If President Goodluck Jonathan fails to sign the 2013 Appropriation bill within the next two days, the development may lead to a constitutional crisis. The National Assembly may therefore rewrite the document or the issue may be referred to the Supreme Court for interpretation of the lawmakers' power to rewrite the budget.
The National Assembly had passed the 2013 Appropriation Bill in December 2102 and sent the details of the document to Jonathan on January 14, 2013. The president ought to sign the budget within 30 days of the receipt of the document (i.e., February 14, 2013) in line with section 58 (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
But the president reportedly raised issues over some figures and some grey areas which needed clarification between the executive and the lawmakers.
The development prompted the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to initiate moves to broker reconciliation between the arms of government in order to resolve the lingering impasse.
But the coordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, lent credence to the ongoing stalemate when she stated that the 2013 budget was not yet ready for signing.
The minister, who spoke yesterday in Abuja, added that discussions between the executive and the National Assembly were ongoing in a cordial atmosphere. She, however, clarified that talk of the president signing the budget this week was premature as there was still much work to be done.
She said, "Whereas discussions between the executive and the National Assembly are ongoing in a cordial atmosphere, it is not yet clear when they will be concluded as much work remains to be done. Against this background, reports stating that the president will sign the budget this week are therefore not realistic.
Falana raises the alarm
But a human rights activist, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), has raised the alarm that Jonathan can no longer sign the Appropriation Bill 2013 into law after February 14.
According to Falana, the president is estopped from signing the budget into law by virtue of the said section 58 (4) of the constitution.
The section states that, "Where the President, within 30 days after the presentation of the Bill to him, fails to signify his assent or where he withholds assent, then the bill shall again be presented to the National Assembly sitting at a joint meeting, and if passed by two-thirds majority of members of both Houses at such joint meeting, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required."
Falana further claimed that the constitutional crisis might be referred to the Supreme Court for necessary adjudication.
In a statement made available to LEADERSHIP last night, Falana said, "Dissatisfied with the resolutions of both chambers of the National Assembly to add N63 billion to the budget and increase the oil benchmark from $75 to $79, the president has withheld his assent.
"The decision of the Peoples Democratic Party leadership to mediate in the lingering face-off between President Jonathan and the members of the National Assembly over the former's refusal to sign the 2013 budget has been overtaken by events.
"Having not assented to the Appropriation within 30 days of the receipt of the receipt of the bill, the president is mandatorily required to present the bill to the joint sitting of the National Assembly which may decide to pass it by two-thirds majority. However, in order to resolve this lingering constitutional crisis, President Jonathan should request the Supreme Court to determine the extent of the powers of the National Assembly to rewrite the budget."