After weeks of intense horse-trading, President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday finally signed the 2013 Appropriation Bill into law. It was during a brief ceremony attended by the leadership of the National Assembly executive.
The budget-signing ceremony, which took place in the president's office, was performed in a dramatic manner: without the presence of the media as had always been tradition. While State House correspondents were asked to wait at the briefing room of the Council Chambers, only close aides to the president, National Assembly leaders led by Senate president David Mark and Speaker Aminu Tambuwal as well as a handful of members of the executive witnessed the event.
LEADERSHIP had reported last week that the president was to sign the 2013 budget last weekend, but it was learnt that issues bordering on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Nigeria Governors' Forum occupied the period.
The special adviser to the president on media and publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, in a statement after the event, noted that the signing of the budget followed consultations and an agreement between the executive and the legislature on the 2013 Appropriation Bill.
Abati said the president reassured "all Nigerians that the consultations have been in the best interest of the country, and in pursuit of understanding and mutual cooperation between both arms of government".
"As part of the understanding reached with its leadership, the observations of the executive arm of government about the Appropriation Bill as passed by the National Assembly will be further considered by the National Assembly through legislative action, to ensure effective and smooth implementation of the 2013 Appropriation Act in all aspects," he added.
He stated further: "The administration remained fully committed to the positive transformation of the country and effective and efficient service delivery for the benefit of all citizens.
"All ministries, departments and agencies of the federal government have therefore been directed to work very hard to ensure that all the services, projects and programmes contained in the budget are successfully delivered on schedule in spite of the slight delay in its enactment."
After signing the budget, Senate president Mark and House speaker Tambuwal came out of the president's office, entered the same Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) that brought them and zoomed off the Villa without making any comment.
Coordinating minister for the economy and minister of finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; director-general, Budget Office, Bright Okogu; and special adviser to the president on National Assembly matters Joy Emordi were also there.
Emordi directed State House correspondents to meet Dr. Abati, arguing that it would be morally wrong for her to speak since it was not within the jurisdiction of the National Assembly.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives had passed the budget on Thursday, December 20, 2012, but the budget had to be delayed following controversies over the sharp differences in the estimate proposed by President Jonathan and the final figures passed by the National Assembly. The president had risked having his veto overridden by the National Assembly today, had he not signed the budget when he did.
Following a breakdown in negotiations between the presidency and the legislature on the details of the 2013 budget, earlier yesterday, the leadership of the two chambers had decided take a further step to decide the procedure for overriding the president's assent to the budget.
Constitutionally, the process can only be done during a joint session of both chambers, hence the need for the Senate and the House to meet and decide how the process will go. The outcome of the meeting is to be discussed with the members of the House today.
Disclosing this yesterday after the members rose from an executive session which lasted about two hours, the chairman of the House committee on media and public affairs, Hon Zakari Mohammed, had said the matter dominated the meeting: "Nobody is ready to shift ground on the issue and overriding the president's veto is not out of place. Like I have said before, the National Assembly is not afraid to do that but we were just exploring other options so that it doesn't get to that.
"We will move on to the constitution provision. By tomorrow (today), when Mr Speaker comes and briefs us on the outcome of the meeting, we will take a decision.
"The House leadership is to meet with the Senate and report back to the House tomorrow morning. They are to discuss the possibility of the National Assembly taking a decision on the non-assent of the budget till now."
The Senate also disclosed yesterday that the contentious areas around the 2013 budget have been resolved with the executive arm of government, just as it debunked reports insinuating the likelihood of it applying its constitutional veto powers on the budget following President Jonathan's failure to sign the budget after the 30 days provided by the 1999 Constitution (as amended). The disclosures were made by the chairman, Senate Committee on Information, Media and Public Affairs, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, at a briefing with newsmen at the National Assembly, against the backdrop of controversies surrounding the delay in signing the 2013 budget by the president.
Abaribe said: "Whatever differences that have been there will be resolved in no time today... Let me say that we do not have any problems at all with the executive on the basis of the budget. All the issues that have come out in this budget have been resolved and we think that, in the shortest possible time, this budget will be signed by Mr President and implementation will begin. So, there is nothing like overriding any veto or any such thing. It's not what the Senate has resolved in any way. So if anybody has a contrary opinion, he can voice his opinion but that is not the opinion of the Senate...There is no problem between the National Assembly and the executive with respect to the budget."
Reacting to allegation that the National Assembly unduly padded the 2013 budget with constituency projects which many, including the presidency, say has caused delay in the signing of the 2013 budget, Abaribe said, "Let us just not go and start seeking problem where there is no problem. And I am saying very clearly here: will a budget made by the executive and brought to the National Assembly be returned to the executive without being tampered with? If you do that, then, the National Assembly has no role but if the National Assembly has a role, then, the role of the National Assembly is not to pass anything that is given to it without looking at the very different details.
...IBF scores Nigeria low on performance
Meanwhile, the transformation agenda of the federal government and its effort at improving Nigeria's economy and image before the international investors and credit rating agencies have suffered a major setback as the International Budget Partnership (IBP) scored the country a paltry 16 per cent for the 2012 performance.
The IBF which released its 2012 Open Budget Index, the biennial survey, in Washington DC "assesses whether the central government in each country surveyed makes eight key budget documents available to the public, as well as whether the data contained in these documents is comprehensive, timely, and useful.
The survey uses internationally accepted criteria to assess each country's budget transparency developed by multilateral organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the International Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI). The scores on 95 of the 125 Open Budget Survey questions are used to calculate objective scores and rankings of each surveyed country's relative transparency. These composite scores constitute the Open Budget Index (OBI). "
The IBF is the world's only independent and comparative measure of budget transparency. Nigeria's score of 16 per cent is a show of consistent descent in the transparent process expected of governments in the management of public resources. This score is below the 18 per cent in 2010, 19 per cent in 2008 and 20 per cent the oil-rich country attained in 2006.
The score was assessed as a very poor performance compared with the average score of 43 per cent for all the 100 countries surveyed. It is also lower than the scores of its neighbours -- Ghana, Liberia, Sao Tome and Principe and Sierra-Leone. The IBP report, which is available to the media, says that "Nigeria's score indicates that the government provides the public with scant information on the national government's budget and financial activities during the course of the budget year. This makes it challenging for citizens to hold the government accountable for its management of the public's money."