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Republics within a Republic

By Josef Omorotionmwan

OURS is a world of oddities where, as it were, the tail wags the dog. In the abstraction, Nigeria’s President is regarded as the Number One Citizen, which presupposes that on issues of revenue and expenditure, for instance, his approval levels are limitless.

Contrary to expectation, though, on those issues, the President is everywhere in chains as he cannot spend even one kobo of public money without legislative approval and authorisation.

On the Revenue side, Section 80(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), stipulates that every money that the Nation earns must be kept in a common pool: “All revenues or other moneys raised or received by the Federation shall be paid into and form one Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation”.

Similarly, Section 80(2) of the Constitution provides that “No money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation except to meet expenditure that is charged upon the fund by this Constitution or where the issue of those moneys has been authorised by an Appropriation Act or Supplementary Appropriation Act”.

Section 81 goes further to specify that the President must make an advance request of the proposed expenditure for any financial year, “The President shall cause to be prepared and laid  before each House of the National Assembly at any time in each financial year estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federation for the next following financial year”.

Even after all these, the President must still sit down with members of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, to determine the mode of disbursement. These are all legal entanglements around the President.

But with the Agencies and Extra-Ministerial Departments as presently constituted, it is still rumble in the jungle. Those have constituted themselves into the bigger Republics within the smaller Republic called Nigeria. There are no encumbrances around them. They have no spending limits, as it were. They do not need anybody’s approval to spend any amount.

In their capacity as collection agencies, they simply collect and spend; and if they wake up on the right side of the bed, they could pass whatever balance they have to the central purse.

A few concrete examples here will suffice: In the immediate-past Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (as he then was), we had a man who was loud in words and actions, hence the CBN is an arche-type of the Federal Agencies. There is no indication whatsoever that the CBN was alone in the squander mania spree.

In August 2009, the CBN pumped N400 billion of public money into bailing out Afribank, Intercontinental Bank, Union Bank, Oceanic Bank and Finbank. The CBN single-handedly decided which of the commercial banks manifested distress signs and how much to give to them.

For the President to spend, he must first wait for those who went to market to sell our oil to ascertain that the money is available. But the CBN Governor does not need that. Where the money he needs is not immediately available, he heads for the Nigerian Printing and Minting Company to reel it our as probably happened during the bail out of the selected banks.

Apart from dishing out the bail out funds to the banks, Sanusi dismissed their Chief Executives. Let the President try this and see if the volume of strikes and impeachment threats will not consume him, plus the fact that his chances of lifting a finger towards any election shall have been greatly diminished.

At the beginning of the Boko Haram madness, Sanusi visited home and found that victims of the Kano bomb blast needed assistance. He immediately dished out N100 million to them. That was when it started dawning on people that the CBN Governor has no spending limits and that the provisions of Sections 80-82 of the 1999 Constitution, which deal with powers and control over public funds have no meaning to him. He heads the Republic of the CBN – a Republic within a Republic.

We remember the N10 billion, which CBN dished out to Usman Danfodio University, “as part of the bank’s corporate social responsibility… and it is meant to build the manpower capacity of Nigerians to effectively run the economy of the country”.

What today is awaiting the assent of the President is the Appropriation Bill for the Federal Government of the Republic of Nigeria, which is an infinitesimal part of our National Budget. The National Assembly is still awaiting the Estimates of the bigger Republics.

Everything we are doing is in total contravention of the letter and spirit of our laws and the Constitution. For instance, Section 21(1-3) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act clearly demands that each of the Bodies shall submit to the appropriate Minister, not later than the end of August in each Financial Year, the budget estimates for the next Financial Year.

Then, the Minister shall cause the Estimates submitted to be attached as part of the Draft Appropriation Bill to be submitted to the National Assembly.

Perhaps, dubiously, it is only now that the Senate is demanding the Budget Estimates from the Agencies, observing that non-compliance with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act constitutes abuse of power and economic sabotage aimed at frustrating the efforts of the current administration at addressing the economic recession. Quite a legitimate demand but it is coming too little too late! Our constitution envisaged an all-inclusive Appropriation Act – not in the patch-patch format we are now getting.

He who comes to equity must come with clean hands. That’s a well known legal dictum. The senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, is also right that people cannot be spending public money without approval and appropriation. Is he just knowing that? Ha ha!

We hope the National Assembly also knows by now that its new demand on the Federal Agencies shall succeed only to the extend that the National Assembly itself is willing to throw its books open to the public; so that in the end, nobody is seen to be spending public funds sans due appropriation and authorisation.

 


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