I have read what the Honourable Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation said in justifying removing some items from the Appropriation Bill and including others and I must say there is a distinct lack of understanding in the National Assembly of their role regarding public finances.
Section 4 of the Constitution spells out the role of the Legislature while Sections 80-83 capture their role with regards to public finance. None of those provisions empowers them to write the Appropriation for the Executive.
To start with, the executive is the government. They are the ones who sell us their vision for governance through their manifesto. By voting them in, we empower them to achieve those aims, and one of the tools they use is the budget. They have an idea of their priority areas and economic direction. It’s those priorities they capture in their bill.
The Constitution empowers the National Assembly to appropriate funds for those priority areas identified by the Executive in their Bill. If they disagree with an input, they have the right not to appropriate funds and send that item back to the Executive.
The Constitution does not say in what manner they can send it back, but by not appropriating funds, they can make their intentions very clear. In more advanced democracies, there will then be meetings and horse trading and some form of agreement will be reached.
But from what the honourable member tweeted in defence of the National Assembly, what they did was not just refuse appropriation, they went further to input projects and expenditure on the Executive. Let’s be clear. They have no such right or power under the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The mere act of ‘passing’ the Appropriation Bill sent by the Executive and requesting the President’s signature, the legislature in effect wrote the bill, which is a position outside of the contemplation of the Constitution. The right thing to have done was to identify their areas of concern and forward same to the Executive.
Take for example the N50bn the honourable member said they set aside for the payment of local contractors. Question is which contractors, on which projects and how were they selected? All these are roles and answers for the executive and not the legislature who are lawmakers.
Deleting priority projects of a government is tantamount to sabotage and an economic crime against the people of the Federal Republic. I think because the Legislature have become accustomed to doing things this way in recent years, they have began to believe they actually have such powers and are wielding them accordingly.
I remember a concern that as a former military ruler, Buhari cannot play by democratic norms. It now appears it’s our agbada wearing legislators who don’t understand their role in a Constitutional democracy. I think the Attorney General of the Federation should approach the Supreme Court for an urgent interpretation so as to bury this recurring issue once and for all.