Senior Lawyer: N’ Assembly Has Power to Tinker with Budget


Asks Osinbajo to sign Appropriation Bill
Tobi Soniyi

A senior lawyer, Mr. Sebastine Hon (SAN), has called on the acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) to sign the Appropriation Bill into law.
Hon, in a statement issued in Abuja on Monday, disagreed with Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, who had advised Osinbajo not to sign the budget into law.

Hon said: “I have read the comments credited to my learned brother of the Inner Bar, Falana, asking Osibanjo not to append his signature to the budget as passed by the National Assembly. His reason for this advice is that the National Assembly acted illegally in increasing the budgetary estimates earlier submitted by the President. I beg to disagree with Falana.”

Hon, who has written many books on the constitution explained that under section 81(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 as amended, the President of Nigeria is obligated each year to cause budgetary estimates to be ‘laid’ before each house of the National Assembly, and the National Assembly becomes obligated under section 59 of the Constitution to deliberate on the estimates and pass same into law as an appropriation bill.

He said: “The word ‘laid’ in section 81(1) of the constitution, therefore, if read subject to the legislative powers of the National Assembly under section 59, has given the National Assembly some level of powers over the estimates sent by the president.
“Indeed, the word ‘laid’ in the subsection suggests about two things: (a) ‘put on the legislative table for deliberation and passing into law;’ and (b) ‘consider the estimates as human beings and not as robots.’

“Clearly, from this interpretative reasoning, the National Assembly has power to tinker with the estimates sent to it by the President – and this includes subtracting or adding to those estimates.”
He argued that if the framers of the constitution had intended that the president alone should have power over budgetary proposals, they would not have enacted sections 59 and 81(1) of the constitution.
“I make bold to state that these are some of the provisions intended by the lawmakers to act as checks and balances in the power sharing arrangements of the constitution as between the executive and the legislature,” he added.

He also said it was not fair for a court to read into an enactment an exception which had not been included in such statute and which would have the effect of depriving the person intended to be protected by that provision or statute. He cited the case of Fajimolu vs. University of Ilorin (2007) All FWLR (Pt. 350) 1361 C.A.

The statement reads further: “Besides, it is a settled principle of statutory interpretation that what is not excluded by the express words of a statute is to be interpreted as being included therein.
“The National Assembly is further backed by section 10(2) of the Interpretation Act, 2004, which provides thus: 10(2) An enactment which confers power to do any act shall be construed as also conferring all such other powers as are reasonably necessary to enable that act to be done or are incidental to the doing of it.

“Also the US Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in a February 17, 2016 publication entitled ’Policy Basics: Introduction to the Federal Budget Process,’ listed several items on the US budget – like ‘almost all defense spending; and ‘budgets for a broad set of public services, including environmental protection, education, job training, border security, veterans’ healthcare, scientific research, transportation, economic development, some low-income assistance, law enforcement, and international assistance’ – as some of the items the US Congress exercises discretion on the amounts to be pegged, in spite of the estimates from the presidency.

“Finally, it will be suicidal now to delay signing into law the 2017 budget, given that we are at the threshold of the 2nd quarter of the year. What we should be encouraging the Osinbajo-led Presidency to do is the implementation of the executive orders it recently passed, one of which has to do with establishing by force of law the timelines for submission of budgetary estimates by government agencies and parastatals.”