By Turaki Hassan
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari a few days ago, in his usual characteristics of self righteousness, and buck passing blamed tardiness in the passage of budgets by the National Assembly for the delay in the completion of projects across the country by his government.
He spoke when he received a delegation of Eminent and Respected citizens of Niger State led by Lt. Gen. Garba Duba (Rtd) at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
To be precise, the president said, “If the National Assembly takes seven months to pass a budget, then we should be commended for the much that we have achieved, and can still achieve. I personally feel very disappointed. I spoke with the leaders of the National Assembly on the issue that seven months is a long time to work on a budget.”
Even though buck passing and blame game is not new to Buhari as it is now his stock in trade; in the past few days and weeks, there is no day that passes without the President blaming others in a desperate move to exonerate himself from any blame or failure of the Executive under his leadership to execute projects across the country.
In fact, very recently, Buhari blamed all his predecessors for failing to build infrastructure. And I wonder why? It was the general consensus that the former employees didn’t perform as expected and that was why Nigerians hired him for a job he has sought for four conservative time but here he is blaming the same people he replaced. If you are the boss of ” Nigeria limited”, what will you do this employee?.
Some weeks ago, he even blamed the media for failing to showcase his achievements. “ I’m very disappointed with the Nigerian press. They didn’t give this government the credit of the `go back to land programme,” he said on 26 October. Time and space would not permit me to list all his “blamings”.
However, it is disingenuous for President Buhari to blame the National Assembly for his government’s inability to implement budget and execute projects that affect the lives of Nigerians in the last three years.
To set the record straight, this is a President who, from inception of his government didn’t show any sign that he was well prepared and ready for the job he sought for four times in 16 years and for which we voted for him.
For instance, it took him six months, yes six months not six weeks to form his cabinet. It also took him two years to appoint board chairmen for most government agencies. This was his greatest undoing and was principally responsible for plunging Nigeria into recession because activities in Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government were brought to a halt for the period since civil servants could not take decisions due to absence of political heads in a country where public sector spending drives the economy. At a point, he even said he was happy working with civil servants because ministers or politicians were noise makers because “they are only there to make a lot of noises”, he told a French television station in September 2015.
Now, after three years, with election in three months, the President is at it again, exonerating himself from apparent failure of his government thereby throwing the blame right at the doorstep of the legislature. But facts don’t lie and they could be stubborn and here are the facts:
Late budget presentation
Since his assuming office, the president has been unable to present budget on time. His first budget was the 2016 budget which was submitted on December 22, 2015, exactly nine days to the end of the fiscal year.
The minimum the National Assembly requires to pass budget is three months. But he presented it just nine days to 2016.
Again, the 2017 budget was presented on December 14,2016, just 17 days to the end of 2016.
The earliest he presented budget was on November 7, 2017 which was the 2018 appropriations bill. It was less than two months to the end of the year. However, his ministers refused to appear before National Assembly committees to defend the budget for five months thereby delaying the passage.
It was after the leadership of the National Assembly sought the President’s intervention on March 16, 2018 that the ministers reluctantly appeared before the committees, an exercise that takes at least one month to complete. See link here
In fact , some of them who felt they were super ministers sent in their permanent secretaries.
What Nigerians didn’t know and the President won’t say is that the Executive through the various ministries continued to propose additional projects to be included in the 2018 budget even as at April and May which further delayed the passage of the 2018 budget. These were communicated officially and if anyone is in doubt the letters are there with the dates they were written and received. But here’s Buhari blaming the National Assembly.
Violation of Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007
Since the inception of the Buhari administration, it has been in constant violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act which stipulates that budgets should be presented in early September. The wisdom or import of the FRA is that the National Assembly will have at least three full months to work on the budget bill.
In fact, the Executive admitted its failure and inability to abide by the law on August 24,2018 when former minister of Budget and National Planning, now minister of finance, Zainab Ahmed disclosed that the Federal government will present the 2019 budget in September in a bid to restore the budget circle from January to December but here we are in November without the budget estimates before the lawmakers. See link https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/fg-to-submit-2019-budget-in-september-267246.html
Buhari’s failure/refusal to assent to budget submission Bill
In a bid to address the issue of late budget presentation and passage, the National Assembly passed a constitutional amendment bill that require the President to submit the Appropriation Bill not later than 90 days to the end of the financial year but unfortunately, very unfortunately, the president has vetoed the bill.
Veto of National Assembly Budget Office Bill
In an effort to improve institutional capacity of the Parliament to process and pass budget expeditiously, the National Assembly Budget and Research Office , NABRO, establishment Bill was passed into law. It was loosely modelled after the American Congregational Budget Office, CBO. Again, President Buhari has also vetoed the Bill.
Lack of Adequate Consultation
Under a Presidential system of government like ours where the doctrine of separation of powers and principles of checks and balances are well enshrined in the constitution, wisdom presupposes that the Executive at all time engages the legislature on all issues that requires legislation in order to have their buy in even before it is presented to the parliament formally.
The three Presidents before Buhari, from 1999 -2015, Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’adua and Goodkuck Jonathan despite their failings sustained this tradition which is necessary for a harmonious relations between the Executive and the Legislature and smooth running of government. Under this, it is expected that the President meet with the leadership of the two chambers (Body of Principal Officers including members of the opposition) and brief them on the details of the budget and key projects he would want to execute. They, in turn would brief their colleagues while the MDAs will then engage the committees over sighting them in pre-budget session. President Shehu Shagari used to hold such meetings monthly.
Doing this, would have helped in reducing the time it takes to pass the budget because even before it is presented, the MPs would have been well informed about it and their inputs taken into consideration at the preparation stage by the various MDAs. Unfortunately, this too has not been done in the last three years.
“National Assembly not a Rubber Stamp Parliament”
The National Assembly has repeatedly challenged the Executive to approach the Supreme Court to seek interpretation on the constitutional powers of the legislature over budget but till date, they have failed to do so. Until then, the judgement of the Federal High court in FHC/ABJ/CS/259/2014 delivered on March 9, 2016 which was not appealed by either parties stands.
This is what his lordship Hon Justice Gabriel Kolawole said in delivering judgment in the suit by Femi Falana SAN “the National Assembly was not created by drafters of the Constitution and imbued with the powers to receive ‘budget estimates’ which the first defendant is constitutionally empowered to prepare and lay before it, as a rubber stamp parliament. The whole essence of the budget estimates being required to be laid before Parliament is to enable it, being the Assembly of the representatives of the people, to debate the said budget proposals and to make its own well informed legislative inputs into it.”
Mr. Hassan, a public affairs commentator, wrote from Abuja.