Acting President Yemi Osinbajo yesterday drew the ire of Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara over his comments on the National Assembly’s increase of the budget from N7.28 trillion to N7.44 trillion.
At plenary in both chambers, Saraki and Dogara said the lawmakers did not overreach themselves by jacking up the budget.
The Senate would not surrender its constitutional powers to the executive, Saraki said, in reaction to an issue raised by Deputy Senate Leader Bala Ibn Na’Allah.
The House of Representatives, Dogara noted, would not be a rubber stamp. He was reacting to an order on the breach of privilege brought by Abubakar Lawal (Adamawa).
The Presidency will seek the Supreme Court’s interpretation on the issue, it was learnt last night.
A source told our correspondent that the Acting President would not take up issues with the lawmakers, but “will soon head for the apex court to seek the interpretation of that section of the Constitution to clear any ambiguity therein.”
The source said: “We cannot be going forward and backwards on the same issue every year.”
Signing the budget on Monday, Osinbajo said there were two broad issues about who could do what.
“The first report is about who can do what. When you present a 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,” he said.
Saraki said even when the upper chamber bends backward to accommodate issues such gesture should not be misconstrued to mean weakness or that the constitutional powers assigned to it did not exist.
The Senate, Saraki insisted, would continue to defend the Constitution and ensure that its actions are covered by the Constitution at all times.
Raising the issue, Na’ Allah said: “I want to make a personal explanation on the media reports credited to the Acting President to the effect that the National Assembly does not possess any power to alter the budget submitted to it by the Executive. I offer an explanation that we have operated this Constitution from 1999 to date.
“I am sure that everybody who knows me knows that I have some limited understanding of the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I have also had the privilege to work with the Acting President while I was practising in Lagos as a lawyer.
“We did a lot of things together. So, he is somebody that I know so much, that I will rather believe that what was alleged to have been said could not have been said by him and even if he spoke on the matter, he was misquoted.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this same Constitution we operated from 1999 to date has section 80, and the title of section 80 is ‘Power and Control over Public Funds’.
“I read: All revenues or other monies raised or received by the Federation not being revenues of other monies payable under this Constitution or any Act of the National Assembly into any other Public Fund of the Federation established for a specific purpose shall be payable to and for one consolidated fund of the Federation.
“Two says: No monies shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation except to meet expenditure that is charged upon the Fund by the Constitution or where the issue of those monies has been authorised by an Appropriation Act, Supplementary Appropriation Act or Act passed in pursuance of Section 81 of the Constitution.
“Three: No money shall be withdrawn from any public funds of the Federation other than the Consolidated revenue fund of the Federation unless the issue of those monies has been authorised by an Act of the National Assembly.
“Four, No money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated revenue Fund or any other public fund of the Federation except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.”
“That is the provision.
“The reason for this provision is that the Constitution recognises that Nigeria operates a federal structure, and it further goes on to recognise that it is multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multi-religious.
“Therefore, in the constitution-making process, a lot of issues for domination and fear for domination were raised.
“That is why the framers of the constitution provided for representation on the basis of population and land mass and on the basis of equality of states.
“This is what gave birth to a bicameral legislature, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House provides representation based on population and land mass while the Senate is based on equality of states.
“So, I know that the Acting President who is a Professor of Law is sufficiently trained in law to know that the National Assembly has powers to tinker with the budget.
“I am not making a case for him and I do not want to believe that he said what has been alleged that he said.
“I also want to assuage the fears of my colleagues that what was alleged to have been said does not represent the spirit of the framers of our Constitution. This explanation is necessary so that we put this matter to rest.”
Saraki, who did not allow a debate on the matter, said: “I too have a lot of our colleagues coming up to us regarding the 2017 budget. I cannot agree with you less. I am sure that the Acting President must have been misquoted because there is clearly no ambiguity in the Constitution of the responsibility of the National Assembly.
“This matter has been cleared and settled. So, I don’t think there are any issues here that are vague. I will like to believe too that the Acting President must have been wrongly quoted.
“But at the same time, I want to say that there are times we have a number of consultations and I want to make it clear that these consultations we do with the Executive will not at any time mean that we will give up the powers we have in line with the Constitution.
“I want to reassure our members on this because it is very important based on what we have heard, you may be concerned that one way or another leadership had given up some of these powers.
“That is not the case. But I believe that as responsible statesmen, there are times we consult and do our best to work with the Executive and assist them.
“But as we bend backwards, I don’t think that should be misrepresented that powers given to us in the Constitution do not exist.
“That is not the case, and this Senate will continue to defend the Constitution and ensure that anything we do is in line with the laws of the land.”
At the House, Dogara said it was difficult to believe that the Acting President could say such thing.