There should be collaboration and cooperation between the executive and the legislature in the preparation of the budget estimates

Signing the 2017 Appropriation Act into law on the historic day of June 12 this year, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo complained about National Assembly’s alteration of figures in the estimates presented to it by the executive, saying the legislature lacked the power to adjust or unilaterally introduce projects into the national budget. His comments received an instant rebuke from the leadership of the National Assembly, which contended rigorously that the 1999 Constitution has granted the sole power of the national purse to the legislature.

The controversy is not new. Since the return to democratic governance in 1999, power of appropriation had been contentious with both the executive and the legislature insisting that they had the exclusive preserve to determine the subject heads and figures in the national budget. Interestingly, this has never been an issue at the state level, where governors brook no dissent whatsoever from the states houses of assembly that merely rubber-stamp whatever they propose.

However, the recent ruling of Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja in a case filed by Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, may have somewhat resolved the controversy. The judge had stated very clearly that the power of appropriation of the National Assembly under Sections 80 and 81 of the constitution included the power to alter the proposals sent to it by the executive.

Falana had approached the court in 2014 for the interpretation of Sections 4, 59, 80 and 81 of the constitution in relation to the power of appropriate on. He raised four issues and asked for seven reliefs and all were resolved in favour of the legislature. But the kernel of the matter was his request that the court should determine: “Whether by virtue of S. 81 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), the 3rd Defendant (National Assembly) is competent to increase or review upward any aspect of the estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federation for the next financial year prepared and laid before it by the 1st Defendant (the president)”.

Justice Kolawole answered the question in the affirmative: “The 3rd Defendant (the National Assembly) was not created by the drafters of the constitution and imbued with the powers to receive ‘budget estimates’ which the 1st Defendant (the president) is constitutionally empowered to prepare and lay before it as a ‘rubber- stamp’ parliament”, he said before adding, “The whole essence of the ‘budget estimates’ being required to be laid before the 3rd Defendant is to enable the 3rd Defendant as the assembly of the representatives of the people, to debate the said ‘budget proposals’ and to make its own well informed legislative inputs into it.”

According to Justice Kolawole, it will be reading into the provisions of Section 81 of the constitution what the drafters never put into it to say that the National Assembly “is not competent to increase or review upward any aspect of the estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the federation for the next financial year prepared and laid before it” by the executive.

Since neither Falana nor the president has to date appealed the ruling, it stands to reason that Justice Kolawole has settled the matter in favour of the legislature. We, however, urge a more sober and political approach to the exercise of the power of appropriation as vested in the National Assembly by the constitution and case law. We think that there is need for more comprehensive collaboration and cooperation between both arms of government in the preparation of the estimates so that by the time the money bill is laid, most of the grey areas would have been resolved.

Indeed, it is because of such consultations that budget preparation takes a whole year in most countries.