Leadership (Abuja)

26 February 2013

Nigeria: As Budget 2013 Remains Unsigned...

editorial

What has been playing out in the government of Goodluck Jonathan over unsigned bills could rightly be described as a drama of the absurd. It boiled over with the president's refusal to sign the 2013 Appropriation Bill passed since December 20, 2012, by the National Assembly. Twenty other bills passed by the National Assembly and transmitted to President Jonathan in the last two years have not been assented to. The president had signed only 10 other bills within the period.

The legislature has repeatedly accused the president of refusing to sign some important bills and ignoring resolutions duly passed by the National Assembly. Virtually all the 20 bills have lapsed now as they were passed and forwarded to the president between November 2010 and June 2011 by the Sixth National Assembly.

However, there are grave concerns that the president will need to re-present the bill to the National Assembly because it is statute-bound. President Jonathan cannot sign the 2013 Appropriation Bill now; otherwise he would be violating the constitution and committing illegality. The budget has already been overtaken by events following the lingering face-off. According to the constitution, even if the various interventions were to succeed in resolving the crisis, the president can no longer legally assent to the bill without violating section 58 (4) of the constitution which stipulates, "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."

Running an economy without an Appropriation Act is not only criminal; it is suicidal to the state. The impasse that has so far stalled the signing of the 2013 Appropriation Bill into law does not appear to be waning. There has not been a rapprochement on the benchmark for oil predicated on $79 by the National Assembly, which the executive arm pegged at $75. The lingering battle over the legality or otherwise of constituency projects that shot up the budget is unceasing. And no one has the final say on the zero allocation to the Arunmah Oteh-led Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The current disagreement between the two arms of government over the content of the budget would have been ironed out before now, if there had been adequate consultations at the level of budget preparations. The misunderstanding on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Medium Term Sector Strategy (MTSS) would have been resolved by the relevant committees of the National Assembly and the president's economic management team. This is not how to run a nation. It is sad, anti-people and sordidly deplorable.

As things stand, the president is mandatorily required to present the bill to a joint sitting of the National Assembly, which may decide to pass it by two-thirds majority. Alternatively, President Jonathan could approach the Supreme Court to seek its intervention to determine the extent of the powers of the National Assembly to rewrite the budget.

One issue, however, is clear: the executive and legislative arms are competing rather than collaborating as a government. A house divided against itself cannot stand. The presidency needs to explore more avenues for cooperation with the legislature to move the nation forward. An adversarial relationship would have been avoided if everything was not predicated on ego, blackmail and money politics.

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