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Flashpoint: Budget Power: Time For Supreme Court To Wade In

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By Jonathan Nda Isaiah

Last week, the minister of power, works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola reignited the budget power debate by accusing the National Assembly of inserting strange projects in his budget.

According to Fashola “What I have in my budget now is primary healthcare centres, boreholes.’’

“That was the meeting we had with the Acting President and that was the reason why the budget was not signed on time.”

“If after we have defended the budget and we had gone and the legislature unilaterally changed the budget, what is the purpose of deliberation?’’

“It is unconstitutional for the National Assembly (NASS) to legislate on state roads.”

“A budget is an estimation plan that set in motion what is to be spent, how much will be borrowed and how much will be collected.”

“I am not saying that the legislature cannot contribute to the budget, but I hold the view that it cannot increase the budget because they do not collect the revenue with which to run or implement the budget.’’

The National Assembly has also responded to the accusations. The Senate warned Fashola, to desist from spreading falsehood on the 2017 Budget with regards to projects under his ministry.

It said that in passing the Appropriation Bill, the legislators worked and applied equity in provision for new and outstanding projects across the country.

The bone of contention in all these is whether the National Assembly has the right to tinker with the budget and to what extent.

Since 1999, it has been the same scenario with the executive accusing the legislature of unnecessary tinkering with the budget. Since 1999, we have been facing this issue every budget year. The struggle for power.

However, in the last two years, the rivalry has gone overboard. Suffice to say the National Assembly has the right to tinker with the budget but the 8th Assembly is taking this power to ridiculous heights.

The National Assembly cannot make and approve a budget at the same time and that is what they are doing, making and approving the budget. Inserting borehole projects and approving it is unconstitutional. The executive has the power to initiate projects while the legislature approves it. But by Inserting and initiating new projects, the National Assembly has effectively taken over the executive powers. They have no power to budget and approve at the same time.

Fashola raised the alarm that projects were inserted into his ministry which are not even in the purview of his ministry.

The idea of separation of power is for checks and balances. The legislature acts as oversight to the executive but who oversees the legislature?

The primary duty of the legislature is to make law for good governance. We all know constituency projects are avenues to siphon funds.

The National Assembly is overreaching itself. They are not in the legislature to execute projects.

The 8tth National Assembly is power drunk and has abrogated to itself executive powers. They are so full of themselves that anyone who questions their rascality is summoned. They took their powers to the extreme recently when it summoned newspaper editors over a report about Ahmed Lawan, senate majority leader.

According to the Newspaper report, the Senate leader was prevented from gaining access to his constituency by angry youths who barricaded the road and sent him back.

Lawal, in a personal explanation to the senate, demanded an apology and a retraction by the newspaper.

The matter was referred to the committee on ethics which summoned editors of the newspaper.

That’s the height of legislative rascality. In case they don’t know the job of the media, it is to act as oversight over all the arms of government including the legislature and our lawmakers should know that they are not above the law.

Back to the matter, the power to present the budget is exclusively for the president and executive and the power to approve is that of the legislature.

In the past years, the executive has continued to indulge the legislature and succumb to its blackmail but it’s time we put an end to this constant bickering.

They can’t on their own increase or reduce budgets and create bogus constituency projects or decide which projects to initiate.

It is instructive to note that the budget belongs to the executive, and the executive should be in the know over any change in the budget.

Those key projects removed or which had their budgets slashed are very important to Nigerians and are meant to stimulate the economy and take us out of recession.

If President Buhari’s administration fails, all the blame will be on the president and nobody will remember or blame the National Assembly so the lawmakers should allow the executive to function.

Boreholes are state projects, so the 95 percent of constituency projects, when you critically look at them, are state projects.

The right thing to do is for lawmakers to lobby the executive for inclusion of projects and not unilaterally inserting projects unknown to those who will execute them.

The Supreme Court should make a final ruling on this matter so that we can all know where the powers of the executive and legislature starts and ends in budgeting process.

Between Justice And Rule Of Law

The anti- corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari is undergoing its final funeral rites with the undertaker waiting to hit the final nail on its coffin.  President Buhari is losing the battle and war against corruption.

The acquittal of Senate President Bukola Saraki by the Code of Conduct Tribunal was the final nail on the coffin of the anti- corruption war. The acquittal of the Senate President brings to the fore the argument of rule of law and justice. Saraki was acquitted based on technicalities, in fact, most of the high profile corruption cases that the federal government has lost was due to technicalities, no thanks to shoddy investigation  by the EFCC and an increasing incompetent prosecution.

I see no reason why the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abububar Malami should not be in the labour market right now as he has shown he lacks the competence to lead  the anti- corruption war of the federal government.

The judiciary has shown to us that they are not interested in the anti- corruption war as smart lawyers look for loopholes in the law to win their cases.

After the rape of our treasury by kleptomaniacs who masquerade as leaders, we don’t want rule of law, we want justice. Former First lady, Patience Jonathan claimed the $15 million in her account were from savings and gifts she received, however, we all know that as the first lady, she was not on salary and her salary as a permanent secretary, even if she has been saving since she was a teenager, cannot amount to $15m.

There is a conflict between rule of law and justice, while some are in support of the anti- corruption war but want it done within the ambit of the rule of law. It is trite to say that the rule of law has been the major hindrance in the anti- corruption war so far. When they were looting the treasury, they forgot about the rule of law and human rights, but immediately they get caught, they use rule of law as a defence.

According to a Harvard journal of law and public policy, “the formal requirements of the rule of law are either redundant or pernicious. Where justice in the particular case and the tenets of the rule of law correspond, the rule of law is redundant. Where justice in the particular case and the rule of law diverge, the rule of law is pernicious to the extent that it detracts from achieving justice.”

“The tension between justice and the rule of law should come as no surprise. Conceived substantively, justice speaks to the “correctness” of the outcome of individual cases. Conceived procedurally, the rule of law speaks to the form of a “fair” legal process. Conflict between these two values arises when the outcome of a “fair” legal system is deemed to be unjust; or when the effort by the legal system to be “just” is deemed by critics to be unfair.”

In the Nigerian context, I want to see justice, desperate times calls for desperate measures. Justice should be superior to the rule of law. Our Judges should place more emphasis on getting justice than the rule of law. In Nigeria, the rich and power evade justice by using technicalities to elongate the case by several adjournments. Some high profile SANs in Nigeria are constant faces in the defence of political exposed persons.  These SANs use the rule of law to abuse the process of Justice.

It was heartwarming when I read recently about the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen warning judges against the use of technicalities to obstruct justice in the country

He remarked “judges must not allow technicalities to stand in the way of justice in order to sustain public confidence in the judiciary”.

For how long are we going to continue like this? We see corruption cases of politically exposed persons whom we all know have dipped their hands in the cookie jar but get acquitted  by court due to lack of evidence – this is not justice, this is due to rule of law. We are tired of lawyers and judges using rule of law to confusticate us. The ultimate aim and outcome should be justice. We need to expostulate with our learned colleagues on the need for justice.

 

 



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