Once again, the nation is in that time of the year when before or after the budget is signed Nigerians are treated to the usual blame-storming between the executive and the legislature. President Muhammadu Buhari recently signed the 2018 budget into law, with a hint that he was doing so under pressure in order not to further slowdown the pace of the nation’s economic recovery.
In a speech laden with indignation, the president pointedly accused the National Assembly of inserting strange projects into the budget. According to him, with the alterations done in the budget, it would be practically impossible to implement the appropriation law.
Since 1999, Nigeria has been going through this same cycle with no end in sight to the constant bickering between the executive and legislature. In 2016, the word ‘Padding’ became popular in the country’s political lexicon when members of the National Assembly were accused of tinkering with that year’s budget.
But just like in 2018, the lawmakers are insisting that padding is not a crime since they are constitutionally allowed to pad and tinker with the budget. In the eyes of the law, they are right. A Federal High Court in Abuja had ruled that the National Assembly has the power to increase – or review upward – budget estimates laid before it by the executive. But the question is: to what extent?
The court judgement that justified the legislative action of tinkering with the budget estimates followed a suit instituted by Lagos lawyer, Femi Falana, in which he listed the President, the Attorney-General of the Federation, the National Assembly and the Auditor-General of the Federation as respondents.
There is a congruence of opinion among analysts that the judicial pronouncement in Falana’s suit may have further emboldened the lawmakers to do whatever they did to this year’s budget. Instead of President Buhari crying foul, it is time the executive approached the Supreme Court to seek a final interpretation on this once and for all. Nigerians should not be made to go through the harrowing cycle of uncertainty about the annual fiscal ritual every year the appropriation bill is passed.
As acting president, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo last year complained bitterly about the same arbitrary and unilateral insertions of certain strange items in the 2017 budget by the National Assembly. The last time I checked, the power to initiate and execute projects lied with the executive. Parliaments the world over only have the powers of appropriation and oversight but in Nigeria the legislature has taken over the power of initiating projects. The 8th National Assembly is fond of acting as if it is above the law and is operating a parallel government; hence some of their actions that have put the nation on the reverse gear.
In a period when the world is going digital and nuclear, our lawmakers still deem it fit that sinking boreholes and distributing Keke NAPEP is their own idea of development and ensuring even distribution of projects. Is it the business of lawmakers to construct boreholes and build health centres? What happens if the projects selfishly inserted by the lawmakers cannot be executed because the government does not have the funds to execute them? What stops the National Assembly from sitting down with the executive to lobby or negotiate their own constituency projects instead of unilaterally inserting projects without inputs from the executive.
Unless we are living in the moon, we all know that constituency projects are a farce and a means of siphoning funds. Reliable sources close to the lawmakers have revealed that oversight functions are no longer lucrative and that most of the lawmakers are broke, but according to an axiom in our local parlance, ‘man must wack’, and constituency projects are the only means of getting extra money in the legislative business at the moment.
Some of the concerns raised by President Buhari are that “the provisions for some nationally/regionally strategic infrastructure projects such as Counter-part funding for the Mambilla Power Plant, Second Niger Bridge/ancillary roads, the East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project were cut by an aggregate of 11.5 billion Naira”.
These are national and life changing projects. For example, the Mambilla Power project when completed can generate 5000mw which is Nigeria ‘s current capacity. Imagine an extra 5000 mw to our National Grid. 5000mw can power the whole of Northern Nigeria.
At a time when terrorists attack and abduct schoolgirls, something they did in government schools twice in four years, our ‘Distinguished’ and ‘Honourable’ members are raising the bar of tomfoolery by cutting the provision for security infrastructure in the 104 Unity Schools by N3 billion. But will anyone blame them? None of their children are in public schools and so it is none of their business if schools are left at the mercy of terrorists.
The president also lamented that “the provisions for various Strategic Interventions in the health sector such as the upgrade of some tertiary health institutions, transport and storage of vaccines through the cold chain supply system, provision of anti-retroviral drugs for persons on treatment, establishment of chemotherapy centres and procurement of dialysis consumables were cut by an aggregate amount of 7.45 billion Naira.”
Most of the lawmakers don’t use our public hospitals. To them, the public health institutions are meant for the Talakawas. They patronise private hospitals and hospitals abroad, leaving the man in the street to his fate.
President Buhari further observed: “The provision for Construction of the Terminal Building at Enugu Airport was cut from 2 billion Naira to 500 million Naira which will further delay the completion of this critical project. The Take-off Grant for the Maritime University in Delta State, a key strategic initiative of the Federal Government, was cut from 5 billion Naira to 3.4 billion Naira.
“About seventy (70) new road projects have been inserted into the budget of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. In doing so, the National Assembly applied some of the additional funds expected from the upward review of the oil price benchmark to the Ministry’s vote. Regrettably, however, in order to make provision for some of the new roads, the amounts allocated to some strategic major roads have been cut by the National Assembly.”
Curiously, these federal lawmakers, in an act of unprecedented generosity, increased their own budget from N125 billion to N139.5 billion without any discussion with the executive. But what they don’t know is that if the budget fails to be implemented or the government fails, noboby will blame the legislature. It is the president that would take the bullet from Nigerians.
Nigerians are sick and tired of this constant bickering between the executive and legislature over the budget. The executive should approach the highest court in the land and seek redress. It will be a sweet relief if these arms of government can sheath their swords in the public interest and save us the heat from this annual appropriation farcical play.