President Goodluck Jonathan
Omololu Ogunmade,Muhammad Bello and Onwuka Nzeshi
President Goodluck Jonathan Tuesday assented to the 2013 Appropriation Bill, ending the long-drawn disagreement between the executive and the legislature over the bill.
The president signed the N4.987 trillion budget passed by the National Assembly on December 20, 2012, into law at a quiet ceremony witnessed by a few top government officials.
His action took the National Assembly by surprise, especially the House of Representatives, which had been threatening to override the president’s veto, if he failed to sign the bill into law before the 30-day deadline, expected to expire today.
The House at its plenary yesterday had held a closed-door session to deliberate on the budget impasse and strategize on how to deal with the issue.
The Senate, which also spoke on the budget, assured Nigerians that the two arms of government had resolved their differences and the issue of overriding the president’s veto, if the bill was not signed into law after the deadline did not arise.
The budget was transmitted to the presidency on January 15 and since then, the executive and the legislature had been holding meetings to resolve some grey areas identified in the document.
Among the areas of disagreement between the executive and the legislature are the inclusion of constituency projects in the budget and the provision of zero budget for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
As part of the understanding between the two arms of government that led to the signing of the bill into law, the Act is to be further referred to the National Assembly for amendment to accommodate some of the hitherto grey areas that the two parties have reached consensus on.
The ceremony for the signing of the bill into law lasted few minutes while journalists who had been given a short notice to witness the event were later barred from doing so.
None of the ministers or principal officers of the National Assembly who witnessed the ceremony was ready to speak with State House reporters after the exercise.
Coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Director General of the Budget Office, Dr. Bright Okogwu; and Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi, declined comments when reporters approached them.
So also were Senate President David Mark and House of Representatives Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, who after coming out of the president's office together departed in a sport utility vehicle (SUV) that brought them to the State House.
However, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr Reuben Abati, in a statement, said the president signed the 2013 Appropriation Bill into law “following consultations and an agreement between the executive and the legislature”.
According to the statement, Jonathan “wishes to reassure all Nigerians that the consultations have been in the best interest of the country, and in pursuit of understanding and mutual cooperation between both arms of government.
“As part of the understanding reached with its leadership, the observations of the executive arm of government about the appropriation bill as passed by the National Assembly will be further considered by the National Assembly through legislative action, to ensure effective and smooth implementation of the 2013 Appropriation Act, in all aspects.
“The administration remains fully committed to the positive transformation of the country, and effective and efficient service delivery for the benefit of all citizens.”
The statement, however, directed all ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) “to ensure that all the services, projects and programmes contained in the budget are successfully delivered on schedule in spite of the slight delay in its enactment”.
Earlier Tuesday, the House had suspended open plenary and met behind closed doors for nearly two hours.
The executive session, which ended at about 3.16pm, was sequel to speculations that negotiations between the executive and legislature over the grey areas that have stalled the signing of the bill into law might have broken down.
Although there was no official briefing on discussions at the secret session of the House, THISDAY learnt that the lawmakers reviewed the issues surrounding the budget, particularly Jonathan’s perceived delay to assent to it.
THISDAY gathered that yesterday's closed-door meeting in the lower chamber of the National Assembly was an attempt by the leadership of the House to review the status of the budget and chart the way forward.
It was learnt that in the course of the meeting, the leadership of the House briefed the lawmakers on the level of the talks.
Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon Zakary Mohammed, told reporters after the executive session that the meeting became imperative because the legislature was becoming apprehensive about the budget.
Mohammed said though talks had been going on, the House had not been able to understand the reasons for the delay in signing the budget into law.
The executive session, Mohammed confirmed, centred on Jonathan's delay in assenting to the 2013 budget.
He said a decision was taken that the House would meet with the leadership of the Senate for the National Assembly to take a joint decision on Jonathan's non-assent to the budget.
“The meeting was also meant to find a way out of this logjam because by now we expected that Mr. President ought to have assented to it. Of course, he has his own reasons but we cannot continue to wait endlessly.
“That was the reason the speaker called for the executive session to brief us and let us all be on the same page. He briefed us on the series of meetings they have held with the executive arm led by Mr. President and his economic team.
“It was resolved today (yesterday) by the House that we must do something. Doing something, going forward is meeting with the leadership of the Senate and agreeing on the next line of action.
“Tomorrow (today) it is likely we are going to come out with a position on the outcome of today's (yesterday) meeting.
“Up till now, we have not been able to agree and that is exactly why there is delay in signing (the budget).
“We have known the areas of concern of the executive on the 2013 budget; those issues are clear and not self-patronising, they are issues that are focused on the benefit to the common man on the street,” Mohammed said.
He denied the report that the presidency had written to the House seeking a review of the budget as it pertained to constituency projects.
Meanwhile, the Senate Committee Chairman on Information, Eyinnaya Abaribe, yesterday dissociated the upper chamber from reports credited to Senator Kabir Gaya that the legislature would override Jonathan’s veto on on the 2013 budget if the president did not sign the budget into law before the expiration of the deadline.
Gaya had told journalists on Monday that the National Assembly would exercise its constitutional powers to override the president's veto should he delay any further in signing the 2013 budget into law.
But Abaribe said Gaya was on his own, adding that both arms of government had resolved their differences on the budget and therefore the issue of veto did not arise.