Two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) – Ahmed Raji and Gboyega Oyewole – have called for a better working relationship between the Executive and the Legislature.
Reacting to President Muhammadu Buhari’s complaint that new projects were added to this year’s budget by the lawmakers, thereby increasing the total figure, the SANs said it would not have been an issue if there was a harmonious relationship between the two arms of government.
Oyewole said the lawmakers would not be doing their job if they merely endorsed the Executive’s budget proposal without scrutinising it and making their input.
But Raji said such input ought to be with consideration to the Executive’s ability to implement the budget, which is where dialogue comes in.
Oyewole said: “A budget proposal (also referred to as an ‘Appropriation Bill’) is a draft document containing the proposed financial expenditures of the government for the following year. It is placed before the legislature for approval.
“A bill, in relation to government, connotes a form or draft of a proposed statute presented to a legislature but not yet enacted or passed and made law.
“A budget is just an executive proposal placed before the National Assembly for approval.
“Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution mandates the President to prepare and lay before the National Assembly an appropriation bill containing the estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the federation for the following financial year.
“The essence of laying the appropriation bill before the National Assembly is not just to obtain approval but for the National Assembly, being a geographical representation of every constituency in the country, to scrutinise the bill and ensure it aligns with the expectation of the citizenry
“It is a fact that in exercise of the National Assembly’s law-making powers, as enshrined in Section 4 of the 1999 Constitution(as amended), it is at liberty to alter or make additions (where necessary) to any bill placed before it including the appropriation bill.”
According to Oyewole, a community reading of sections 4, 58, 59 and 81 of the 1999 Constitution gives the National Assembly exclusive powers in the passage of bills into law.
The sections, the lawyer said, also empower them to make alterations or additions to the bill in the interest of the citizens and as they deem expedient.
“The appropriation bill is like every other bill presented for passage to law by the legislature.
“Although being a bill sponsored by the Executive, it is nevertheless subject to the inherent powers of the National Assembly to alter.
“This may involve making additions to the provisions of the projections, including the financial analysis contained therein.
“The inference I can draw from the above-stated constitutional provisions is that the National Assembly can validly alter or add to the provisions of any bill, including the appropriation bill, without recourse to any other authority.
“It should, however, be noted that arguments have been canvassed that the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007, should be considered in making any alterations or additions to the appropriation bill.
“But, relying on Section 1 of the 1999 Constitution, the constitution is the supreme law and cannot be varied by a subsidiary legislation, as held by the Supreme Court in INEC v. Balarabe Musa.
“It is on this premise that I submit that the National Assembly can alter or add to the provisions of the appropriation bill which is placed before it for scrutiny and approval.
“Therefore, the President’s criticism of the National Assembly’s power to make additions to the budget is misplaced and has no force of law.
“We should not forget that a bill is just a bill until passed by the National Assembly and subsequently signed into law.
“The officials of the executive are invited to defend the provisions as in other executive bills and necessary requisite consultations are similarly made,” Oyewole said.
Going forward, the lawyer advocated better collaboration between the two arms.
“I strongly believe that a better synergy and working relationship between the Executive and the Legislative ought to be fashioned in practical terms for us to bring the dividends of democracy to the doorsteps of the citizenry across the 774 local governments of the country,” he said.
For Raji, the disagreements can be better managed in the nation’s overall interest.
He said: “In a democracy, it is always a battle of ideas where there must always be constructive engagement.
“Fixed and rigid position may sometimes prove inappropriate in a democracy. Constant dialogue between the two arms should be intensified. “
“Perhaps the current unnecessary friction will better be avoided if we return to a modified parliamentary system in the greater interest of the people and the system.”
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