President Goodluck Jonathan
By Muhammed Bello and Onwuka Nzeshi
There was uproar in the House of Representatives Thursday as lawmakers reviewed the implementation of this year’s budget, which the National Assembly passed on March 15.
The lawmakers, majority of who criticised the executive for the alleged poor and selective implementation of the budget, gave President Goodluck Jonathan up until September, when they would resume from recess, to ensure effective implementation of the budget or face impeachment.
It was, however, uncertain how the House’s threat could cost Jonathan his job as Section 143 of the 1999 Constitution that stipulates the process for the removal of the president requires that for such a resolution to be effective, it must be passed by not less than two-thirds majority of all members of the two chambers of the National Assembly.
Besides doubts whether the Senate would concur in passing such a resolution, the impeachment process as detailed in the constitution is laborious.
For example, Anambra State Governor, Mr. Peter Obi, and former Oyo State Governor, Alhaji Rashidi Ladoja, who had challenged their impeachments, got the Supreme Court to upturn their removal from office because the procedure for their removal did not comply with constitutional provisions.
The presidency, however, said Jonathan was doing all he could to ensure the implementation of the budget.
The House said the failure of the Jonathan administration to implement the 2012 Appropriation Act midway into the fiscal year amounted to gross misconduct and warned that it would “begin to draw up articles of impeachment” if by September there was no appreciable improvement on the implementation of the budget.
It alleged that while the economy had recorded consistent inflow of revenue even above the projections in the budget, the government had starved Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) of funds thereby stalling the execution of various projects nationwide.
Statistics indicate that the budget has attained only 35 per cent implementation mark as at the end of June.
It was also learnt that of the N1.5 trillion earmarked for capital expenditure in the budget, the Federal Ministry of Finance had released only N404 billion by June.
The House, therefore, passed a resolution urging Jonathan to direct the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to release all funds due to MDAs for the first and second quarters as well as stop forthwith the selective implementation of the budget.
The stage for the face-off between the lawmakers and the executive was set when the Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Albert Sam-Tsokwa, and 20 other legislators moved a motion to consider the implementation of the budget.
In the lead debate on the motion, Sam-Tsokwa noted that the 2012 budget as passed by the National Assembly and signed into law by Jonathan reflected the application of the highest degree of fiscal responsibility and utmost consideration of the national interest.
He, however, lamented that seven months into the fiscal year, the implementation of the budget had remained poor.
During the debate, Speaker of the House, Hon Aminu Tambuwal, yielded the floor to the leadership of various standing committees to brief the House on the state of the budget.
Among those who briefed the chamber were the Chairman, House Committee on Finance, Hon John Enoh; Chairman, Committee on Finance, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibril; Chairman, Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Hon. Bassey Edet Otu; Chairman, Committee on Gas Resources, Hon. Bassey Ewah; Chairman, Committee on Debts and Loans, Hon Adeyinka Ajayi and Chairman, Committee on Defence, Hon. Bashir Adamu.
The chairmen, in their presentations, deplored the poor implementation of the budget.
However, the lawmakers were roused to anger when Adamu painted a gloomy picture of the defence sector while alleging that even the insecurity across the country had also been compounded by the non-implementation of the budget in the sector.
He urged his colleagues to desist from further lamentations but to invoke their powers under the 1999 Constitution to compel the executive to obey the law.
Minority Whip of the House, Hon. Samson Osagie, said the non-implementation of the budget was a gross misconduct and those responsible for it must be sanctioned, adding that if by September when the parliament resumes from break, there was no positive change on the budget implementation, the House would be forced to sanction Okonjo-Iweala.
The debate, however, got to its climax when the Minority Leader, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, in his contribution, carpeted the government and called for serious sanction against the president.
“Mr. Speaker, if these constituency projects are not executed at the end of the day who suffers? I do not suffer, you do not suffer, the executive does not suffer; it is the people who put us here that suffer.
“They suffer lack of infrastructure, unemployment; they suffer what they should ordinarily have in abundance.
“I like my president but I like my people and country more. Come September, if the budget is not implemented 100 per cent, we will begin to draw up articles of impeachment against Mr. President,” he added.
His submission elicited wild applause from across the chamber, an indication that it was a position acceptable to the majority of the legislators.
However, a point of order was raised by Hon. Nadu Karibo, who protested that the debate had derailed from its subject matter.
When Karibo was given the floor to state his case, he was shouted down by his colleagues as he yielded the floor again to Gbajabiamila to further canvass for the impeachment option.
According to Gbajabiamila, poor implementation of the budget was among impeachable offences outlined in Section 143 of the 1999 Constitution.
House Leader, Hon. Mulikat Akande-Adeola, intervened and pleaded with the lawmakers to have patience, as they were also part of the government.
She pledged that there would be significant improvement on the budget before the September deadline.
Thereafter, the motion that the president should ensure full implementation of the budget by September or face impeachment was unanimously adopted in a voice vote.
However, the presidency, in a swift reaction to the motion, said there was nothing unusual in the motion passed by the House.
Presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, told THISDAY Thursday that the House review of the budget, coming against the backdrop of efforts by Jonathan to monitor the full implementation of the budget, showed that the two arms of government “are on all fours” on the issue.
He said: “Obviously, what the House did was not unusual. There is no problem in this regard. What Nigerians need to know is that budget implementation is not a one-off thing; it is a process.
“As at the end of May, we had achieved a high rate of implementation of the budget. In fact, two weeks ago, the president asked the Minister of Finance to come to the (Federal Executive) Council to present the level of performance of the budget and she did.
“And at that meeting, the figures were considered. After that, the president informed the ministries that the MDAs would take their turn to present the KPIs in relation to budget 2012. So, essentially, both the House and the president are on all fours, that there is a meeting of minds.
“Ironically, today Wednesday the same day that the House threatened to impeach the president, the president had two crucial meetings with the vice-president in attendance, during which two ministries presented their KPIs in relation to budget 2012. The ministries are Police Affairs and Interior.
“What was expected was for them to articulate the mandate of their ministries, the amount appropriated in the budget 2012, their achievements and challenges, if any, and their projections for the 2013 budget.
“Coincidentally, as the meeting was ongoing, the House was also discussing the implementation of the budget. So, it was coincidence and there is no conflict, the budget implementation is on course and President Jonathan is personally monitoring the process.”
Abati added that such a meeting with other ministries and their agencies as well as departments are regular because there is a focus on budget implementation, noting that it is something the Jonathan administration takes seriously.
On her part, Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emordi, said she would react to the position of the House “at an appropriate time".
Emordi, in a text message to THISDAY, expressed the belief that the matter would be resolved amicably between the two parties.