Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
There are indications that the National Assembly is ready to tackle the executive arm of government at the Supreme Court over the powers of appropriation, which has been called into question with the passage of the 2017 budget.
This followed feelers that the executive was fashioning out modalities to approach the Supreme Court and challenge what the lawmakers have said is the power to tinker with any money bill sent to the legislature.
The relief that followed the signing of the 2017 budget into law 24 days after it was transmitted to the executive has been shrouded by a brewing controversy over the lawmakersâ€™ increase of the budget to N7.441 trillion from the N7.29 trillion proposed by the presidency in December 2016.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, after signing the budget, criticised the legislature for altering the budget, saying it was not constitutionally empowered to alter the budget proposals submitted by the executive.
Some of the key projects affected by the National Assemblyâ€™s alterations included allocations to the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, the Mambilla power project, railway projects, 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 budgetâ€™s review, after its passage by the National Assembly, and was blamed for the delay in the documentâ€™s assent until a deal was struck between both arms of government for a virement request to reinstate the alterations.
THISDAY had reported that the virement deal might however be in jeopardy following Osinbajoâ€™s comments.
With the latest development, following speculations that the Osinbajo is consulting with Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) in the cabinet on the practicality of having the Supreme Court determine the extent to which the legislature can alter the budget, THISDAY gathered that the lawmakers are also gearing up to battle the executive in court.
Some lawmakers who spoke with THISDAY off record said the move by the executive was, however, worrisome.
â€œThis matter has been settled in the suit filed by Femi Falana at the Federal High Court in Abuja in 2014, with judgement issued in March 2016, where Justice Gabriel Kolawole ruled that the National Assembly has the power to increase, or review upward, budget estimates laid before it by the executive,â€ a Senator said.
â€œLet them go to court. It is healthy for our democracy, and the Supreme Court, which is the highest court, would put this matter to rest,â€ he added.
Another senator queried why it was okay for the National Assembly to make alterations to executives bills, but cannot tinker with money bills.
â€œWe can touch any other bill, but not money bills; is that their definition of democracy? Let them go to court. I still wonder why he (Osinbajo) signed this budget, and why he agreed to a virement deal,â€ he said.
A member of the House of Representatives disclosed that the National Assembly was closely monitoring developments from the executive on the 2017 budget.
â€œWe are aware of the moves; Babatunde Fashola (Minister of Power, Works and Housing) who is a SAN, said we went beyond our powers. This and opinions of the other SANs are being put together in a memo to the acting president through his Chief of Staff, Mr. Ade Ipaye. We are aware these are preparatory to filing a suit at the Supreme Court.â€
â€œThe leadership of the National Assembly wo