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Issues and brinkmanship in Appropriation-2016 controversy

By Akpo Esajere
18 April 2016   |   5:18 am
Call it the legislature’s never-ending fight for public relevance, recognition and competence and President/Legislators usual supremacy budget fights.

The week-long squabbling in the National Assembly over the 2016 N6.06 trillion Budget is simply what it is: battle for privileges.

Call it the legislature’s never-ending fight for public relevance, recognition and competence and President/Legislators usual supremacy budget fights.

In the war, the lawmakers would always idly and cynically cite their constitutional power of Appropriation and others such as “we are here on behalf of the people” “we know the grassroots and what they want” etc.

Late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua at some point during the Executive/Legislature face-off over the 2008 N4.02 trillion budget sent back the manipulations and tinkering then sixth Assembly had wrought on the bill. In the end, he rejected them.

His predecessor, Olusegun Obasanjo often ignored the Assembly in the matter of budgets and generally implemented as he saw fit. They threatened him with impeachment, accusing him of abuse of power in budget implementation. They did not impeach him.

Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, President Muhammadu Buhari’s predecessor, was largely play-along or play-with-them in his relations with the seventh Assembly over budgetary matters. There were little or no hiccups.

Buhari’s response, which was to withhold assent and direct Ministries to re-scrutinize the provisioned document, seems spot-on. His taking off to China for a one-week business tour of that country indeed gave more grains to the impact of Executive of use of the power to decline assent.
Background to crisis

It is not clear what manner of politics went into drawing up the budget.

For example, Senate land transport chairman, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, confirmed that the coastal Calabar-Lagos rail line, (which was greeted with much of the controversy) and completion of the Idu-Kaduna rail line was not in the original document.

He however, confirmed that transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi brought it up at the budget defense session of his committee and, subsequently, sent a supplementary copy to the Assembly.

The Calabar-Lagos project was yanked off. Yet, this project along with the Lagos-Kano rail project was billed together for counterpart funding in the sum of N120 billion at N60 billion each, according to the transport Minister’s defense cited by Ashafa.

Only for the Lagos-Kano half to be cleared in the approved document while the Calabar-Lagos half disappeared.

Whether on the side of the Executive, which drew the budget, or the Appropriation Committees, which considered and approved it, the set-up was untidy. There will be no end to speculations as to what went down.

Other things that can be gleaned from the crisis are:
*Buhari did not “talk” or “talk sufficiently” with the National Assembly. Senators and members of the House of Representatives complained a lot about the Executive (for them the President) not liaising with them.

*The legislators perceive Buhari as high-handed. They indeed view the President as completely unwilling to lobby them. Lobby in these shores means “mobilize.” The manner it is done is called “carrying along” or “play ball” or “you-rub-my-back-I-rub-your-back.”

*Government must be informed that provisions for boreholes and so-called constituency projects in the budget are to Senators and Reps what security votes are to the President and state governors.

*And so, influential members high-jacked the document and proceeded to help themselves making their own inputs only for the President to refuse to sign, thus frustrating them.

Senator Gbenga Ashafa

Senator Gbenga Ashafa

Last weekend, House committee chairman on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas, was quoted thus: “There is no communication from the Executive, the President to the National Assembly about the budget.

“All that we read in the media are other peoples’ opinions, but Mr. President has not come out clearly, and this is my problem with the budget that has been passed, because we are told, this budget has been taken back to Ministries for them to examine and get back to the President.

“That is why we asked our Speaker to liaise with the executive. Let’s know what the issue is, because we are elected by the people and we are here to serve Nigerians.”

The Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, read a statement following a closed-door session of the House thus: “In the interest of our people, in view of the prevailing economic situation, the House has decided to re-examine the 2016 budget.”
Riding the stalemate

The controversies seem consistent with the Buhari strict anti-corruption approach. There have been no reports of ball-playing, back/hand-rubbing or “Ghana-must-go” bags.

None about ministerial and other departmental teams appearing before Appropriation Committees, whether in the Senate or House, armed with alleged huge sums of bribery money to defend supplementary expenses specified in the budget.

This being the case, a restive situation was created in the legislature, which found expression in the lawmakers resorting to excessive use of their power of appropriation.

But, in mutilating and distorting the document, they created a fiasco, delaying Presidential assent to the bill.
Power of Appropriation

Between the Executive and parliament, it is usually a challenge drawing a line on the parliament’s power to appropriate, as against the Executive’s role as implementer of what is approved.

Sadly, in the Nigeria situation, the trouble is not necessarily about the budget being for the common good but what how the leadership class stands to gain.

The Parliament’s power of Appropriation under the 1999 Constitution is especially in sections 80 (1-4), 81 (1-4).

Specifically, section 80 (3 and 4), for instance provides: “No moneys shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the Federation, other than the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, unless the issue of those moneys has been authorized by an Act of the National Assembly;” and

“No moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue fund or any public fund of the Federation, except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.”

Thus, the budget, a financial document of the Presidency saddled with its execution, requires the Parliament’s go-ahead authority – a checks and balance platform, which the Nation’s parliamentarians would seek to use to squeeze (blackmail) the Executive for goodies.

On the controversial Calabar-Lagos project, for example, some of the legislators reportedly advised Buhari to employ section 81 of the Constitution; that is bring to the Assembly a supplementary budget for the project.

Under section 81 (4) 9a and b) the Constitution provides; “If in respect of any financial year, it is found that – the amount appropriated by the Appropriation Act for any purpose is insufficient; or

“A need has arisen for expenditure for a purpose for which no amount has been appropriated by the Act;

“A supplementary estimate 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.”

Buhari accepting to do this means he had welcomed the manipulation and distortion of his government’s original estimates.

Some reports had alleged, “National Assembly inserted N40 billion road projects in 2016 budget.”
Legislatively squeezing the President

The Parliament had withheld the budget details after legislatively approving them. And they insisted Buhari assented to the document without the details. But the President refused assent, reportedly directing Ministries to re-check.

Thus, a row was sparked. It may be called legislative brinkmanship. The legislature attempted to blindfold the Executive.

They had made imports outside what was provisioned into the document. Whether they actually expected the President to sign the final document is a different matter.

By last weekend, the case of the coastal Calabar-Lagos rail project assumed expected North –South tone. Some southern Senators reportedly asked Buhari not to sign the document.

Abdulmumin Jibrin

House of Representatives Appropriation Committee chairman, Abdulmumin Jibrin seems a privileged Rep. He had served in the immediate past session (seventh Session) as the House Finance Committee chairman.

He appeared well more visible than his Senate counterpart, Danjuma Goje in the crisis.

Goje, two-term Governor of Gombe State from 2003 to 2011, and on his second consecutive session in the Senate, noticeably has maintained a studied silence.

Jibrin’s role as lighter of fire that escalated the controversy seemed to have been opened to the public last Monday when he appeared on a breakfast programme (Sunrise) of Channels Television.

Buhari had then left for China after he had declined assent and handed the controversial document to Ministries to re-check.

On TV, Jibrin argued the Assembly had power of Appropriation and that Nigerians should be mindful of that.

So vehement was he that he came across as believing the Assembly power of Appropriation entitles it to initiate projects as well.

He said the President must not expect them to return the document as he (President) had submitted it; that he (President) should be mindful that they – the politicians – are the ones who interact with the grassroots, and know where the shoe pinches them.

He insisted the coastal Calabar-Lagos rail project was not in the initial budget.
He however, did not answer a follow-up question why allow Amaechi (transport minister) to defend the project before them if it did not merit consideration.

Desperate politicians of APC

The All Progressives Congress (APC) inherited quite a fierce class of politicians from 16 years reign of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The collectives in the National Assembly are of peculiar breed. The Senate, for instance, has become the retirement haven for former state governors.

Buhari’s government and the national Assembly is an assemblage of high-profile former public officials: military administrators, former state governors, and deputies, Senator, minister etc.

The fights will be hot; there will be price to pay.

Former governors now senators are: Joshua Dariye (Plateau), Adamu Abdullahi (Nassarawa), Bukar Abba-Ibrahim (Yobe), Sam Egwu (Ebonyi), Shaaba Lafiaji (Kwara), Jonah Jang (Plateau), Isiaka Adeleke (Osun), George Akume (Benue), Adamu Aliero (Kebbi) and Ahmed Sani Yerima (Zamfara).

Otheres are Senate President, Bukola Saraki (Kwara), Theodore Orji (Abia), Kabiru Gaya (Kano), Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Rabiu Musa Kwankwso (Kano), Aliyu Matagatakarda Wamakko (Sokoto and Goje (Gombe).

Former governors who ran for Senate and lost mainly due to contesting under PDP in the 2015 fated election are Ibrahim Shema (Katsina), Mohammed Makarfi (Kaduna), Gabriel Suswam (Benue), Bababgida Aliyu (Niger) and Isa Yuguda (Bauchi).

Former deputy governors in the Senate are Ms. Biodun Olujimi (Osun) and Harcourt Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia). Danladi Sani was the acting governor of Taraba State.

Interior Minister, Gen. Abdulrahman Bello Damzazau retired as Chief of Army Staff. Dr. Chris Nwabueze Ngige (Anambra), Minister of Labour and employment was in the seventh Senate. Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, Power, works and housing Minister, immediate past two-term governor of Lagos while Solid minerals Minister, Dr. Kayode Fayemi was governor of Ekiti.

Most of them, especially former governors who are senators are linked by the corrupt set-up in which they draw fantastic salaries while simultaneously collecting fat pensions from their state governments.