By Henry Umoru & Emman Ovuakporie
ABUJA — THE Senate said, yesterday, it would not concede its constitutional powers to the executive arm of government.
The declaration came on a day Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, also said the House would not serve as a rubber stamp to the executive arm.
Both arms of the National Assembly were reacting to a statement made by Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, that the National Assembly had no powers to introduce new projects into the budget.
Osinbajo had alleged: “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 took 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.
“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?”
The Senate, however, yesterday, warned the executive not to mistake its consultations with it on important national issues to mean that it was prepared to cede its constitutional powers.
Responding to a Point of Order by the Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, APC, Kebbi South, Senate President, Bukola Saraki, noted that the Acting President must have been quoted out of context on the 2017 budget.
He said: “I am sure the Acting President must have been misquoted because there is clearly no ambiguity in the Constitution of the responsibility of the National Assembly.
‘’This matter has been cleared and settled. So, I don’t think there are any issues here that are vague.”
Saraki, who assured that the Senate under his watch would not cede any of its powers to the executive, notwithstanding the desired consultations and cooperation between the two arms of government, said: “ 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 don’t think that should be misrepresented that powers given to us in the constitution do not exist.
“That is not the case, and this Senate will continue to defend the Constitution and ensure that anything we do is 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, the leadership had given up some of these powers. That is not the case.”
Senator Na’Allah who spoke under Order 43 , drawing the attention of senators to Osinbajo’s alleged statement, said he was disturbed about the declaration, just as he wondered whether the Acting President, being a Professor of Law, was not misquoted having worked with him as a lawyer in Lagos.
Senator Na’Allah, who quoted various sections of the 1999 constitution as amended, however maintained that the Acting President goofed in his claims and in quoting from Section 80 of the constitution.
He said: “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’. With your permission Mr. President, I read: All revenues or other monies raised or 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.”Section 2 says: 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.
“Three, 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.
“Four, 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.
“The reason for this provision is that the Constitution recognises that Nigeria operates a federal structure, and it further goes on to recognize that it is multilingual, multi-ethnic, multi-religious.
“Therefore, in the constitution-making process, a lot of issues for domination and fear for domination were raised. That is why the framers of the constitution provided for representation on the basis of population and land mass and on the basis of equality of states. This is what gave birth to a bicameral legislature, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House provides representation based on population and land mass while the Senate is based on equality of states.
“So, 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.
“I also want to assuage the fears of my colleagues that what was alleged to have been said does not represent the spirit of the framers of our Constitution. This explanation is necessary so that we put this matter to rest.”
Also reacting to the Acting President’s statement, yesterday, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, said House would not be a rubber stamp to the executive arm of government.
Dogara, who stated this at yesterday’s plenary, 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.
The speaker said: “In the United States of America, where Nigeria copied the presidential system of government, once the President submits the budget to the legislature, it is considered dead.’’
He said it was only when the parliament worked on the budget and come up with an Appropriation Act that it could become a living document.
“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 that in the event that executive refused to comply with Acts of parliament, they know what to do.
Dogara said further: “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 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.”