be borrowed.

“You put N21bn in the Service Wide Vote for election monitoring in the Ministry of Finance. What is that?”

Gbajabiamila added that the government earmarked only 5.6 per cent for the health sector,  against the 16 per cent recommended globally.

He also faulted the “paltry budget of the education sector” for falling way behind the 26 per cent recommended by UNESCO as the minimum for all countries.

Ikhariale, a PDP member, in his contribution to the budget, described it as “comprehensive”  and enough to improve   the lot of Nigerians.

He called on members not to politicise the budget by reducing it  to an APC/PDP affair.

“The government has taken bold steps in this budget by making very comprehensive proposals to key sectors of the economy. In my view, this is a good budget and it should be allowed to pass for second reading”, he said.

Before ruling on the debate, Tambuwal observed that members had debated the budget exhaustively for three days. He noted that some speakers were repeating what others had already said.

In spite of his observation, more members were raising their heads to speak. Members decided to vote on whether to continue with the debate or call it off.

A vote was taken and the speaker ruled in favour of discontinuing with the debate.

The budget was later passed for second reading in a majority voice vote.

A group, the Nigerian Unity Group, a coalition of lawmakers across parties in the House, commended members for passing the budget as a call to national service.

The group, which is led by a PDP member from Plateau State, Mr. Bitrus Kaze, claimed that the APC did not place the interest of the country first when it sought to block the passage of the budget.

The group noted that the decision of the APC caucus to support the passage of only the recurrent component of the budget also showed that the members did not want the budget to impact on the lives of the majority of Nigerians.

Part of a statement by the group reads, “Whereas the recurrent expenditure component of the annual Appropriation Act is for salaries and overheads, it is the capital component that actually stimulates economic growth, generates employment and propels development in the real sector, the benefits of which trickle down to the common man.

“By attempting to block the budget selectively in favour of recurrent instead of the capital component, the APC Caucus further demonstrated that they do not have the interest of the common man at heart.”



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