2017 Budget: Osinbajo’s Comments Threaten Executive, N’Assembly Virement Deal

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Ag President Yemi Osinbajo(seated) signing the 2017 budget while stand L –R . Senate President , Senator Bukola Saraki ; Sperker House of Representative ,Honourable Yakubu Dogara ; Special Adviser to the on National Aseembly Matters(Senate) , Senator Etta Enang; Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters (House of Representative) Honourable Sulaiman Kawu Minister of Budget ; National Planning , Senator Udo Udoma Udo and the Chief of Staff to the President , Abba Kyari at the signing ceremony of the 2017 Budget at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Monday Photo: GODWIN OMOIGUI
By Damilola Oyedele in Abuja   
There are indications that the agreement brokered by the executive and National Assembly, paving the way for a virement request as a pre-condition for the assent of the 2017 budget, may be in jeopardy due to the comments made by acting President Yemi Osinbajo last week.
Osinbajo had during the budget’s assent last Monday disclosed that the executive arm of government and legislature had agreed to a virement request to reinstate several budgetary proposals altered in the Appropriation Bill by the National Assembly.
Some of the key projects affected by the National Assembly’s alterations included allocations to the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the Mambilla power project, railway projects, and the Second Niger Bridge, among others.
According to sources in the presidency, the legislature shaved off an estimated N500 billion from such critical infrastructure projects and inserted 4,000 new projects that were never proposed by the executive in the 2017 budget.
This, according to sources, caused consternation among the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) during the budget’s review, after its passage by the National Assembly, and was blamed for the delay in the document’s assent until a deal was struck between both arms of government for a virement request to reinstate the alterations.
However, one day after he assented to the budget, Osinbajo criticised the legislature for altering the budget, saying it was not constitutionally empowered to change the budget proposals submitted by the executive.
Expectedly, his remark elicited a response from the National Assembly, which said Osinbajo must have been “misquoted”, reminding him that the constitution remains clear on its powers to legislate and alter the budget, since it is not the rubber stamp of the executive
The legislature also reminded the acting president that the power on the interpretation of the constitution with respect to its powers to legislate on Appropriation Bills lies with the judiciary, not the executive.
Despite the responses by both chambers of the National Assembly to Osinbajo’s remarks, several lawmakers, THISDAY learnt, were still smarting at the weekend over comments. 
The angry lawmakers insisted that Osinbajo had made his remark in bad faith, in order to pit Nigerians against the legislature.
Accordingly, they are now threatening not to entertain the proposed request for the virement of funds, or even a supplementary budget proposal from the presidency.
Some lawmakers, who spoke with THISDAY off the record, queried the rationale for making the remark, particularly as a deal favourable to both parties, had already been agreed upon.
“The statement was deliberate, maybe to deflect the attention of Nigerians away from how he had to be granted permission by the president to sign the budget.
“The statement from the acting president was just simply him playing to the gallery. His position as acting president is being undermined and he does not want Nigerians to talk about that,” one senator said. 
“He has now taken the same position with the aides of President Buhari, who have been pitting us against each other. This is however disappointing because he should know better as a law professor who should be versed in the constitution.
“He should study Sections 59, 80-83 (of the constitution) very well. The law says: ‘In a manner prescribed by the National Assembly’,” he added.
Another senator also stressed that all the inclusions made in the budget were for developmental purposes. 
“Yes, we made increments to the budget by adding funds for the take off of some projects. We put some money for the commencement of work on a second runway for the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport.
“Are senators or House of Representatives members the only users of the airport? Can we quantify what was lost in the six weeks the airport was shutdown?
“Some people’s entire livelihoods depend on that airport. So how is that inclusion a bad thing, or inclusion of some funds to upgrade the Abeokuta airport, as an alternate airport to Lagos, bad?” he queried. 
THISDAY gathered that several senators are now insisting that except Osinbajo withdraws his remark, no virement would be entertained by the National Assembly. 
A member of the House also noted that the acting president should not have signed the budget into law if he strongly believed that the National Assembly does not have the powers to alter the budget.
“Maybe he should have gone to court first. I do hope he knows that now he has signed the budget into law, it must be implemented. Failure to implement is an impeachable offence,” the member said.
  • Amoto

    The Legislatue should stop intimidating the Vice President who is more knowledge than them. The presidency should not waste time in seeking fort the judicial interpretation from the Supreme Court in order to forestall the tactical delay in the Appropriation Bill every year. The legislature have no right to introduction any new item in the Budget before passing it.
    The relevant section in the Nigerian Constitution is 81 and 83 which stipulates thus:
    S. 81 (1) States that “The President shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National Assembly at any time in each financial year estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federation for the next following financial year”.
    S 81 (2) States that “The heads of expenditure contained in the estimates (other than expenditure charged upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation by this Constitution) shall be included in a bill, to be known as an Appropriation Bill, providing for the issue from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the sums necessary to meet that expenditure and the appropriation of those sums for the purposes specified therein”. S 81 (4) Which is the bone of contention, stipulates thus, “If in respect of any financial year it is found that –
    (a) the amount appropriated by the Appropriation Act for any purpose is insufficient; or
    (b) a need has arisen for expenditure for a purpose for which no amount has been appropriated by the Act, a Supplementary estimates showing the Sums required shall be laid before each House of the National Assembly and the heads of any such expenditure shall be included in a Supplementary Appropriation Bill”.
    S 83 (1) States that “The National Assembly may by law make provisions for the establishment of a Contingencies Fund for the Federation and for authorising the President, if satisfied that there has arisen an urgent and unforseen need for expenditure for which no other provision exists, to make advances from the fund to meet the need”.
    S 83(2) States that “Where any advance is made in accordance with the provisions of this section, a Supplementary Estimates shall be presented and a Supplementary Appropriation Bill shall be introduced as soon as possible for the purpose of replacing the amount so advanced “.
    Section 53 has nothing to do with the budget as it only clarifies the issue of administration of both Houses. It stipulates that “At any sitting of the National Assembly –
    (a) in the case of the Senate, the President of the Senate shall preside, and in his absence the Deputy President shall preside; and
    (b) in the case of the House of Representatives, the Speaker of that House shall preside, and in his absence the Deputy Speaker shall preside”.
    S 53(2) At any joint sitting of the Senate and the House of Representatives –
    (a) the President of the shall preside, and in his absence, the Speaker of the House of Representatives shall preside; and
    (b) in the absence of the persons mentioned in paragraph (a) of this subsection, the Deputy President of the Senate shall preside, and in his absence, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives shall preside”.
    S 53 (3) In the absence of the persons mentioned in the foregoing provisions of this section, such member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives or of joint sitting, as the case may be may elect for that purpose shall preside “.
    I suppose this last section put paid to the argument among members as to which of the two Houses is superior to the other. This also why the Senate members earn more than the members of Representatives.

    • Kayode Dominion Bamitale

      The Word “president” should be deleted from Senate leadership title and replaced with “chairman/ chair person ” ! This is the root of confusion in Nigeria democracy. There can’t be two Presidents in the country. The President is the Head of government. The national assembly and judiciary are not equal in authority to the executive. These arms of government exist to enable the president perform his function and also to check abuse of power by the executive. The judiciary serves to interpret the constitution as an unbiased arbiter. The national assembly have no business insetng items into the budget prepared by the government. However, the executive have to defend the budget prepared failure of which may prevent the approval of national assembly. The Ag President is correct in his comment in this respect

      • OJAY

        Pls advice the Ag President as a professor of law to go to court as regards the role of the NASS in budget proposal scrutiny for interpretation rather than resort to name calling & your castigation of who should use or not use certain appelate “President”. Is that what you think is the problem. No! Not all. What about the other legislative chambers lead by a speaker? The problem why the executive is not succeeding is .egocentrism. In politics there is the balancing of power by moving a little to the left & a little to the right. No wonder APC needed the leadership of the NASS they would’ve pocketed. Thank God it never came to pass.

      • Charles Eweka

        This is another dimension you’re throwing into the wheel in order to shy away from the main issue – typically naija, hence we can’t solve our problems. Issue is that Vice President should go to court to prove to those in the Senate that they don’t have the powers to manipulate the budget.
        The other day a Senator accused his colleagues of budget padding and he was suspended from the chambers because they in the NASS believe there’s nothing like padding but only shuttling money from one sub head to another. As a finality, supreme court should be approached by Executive, to interpret the laws. That will put both parties in check.

  • Donald Mbaka

    There should be judicial interpretation of this very important issue, rather than relegating it to a media war.

    • OJAY

      That is what the executive should do. They’re afraid of loosing the 2nd time. They lost the CCT case against Saraki & now this is the matter of challenging legislative responsibility of the NASS with regards to budget proposal legislation, if the fail then they’re doomed.

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