HOUSECALL with ADEBIYI ADEDAPO
Esteemed readers, I wish to introduce this weekly column to you with mixed feelings. While I’m elated to venture into a fresh terrain in my journalism career, it is indeed a very challenging environment that has to be explored with vigour and tenacity.
Having familiarise myself with legislative nuances, particularly the functions and actions of House of Representatives, I realise the need to consistently relate activities of the House to our esteemed readers as well as create a platform for constituents to openly question their representatives and make them account for their stewardship.
Interestingly, there is an ongoing debate between the executive and the legislative arms of government on how and how not to handle the budgeting process.
The Ag President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, after signing the 2017 Appropriation Bill into law, raised issues concerning the constitutional powers of the legislature on appropriation bills.
According to him; “Now, there are these two broad issues about who can do what. The first report is about who can do what. When you present budget to the National Assembly, it is presented as a bill, an appropriation bill. And secondly, do not introduce entirely new projects and all of that or modify projects. This is something that we experienced last year and this year again. It now leaves the question about who is supposed to do what.”
However, at the risk of accusing the Ag President, who is a Professor of Law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), of being ignorant of legislative powers, I make bold to observe that beyond alteration to appropriation bills as proposed by the executive arm of government, section 83 of the constitution also empowers the National Assembly to initiate new spending for contingency reasons.
“83. (1) The National Assembly may, by law make provisions for the establishment of a Contingencies Fund for the Federation, and for authorising, the president, if satisfied that there has arisen an urgent and unforeseen need for expenditure for which no other provision exists, to make advances from the Fund to meet the need.”
Also, it is important to note that an Appropriation Bill is a proposed law, and the political lexicon ‘proposed ‘ suggests that it is subject to modifications or alteration and approval.
If the National Assembly has no power to alter or modify the proposed budget, it then suffices that the function of the legislative arm of government is merely to rubber stamp the executive proposal.
I honestly doubt if this is the intention of the authors of our constitution. If it is, as some analysts may want to argue, why then does the proposal have to be subjected to appropriation committees of the two chambers in the National Assembly? Why do the heads of various ministries and agencies have to appear before the National Assembly to defend the proposal? And what option is opened to the legislature if they are not satisfied with certain items in the proposed budget?
Regarding this, the constitution clearly reserves powers to both arms of government.
Unlike every other lawmaking process, the legislative arm of government cannot generate an Appropriation Bill. But, the Bill is subjected to every other lawmaking process and can be vetoed according to section 58(5) of the Constitution; “Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the president shall not be required.”
It is instructive to establish here, that there can never be a national budget if it is not generated by the executive and approved by two-thirds majority of the two chambers of the National Assembly.
To this extent, the legislature can dispense with the powers of the executive once the Bill is laid before the National Assembly.
At this point in the life of an Appropriation Bill, the legislative arm of government has more influence on what and what will not be captured in the budget than the executive.
Nevertheless, the budgeting process is opened to negotiation and this option has been well explored in the past, including the 2017 budget. Therefore it is careless for the Ag President or anybody else to suggest that the legislative arm of government has no power to modify or alter the proposed Appropriation Bill in any form.
If the Ag President feels very strongly about the 2017 Appropriation Bill as passed by the National Assembly, he would be correct to withhold assent in principle and allow the National Assembly to veto the Bill. By this, Nigerians will understand reservations of the Presidency as regards the budget and hold their respective lawmakers responsible for the fortune or misfortune it brings to the economic and social well-being.
This remains my position, until the the Supreme Court and it’s Amicus Curiae pronounce otherwise.
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