12 October 2012

Nigeria: National Assembly Becoming Too Dictatorial - Presidency

Photo: Vanguard
House of Representatives, Nigeria.

President Goodluck Jonathan's senior special assistant on public affairs, Dr Doyin Okupe, has said the National Assembly is becoming too dictatorial and authoritative with some of its resolutions.

He frowned at the decision of the National Assembly to insist that the 2013 Appropriation Bill should be based on $80 per barrel instead of the $75 pegged by the presidency.

Okupe, who addressed journalists yesterday in Abuja, said the National Assembly's insistence on $80 instead of $75, which the budget was predicated upon, was most dictatorial, overly authoritative and utterly wrong..

He said: "The decision not to release funds to the ministries departments and agencies (MDAs) was based on due process. The era of releasing funds to be squandered has passed; that era of Father Christmas in releasing funds without due process has gone.

"The projection of the budget on $75 was to address the increasing question of budget deficit. The Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) was no bottlenecks to release of capital votes. It was aimed at checking contract inflation and over-invoicing and therefore national revenue should not be squandered on the altar of speedy release of funds. The process of releasing funds to MDAS will not be abridged."

He said the release of funds depended largely on demand, necessity and availability of funds.

Comparing the 2013 budget benchmark with other countries', Okupe explained that the aim of pegging the 2013 budget on $75pbl was to avert the dangers of crash in the global price of crude oil.

He cited instances where, in 2008, the budget benchmark of $147 crashed to $38, insisting that that was one of the reasons why the federal government insisted on caution.

On the release of budget, Okupe said that so far over 53 per cent of the 2012 budget has been released, which he said represents about N711.6 billion, explaining that the 2012 budget was passed in April this year.

Okupe said that, all over the world, the unpredictability of oil price in the international market made it necessary for benchmarks to be picked at the upper limit of what was most reasonable. It is only in Nigeria that people would want to set oil prices as it suited them, he said.

Countries he cited as having pegged their budgets like Nigeria's include Algeria- $37, Qatar - $55, Venezuela - $50 , Saudi Arabia - $60, Angola - $77and Kuwait $60.

"This is not the time to be unduly careless or reckless as, after all, whatever is gained returns to the government. Everybody, including those on the opposition side, admit that this government is low on words and definitely highly prolific in action as seen in the president's transformation agenda. NASS only played to the gallery," Okupe said.

The president's aide said President Jonathan has never disregarded resolutions as NASS members are representatives of Nigerians and even as resolutions are not laws they remained weighty in the eyes of the Jonathan administration.

He cited some of the controversial resolutions to include the SEC resolution, invitation of the president on security, Bakassi and the resolution on the BPE.

He, however, said the National Assembly's power to sanction the president through resolutions were low as no provision of the law gives the legislature powers to sanction the president.

On Aruma Oteh, he said she had been cleared by Price Waterhouse of any crime or abuse of office and said she was eminently qualified to man the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Okupe, who also said it was wrong to summon the president at will as he is not just any Nigerian and could not be giving security briefs in the open but to a select group of the intelligence community.

He admonished National Assembly members to, in the interest of the Nigerian people, always strive to find a common ground instead of what he called "unnecessary grandstanding and playing to the gallery".

Okupe is ill-informed - Mark

In a quick reaction, the office of the president of the Senate faulted the presidency's statement. A statement issued by the media adviser to the Senate president, Mr. Kola Ologbodinyan, said Okupe was ill-informed in his diatribe and warned him not to fan the ember of discord between the executive and the legislature.

The statement reads in part: "Our attention has been drawn to media attacks on the Office and Person of the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, by Senior Special Assistant to the President Dr. Doyin Okupe to the effect that the President of the Senate derided President Goodluck Jonathan during the budget presentation on Wednesday.

"It is instructive to first state that Senator Mark and Mr. President are on the same page in the onerous task of ensuring the actualisation of the transformation agenda of this administration.

"There was nothing derisive in the welcome address of the president of the Senate at the budget presentation. We challenge Dr. Okupe to revisit the speech and discover his misadventure.

"It is therefore strange that Dr. Okupe would meddlesomely attempt to create unnecessary disaffection between the legislature and the executive.

"It is common knowledge that budgets are estimates of revenues and expenditures of the Federation for the next financial year. Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is very explicit. The position of the Senate which was expressed by the President of the Senate is that, in line with constitutional provisions, the legislature has a right of appropriation.

"Dr. Okupe as a public affairs manager has a responsibility to make friends and create a harmonious working relationship between the executive and other arms of government. His job is not to make enemies and create unfavourable atmosphere for Mr. President.

"We take exception to such unwarranted attack on the Office of the President of the Senate and we urge Dr. Okupe to know his limits."

A response from the speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, said: "The speaker wishes to state that the remarks of the two leaders were in conformity with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) and that all statements by the two leaders were backed by facts and figures from field studies by the legislators and expert advice."

The statement signed by the special adviser on media and public affairs to the speaker, Imam Imam, said, "It is apparent that Okupe is dabbling into areas where he is totally ignorant about.

"The uncouth manner in which he replied elected representatives showed his apparent lack of respect to the legislature as an institution. The entire remarks he made gave him out as an overzealous official doing a hatchet job in order to be relevant in the scheme of things.

"The speaker and the House of Representatives will always stand by the tenets of good governance and true representation at all times."

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