By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North
Indications emerged, yesterday, that the Presidency had positioned its foot soldiers to expose the roles played by the leadership of the National Assembly, NASS, in padding the budget to the tune of N63 billion should the lawmakers insist on not backing down on some of the issues raised by them when they met on Wednesday night at the Villa.
Vanguard learnt from reliable sources, who attended the Wednesday meeting, that the Presidency was emboldened to stand its grounds when some lawmakers present could not defend the inflated cost of most of the projects inserted into the budget by them for their constituencies and could not also tell the President why they paid so much attention to respective constituencies than the nation.
Although some of the lawmakers had argued that the 30 days stipulated by the Constitution for the President to assent to the budget had not yet lapsed, perhaps out of ignorance of the position of the law, however a member of the Nigerian Inner Bar, Abubakar Malami, said that the period for signing the budget had since elapsed.
Malami, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, told Vanguard that the passage of the 30 days’ period does not, however, preclude the President from signing it into law. According to the legal expert, the 30 days as stipulated by the 1999 Constitution include weekends and holidays and count continuously from the first day to the end.
Malami said: “The 30-day period is continuous irrespective of holidays or weekends. However, the non-assent to the bill after the expiration of the time-frame does not in any way invalidate the budget even if it is signed many days and months after by the President.
“The only thing the law canvasses is for NASS to override the vote of the President if they can muster two thirds majority to do so. But I do not think the current NASS has the capacity to do that given the way they handled the budget,” the legal expert added.
It was gathered, yesterday, that President Goodluck Jonathan has stuck to his gun not to assent to the 2013 budget as passed by the NASS because of advice by legal experts that he had not committed any infraction by withholding his assent from the controversial document.
Findings by Vanguard revealed that Jonathan, who had earlier fidgeted over the expiration of the 30-day deadline stipulated by the Constitution for the signing of the appropriation bill, became hardened when his advisers made it clear to him that withholding his assent from the document as long as the NASS refuses to shift grounds on the contentious issues, does not in any way infringe the law.
Under the 1999 Constitution, the President is expected to sign the appropriation bill into law within 30 days of passage by the NASS after which the lawmakers could veto him by two thirds majority of both chambers.
The 2013 budget, which was overwhelmingly passed into the law by the NASS on December 20, 2012, was eventually transmitted to President Goodluck Jonathan on January 14, 2013. The 30 days period stipulated by the constitution actually expired on January 13, 2013 without the president signing the document into law.
Several attempts by NASS, the Economic Team and the Presidency to resolve the knotty issues in the budget have proved abortive, leading to the hardening of positions by parties while the economy inches towards comatose.
Budget, IG, Maina
Only on Wednesday, the Inspector-General of Police, Abubakar Mohammed, lamented that his inability to place a ransom on the head of fleeing Pension Task Team Chairman, Abdulrasheed Maina, was due to lack of funds arising from the non-assent to the budget.
Similarly, many government ministries, departments and agencies are finding it difficult to carry out their normative functions without the approval of funds.
Meanwhile, Vanguard learnt that the President was not in a hurry to append his signature to the budget because he had discovered that NASS could not move against him having soiled their hands with spurious projects they inserted into the budget under their controversial “constituency projects” with mind-bugling sums.