Nigeria’s Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu has said that President Muhammadu Buhari’s request for virement was unconstitutional, even as the Senate jerked up the virement request of N180 billion by N34 billion, thereby bringing the total to N214 billion.
Ekweremadu said this when the Upper Chamber was considering the report of its Committee on Appropriations on the virement of funds appropriated for special investment (recurrent) and special intervention (capital) for funding of critical recurrent and capital items in the 2016 Appropriation Bill, stating that virement in whatever form is unconstitutional.
Ekweremadu cited Section 81(4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), noting that this portion of the law allows the President to submit a supplementary appropriation to the National Assembly in case of shortfall in the budget.
According to him, Appropriation Act and Supplementary Act are provided for in the Constitution, but virement has no place in the nation’s highest law book.
Ekweremadu implored the Senate and indeed all those piloting the affairs of the state to correct this anomaly and stick only to constitutional provisions.
“I want to call the attention of this Senate to Section 81 subsection 4 just for our guidance and for the future. Section 81 (4) of the Constitution says, “In respect of any financial year, it is found that the amount appropriated by the appropriation Act for any purpose is insufficient or the need has arisen for expenditure for a purpose for which no amount has been appropriated by the Act, a supplementary estimate showing the sums required shall be laid before each House of the National Assembly and the needs of any such expenditure shall be included in a supplementary appropriation bill.
However, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, drew the attention of the Senate to the fact that Section 24 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) provides for virement, stressing that FRA is also part of the laws by which with the country is governed.
Senator Adamu said, “nobody in his senses will doubt or contest the very clear provisions of the Constitution with respect to budgetary appropriations.
However, there is Section 24 in the FRA which provides for virement. While we accept the intervention, we don’t want to create the impression to have meant a wrong thing in totality because there is a fiscal responsibilty act which is recognised by the constitution”.
Reacting to the constitutional question raised by Ekweremadu, Senate President Bukola Saraki, appreciated the clarification, saying that what the Senate was doing was to help the executive in tackling the economic problem in the country.
His words: “I think your observation as far as the Constitution is concerned is well noted. I think we are all fully aware of that and that is why I continue to thank my colleagues so much in the way we have been addressing the issue of the economy and we are not looking at it from whichever party we belong.”
Meanwhile, just like the House of Representatives did last Thursday, the Senate passed the virement, jerking it up from N180 billion to N214 billion.
The House had increased the virement to N208 billion for purported additional shortfalls discovered during the meeting of National Assembly Joint Appropriations Committee with heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the government.