By Ahuraka Isah and Solomon Ayado, Abuja
The contention between the executive and the legislature over the extent of the latter’s power of appropriation took a deeper crisis dimension yesterday as the Senate disagreed with the statement credited to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo that the National Assembly does not possess any power to alter the 2017 budget submitted to it by President Muhammadu Buhari in December last year.
Speaking at the old banquet hall of the presidential villa, while flagging off the 2018 budget preparation process on Tuesday, Osinbajo reportedly said the National Assembly has no right to introduce new projects or modify those contained in an appropriation bill.
Osinbajo had revealed that, following the experience with the previous budget, the executive went into negotiations with the National Assembly in order to get the 2017 budget right.
“There are issues about who can do what. Now, there are these two broad issues about who can do what. The first report is about who can do what. When you present budget to the National Assembly, it is presented as a bill, an appropriation bill. And secondly, do not introduce entirely new projects and all of that or modify projects. This is something that we experienced last year and this year again. It now leaves the question about who is supposed to do what”, Osinbajo stated.
But responding to a point of order raised by the Deputy Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah on Osinbajo’s alleged statement yesterday, Senate President Bukola Saraki said the acting president must have been quoted out of context on the 2017 budget.
He said, “I am sure that the acting president must have been misquoted because there is clearly no ambiguity in the constitution on the responsibility of the National Assembly. This matter has been cleared and settled. So, I don’t think there are any issues here that are vague”.
Saraki assured that the Upper House, under his leadership, will not cede any of its powers to the executive, the need for consultations and cooperation between the two arms of government notwithstanding.
He continued: “I believe that as responsible statesmen, there are times we consult and do our best to work with the executive and assist them. But as we bend backwards, I don’t think that should be misrepresented that powers given to us in the constitution does not exist.
“That is not the case, and this Senate will continue to defend the constitution and ensure that anything we do is in line with the laws of the land”.
Earlier, Senator Na’Allah, while drawing the attention of Senators to Osinbajo’s alleged statement, said he was disturbed about the declaration, but wondered whether the acting president, being a Professor of Law, was not misquoted having worked with him as a lawyer in Lagos
He said, “For the avoidance of doubt, this same constitution we operated from 1999 to date has section 80, and the title of Section 80 is ‘Power and Control over Public Funds’. With your permission Mr. President, I read: ‘All revenues or other monies raised or received by the Federation not being revenues of other monies payable under this Constitution or any Act of the National Assembly into any other Public Fund of the Federation established for a specific purpose shall be payable to and for one consolidated fund of the Federation’.
“Section 2 says: ‘No monies shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation except to meet expenditure that is charged upon the Fund by the Constitution or where the issue of those monies has been authorised by an Appropriation Act, Supplementary Appropriation Act or Act passed in pursuance of Section 81 of the Constitution’.
“Three, ‘No money shall be withdrawn from any public funds of the Federation other than the Consolidated revenue fund of the Federation unless the issue of those monies has been authorised by an Act of the National Assembly’.
“Four, ‘No money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated revenue Fund or any other public fund of the Federation except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly. That is the provision”.
Na’Allah explained that the reason for this constitutional provision is that the law recognises that Nigeria operates a federal structure, and that it is multi-lingual, multi-ethnic and multi-religious.
He added: “Therefore, in the constitution-making process, a lot of issues for domination and fear for domination were raised. That is why the framers of the constitution provided for representation on the basis of population and land mass and on the basis of equality of states. This is what gave birth to a bicameral legislature- the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House provides representation based on population and land mass while the Senate is based on equality of states.
“So, I know that the acting president who is a Professor of Law is sufficiently trained in law to know that the National Assembly has powers to tinker with the budget. I am not making a case for him and I do not want to believe that he said what has been alleged that he said”.
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By Ahuraka Isah and Solomon Ayado, Abuja