By Abdulmumin Jibrin
The Acting President made what, in my opinion, was a harmless remark when he observed that the National Assembly has no powers to introduce new projects in the budget. In the same statement, however, he admitted the powers of NASS to allocate resources as that is its core powers of appropriation. I consider his statement very objective. His tone wasn’t confrontational, neither was his body language. Ag President Yemi Osinbajo had a day earlier signed the 2017 budget noting that there were grey areas, especially funds lifted from key projects, to introduce new projects by NASS.
He further stated that he agreed to sign the budget after the assurance of commitment from NASS to restore the lifted funds. That demonstration of faith in NASS was unprecedented, and the most generous concession in budget negotiation by a President since 1999. No any President has ever agreed to sign the budget into law on the basis of extracting commitment from NASS to attend to outstanding issues after the budget is signed into law, the reasons being:
I. Once the budget is signed into law, the President MUST implement it, whether NASS makes the correction or not.
II. There are only two ways to achieve such corrections: supplementary budget or Virement, both of which are as good as going through the entire budget process all over again, and will require the Executive to go the full length of lobbying and massaging the ego of NASS, a process they detest so much.
III. The unpredictable nature of the relationship between the Legislature and the Executive, as the state of such relationship at a particular time determines how friendly and expeditiously NASS attends to requests from the Executive. This is not peculiar to Nigeria.
A national daily reported today that Osinbajo’s comment threaten Executive, NASS Virement deal but how could such a harmless statement create an uproar of such magnitude. Already an unhealthy prevailing circumstances is being created that will make the process tough and place few people in NASS to negotiate some selfish interest only beneficial to themselves.
That has been the name of the game. The NASS should know that how it handles this historic concession granted it by the Executive under the guide of Ag President Osinbajo will determine the approach of the Executive Arm in future budget negotiation.
So, the only other way to make corrections in the budget, which is not applicable in this situation, is through corrigendum – a power vested in NASS to make minor corrections to the budget. There are instances where corrigendum has been used to commit budget fraud. I will discuss that and give you such instances in subsequent episodes of this series.
Recall that in 2016, President Buhari returned the budget to NASS on two occasions, to ensure that all the grey areas are resolved before he appended his signature. All the grey areas were resolved, and corrections too effected. In fact, this was done with an unusual tact and dutifully, out of understandable reverence, and yes FEAR, of President Buhari.
In this case of Ag President Osinbajo, perhaps beyond the respect he enjoins, he must strive to also be feared, through resistance to compromising settlements in his relationship with NASS. The reason isn’t far-fetched: all attempts to flatter and hoodwink President Buhari into signing the 2016 budget, by assuring to make corrections later, met an impenetrable brick wall. He saw through the smokescreen, and thus even refused to be blackmailed by threats of possible backlash from NASS if the budget is not signed before corrections are made and also the need to save time.
On one occasion, the President said: “If we have waited for six months, we can as well wait for weeks for NASS to correct the grey areas before I sign.” That has been the pattern with successive presidents. No President was ready to take the risk with NASS but Osinbajo did, as it appeared like striking a deal with an untrustworthy partner. Whether this seeming pact is calculated or not, is left for time and the scrutiny of vigilant and critical Nigerians to determine. What is obvious, however, is: the Ag President has played into the hands of NASS.
What the Ag President has given to NASS is a victory it has never had in the budget process since 1999, understandably to strengthen the relationship between the two frequently hostile arms of government. And so, he deserves a reciprocal gesture and unmistakable friendship from the lawmakers, not attacks and threats. This is my position.
In the next episodes of this series, which we intend to run for three months, we will do a recap of the 2016 budget fraud with new revelations of facts and key actors involved. We will talk about fraud in 2017 budget, how members of the Executive arm collaborate with NASS in this venture, new strategies to beat vigilant eyes, concealment, abnormality, reckless spending, budget revenue frame work, and 2 dollar extra benchmark.
Also to be addressed are N140 billion increment in budget size amidst dwindling revenues (the largest in recent years), poor economics, the “reformed” budget process, public hearing of budget, page by page consideration of details, corrigendum, the lies, facts and half-truths of budgeting, conspiracy of a few members of NASS in the budget process against majority of the 359 Members and 108 Senators and, very importantly, how to stop these infractions. We look forward to beneficial engagements, for a more transparent Nigeria.