Both chambers of the National Assembly, yesterday, took on Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, over his assertion that the legislature lacked the power to insert new projects or modify those contained in an appropriation bill.
They told the acting president that the power to appropriate was vested on the legislaure by the constition.
While the Senate warned Osinbajo not to mistake its consultations with the executive on important national issues to mean it had ceded its constitutional powers, the House of Representatives said it would never be a rubber stamp to the executive.
Osinbajo had said: “This last budget, the president presented it last December. Despite the assurances that it will be passed by February, it was not until May.
“As it turned out, we were quite disappointed that it spent a bit of time before it was approved. And thereafter, we had to go into negotiations with the National Assembly in order to get it right.
“Now, there are these two broad issues about who can 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.”
But Saraki, while reacting to a point of order raised by the Deputy Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, at plenary, said the senate would continue to defend the constitution and ensure that anything it did was in line with the laws of the land.
“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 do not think that should be misrepresented that powers given to us in the constitution do not exist. That is not the case,” he said.
On its part, the House in what seemed a riot act, said it would not be a rubber stamp to the executive arm of government.
Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, said the constitution clearly spelt out the duty of each arm of government, noting that in the event of a conflict, the executive was not the appropriate arm to interpret the constitution.
“I don’t want to believe the acting president said that. When it comes to the budget, the worst the executive can do is to withhold their assent. After 30 days, if we can muster two-third, we will override the veto,” the speaker stated.
He added: “The executive is only one man- the president- the relationship between the president and other members of the executive arm is at best, a master-servant relationship.
“All of us here (lawmakers) represent different constituencies. The House cannot be a rubber stamp of any executive arm under our watch.
“Budget is the document of the people and there is no way a budget can take on a life of itself by mere pronunciation of the president. It is only when it has passed through the legislature that it can be said to be a living, working document supported by the constitution, which vests powers on the National Assembly to enact it.
“So, I don’t think we should waste our time belabouring this issue at all, because if the contest is to be held, we all know who the obvious winners will be. We all know where the power lies.”
Senator Na’Allah, had while raising the point of order at plenary, quoted various sections of the 1999 constitution as amended and maintained that the acting president goofed in his claims.
He quoted from Section 80 of the constitution to buttress his point.
According to Na’Allah: “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.’
It reads that, ‘all funds 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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
Na’Allah wondered why, Osinbajo, a professor of law would make such a statement.
“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,” he noted.
At the lower chamber, Lawal Abubakar, who spoke under matters of privilege, drew the attention of the House to comments reportedly made by Osinbajo, and urged the House to call the acting president to order, lest the executive continued to undermine the powers of the legislature.