By Jonathan Nda-Isaiah, Ahuraka Isah, Solomon Ayado and Tunde Oguntola,
There were indications yesterday that the executive and the legislature may be heading for yet another showdown as the the Senate took certain drastic decisions against the presidency over the 2017 budget and appointments made by the president.
The Red Chamber issued a two-week ultimatum to the presidency to, as a matter of urgency, comply with the provisions of the 1999 constitution (as amended) and section 21 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act by submitting budget details of 38 federal government agencies to the National Assembly for legislative action.
It also mandated Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, to investigate alleged appointment of the head of Nigeria’s lottery regulation commission, Mr Lanre Gbajabiamila, by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Lawan is to conduct a probe into how Gbajabiamila assumed office without Senate confirmation in line with the law establishing the commission.
Since inception of the present government, the executive and legislature had been at loggerheads, a battle of wit which started with the fallout in the election into the leadership positions of the National Assembly.
The relationship became all the more frosty in 2016 when the budget padding saga almost tore the structures of governance apart.
After Ibrahim Magu was roundly rejected by the Senate as chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), a stance the lawmakers insisted on by threatening to defer the confirmation of resident electoral commissioners of INEC, President Buhari made moves to address the impasse when he set up a committee to wade into the feud.
But signs that the bad blood between the executive and the legislature was still in the mix became obvious yesterday when the Senate ordered all the 38 federal government agencies who were yet to submit their budget to stop further capital expenditures in the current fiscal year until their budget details are submitted for appropriations by the legislature.
Senate’s directive followed a motion moved by Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah titled, ‘Non-submission of 2017 budget by public corporations in violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act’.
Na’Allah, who had on Tuesday drawn attention of his colleagues to the non-submission of the 2017 budget proposals by the statutory corporations to the National Assembly, expressed worry over the violation.
Relying on section 21 (1) (2) and (3) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, the Deputy Senate Leader who represents Kebbi south senatorial district under the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC) said non-compliance to the provisions of the Act “constitutes abuse of power and economic sabotage aimed at frustrating the current economic measures being taken by the present administration to address the economic recession”.
According to him, the absence of penalties in the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act may have emboldened and encouraged the perpetration of this act of violation.
He berated the Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC) for “failing in its responsibility through complacency in the execution of its mandate”.
In his contribution, the deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu said since the constitution is supreme, its provisions should have a binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the country.
Ekweremadu who quoted sections 80 (1), (2) and (3) of the constitution pointed out that the matter bordered on responsibility of governance.
He said, “We are here talking about responsibility of governance. There cannot be any act of responsibility than that of the Fiscal Responsibility because that is the beginning of all evils, we must begin to ensure that we live by the laws we make for ourselves.
“If we say that ministers are supposed to send the estimates of various agencies under them with the appropriation act of each year, that has to be done.
“I recall in 2016 President Muhammadu Buhari sent to this National Assembly the appropriation act for that year together with those estimates, while in 2017, the ministers find it impossible to accompany the same appropriation act 2017 with those estimates of the agencies under them.
“We cannot be going forth and back. I believe that this is time for us to insist under Section 88 that gives us power of oversight that this has to be done.
“We make laws here for the good governance of this country and that is actually what we have to insist. I believe we are going to insist that all agencies should stop expenditure of public funds unless it is appropriated in accordance with Section 80 of the constitution which we have sworn to uphold”.
In his ruling, Senate President Bukola Saraki said the motion was important to the fight against corruption by the present administration, especially when some agencies with independent revenue often exceed that of crude oil.
Saraki added that the subject matter was also crucial now that government was looking for money to fund projects like hospitals, education, among others.
“This is where we get sources of revenue and I cannot see how we can continue in a society where we are fighting corruption and people will be spending money without approval or appropriations. It must stop, it will stop and it is going to stop from now”, Saraki declared.
The affected agencies include, Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASEI), Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Nigerian Shippers’ Council (NSC), National Maritime Authority (NMA), Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), National Sugar Development Council (NSDC) and the Nigerian Postal Service (NPS).
Also on the list are Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, NTDC; National Communications Commission (NCC), National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) and National Br)oadcasting Commission (NBC).
Others include the National Insurance Commission (NIC), News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Nigerian Copyrights Commission (NCC), Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC), Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Radio Nigeria, Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA).
The rest are the National Automotive Design and Development Council, NADDC, Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NNRA), National Business and Technical Examination Board (NABTEB), Federal Mortgage Bank (FMB), National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Industrial Training Fund (ITF), Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Standards Organisation of Nigeria (SON) as well as Oil and Gas Free Zone Authority (OGZFA).
Senate Moves To Investigate Appointments Without Confirmation
Meanwhile, Senate yesterday directed Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan to investigate alleged appointment of the Director-General of Nigeria’s lottery regulation commission by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Lawan is to conduct a probe into how Mr Lanre Gbajabiamila assumed office without Senate confirmation in line with the law establishing the commission.
President Buhari had appointed 23 heads of various federal agencies, including Gbajabiamila who was appointed to head the Nigeria’s lottery regulation commission.
This was announced by the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation on April 14 this year. The SGF who said the appointments were with immediate effect brushed aside referral to the Senate for confirmation.
The Senator representing Kogi West, Dino Melaye, yesterday came under Order 43 for the Personal Explanation of Senate Rules to raise what he described as “selective respect for the law” and negation of the promise made by “my party, APC”.
He said, “Whereas Section 8(1) of the Nigerian Lottery Regulation Commission says the President shall appoint the Director-General subject to the confirmation of the Senate, but Mr. Gbajabiamila had resumed office, following the April 14 announcement, without waiting for his confirmation by the lawmakers.
“Executive branch had sought consideration and confirmation of appointments of others, including Resident Electoral Commissioners and Central Bank of Nigeria board members, but I wonder why the law on the headship of the lottery commission would be disregarded.
“What President Muhammadu Buhari and my party, APC, promised Nigeria was absolute respect for rule of law and to combat corruption. This is not a banana republic. Executive cannot choose which law to obey and which one to disobey”.
In his remarks, Senate President Bukola Saraki said, “These are weighty issues and the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, should take it up and investigate. He will stop that nonsense…When it is communicated to him, he would wait until his confirmation by the Senate”.
No Uncertainty Over Who Signs 2017 Budget
– Lai Mohammed
The minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, yesterday refuted media reports suggesting that the federal government did not know who will sign the 2017 budget.
He described the quote attributed to him in the reports as malicious misrepresentation of what transpired at the post-Federal Executive Council Meeting press briefing.
In a statement he issued to this effect, the minister said when he was asked a question relating to the signing of the 2017 Budget, his response was simply that ‘’when it is transmitted to the Presidency, the issue will be addressed.
“Anything beyond that response amounts to deliberate mischief and should be ignored”, the statement made available to LEADERSHIP noted.
Meanwhile, the federal government yesterday said the executive was yet to receive the 2017 budget from the National Assembly.
The National Assembly had last week passed the 2017 Appropriations Bill, raising the budget from N7.28 trillion earlier proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari in December last year to N7.44 trillion.
The minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, disclosed this to State House Correspondents after the federal executive council meeting presided over by the acting president, Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa.
According to him,the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udoma, was in possession of an “advanced copy” which ministers would use to check if there are discrepancies between what they sent to the National Assembly and what was returned.
“Not yet, but at least the minister of budget and national planning has gotten an advanced copy of what was passed and that is what we need to look at and compare to what we sent. It has not been transmitted officially to the presidency”, Mohammed said.
He pointed out that it was only yesterday morning that the minister of national planning informed the council that the budget had been passed.
On the two ministers, Stephen Ocheni (Kogi) and Suleiman Hassan (Gombe), who were confirmed by the Senate but are yet to be sworn in by the acting president, the minister assured that they will be sworn in in due course.
Experts Fault N143bn Added To 2017 Budget By NASS
Meanwhile, some economic and financial experts have faulted the National Assembly for appropriating an aggregate expenditure of N7.441 trillion for the 2017 fiscal year, with N143 billion above the N7.298trillion proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari in December last year.
The experts said the N143 billion increase which represents 23.5% of the proposal by President Buhari will erode the zero-based budgeting format the administration had adopted for yearly budgeting, unlike former President Goodluck Jonathan’s envelope budgeting system.
They averred that in zero-based budgeting, if government decides to increase any item of the budget by a factor, such must cut across all the items of the budget. Therefore, by increasing the bench mark price of crude oil from 42.5 to 44.50, it ought not to have been applied to all items contained in the 2017 appropriation bill.
While increasing the aggregate figure to 7.441 trillion, the Senate had said it considered the Medium Term Expenditure Framework/Fiscal Strategy Paper (MTEF/FSP) by increasing the Benchmark price of crude oil from $42.50 to $44.50, but left the crude oil production and Exchange rate forecasts of the executive at 2.2mbpd and N305/USD respectively.
The experts, including lecturer at the Agricultural Economics Department of the University of Ibadan, Professor Victor Olugbenga Okorua; former Lecturer in Law in Harvard Law School and former chairman of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Chidi Odinkalu and Nigerian professor of political economy and management expert at Lagos Business School, Professor Pat Utomi, all said the increase of aggregate figure to N7.441 may distort President Buhari administration’s economic coherence strategy and its zero-based budgeting format.
The executive, they said, can veto the appropriation bill now passed by the National Assembly if the projections or “economic coherence strategy’’ of the Buhari administration is grossly tampered with or abnormally distorted by the appropriation of N143 billion above the proposed figure of N7.298 billion.
Professor Okorua said, “zero based budgeting requires a deliverable and realistic bottom-up approach to development; there’s no bringing of previous debt forward. Under this format, everything must be justified, having cost projections with adequate revenue coverage. This means that all budget requests must be made starting from a zero-base, which is, preparing a fresh budget every year without reference to the past.
“Any increase to the budget by the National Assembly without adjustments to other items like exchange rate, inflation rate and external reserve projections can give results other than the national government estimated’’.
In his own contribution, Professor Utomi said, “Amount added will not affect the concept of zero-based budgeting format, which requires that previous or last year debt be cleared while beginning from zero level for new budgetary formulation.
“But in the strict sense of it, what we have at hand presently is not zero based budgets because the process usually take 2-3 years to take-off rather than getting results for what we started just in 2016. It is usually strenuous to practice by any country.
Prof Odinkalu however said, “Zero-based budgeting has never really been applied by the current administration or otherwise they don’t understand what it means. It means you zero out all items and every department has to justify all its budget requests from zero. If that happens, all the talk of padding by legislators and bureaucrats won’t arise”.
But a Professor of Economics who do not want to be mentioned in prints because of his relationship with the leadership of the National Assembly said, “The increment made by the National Assembly is most likely to trigger hyper-inflation, weaken the naira and less national savings or external reserve at the end of the day.
“The adjustment was made mostly for political considerations rather than economic realities. The benchmark on crude oil they jacked up to enable them increase the budget is not realistic, bearing in mind the level of disruptions going on by the Niger Delta militancy and oil theft in the region’’.