Abuja — President Goodluck Jonathan last night signed the 2013 budget into law, averting an unprecedented constitutional crisis and a face-off with the National Assembly.
Confirmation of the President's assent of the budget came as the House of Representatives spoiled for war, yesterday, at a closed door session of the House.
At the end of the session, the House had resolved to mandate its leadership to consult with the Senate on taking action concerning the President's purported refusal to give his assent to the budget.
President Jonathan, however, took the wind off the sail of his critics last night when he signed the budget into law despite what the presidency described as its reservations.
President of the Senate, David Mark; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, and Special Adviser to the president on National Assembly matters, Senator Joy Emodi, were among other dignitaries present at the signing yesterday.
A statement by Dr. Rueben Abati, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, said further legislative actions would be taken by the National Assembly to address the observations made by the presidency on the N4.98 trillion budget passed by the National Assembly.
The president had last October presented to the National Assembly a N4.92 trillion spending proposal for the Federal Government which the National Assembly, however, hiked to N4.98 trillion when it passed it last December.
President Jonathan had refused to give his assent to the budget transmitted to him on January 14 on the claim that there were mistakes in the details, the refusal to apportion funds for the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, and the increase in the benchmark for oil revenue from $75 per barrel to $79 per barrel.
The statement confirming the president's assent to the budget bill read: "Following consultations and an agreement between the executive and the legislature on the 2013 Appropriation Bill, President Goodluck Jonathan today (yesterday) signed the bill into law.
"President Jonathan wishes to reassure 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.
"The administration remains 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."
If he hadn't signed...
If the president had failed to sign the budget at the end of the 30 working days deadline, he would have been expected to re-present it, or another proposal, to the National Assembly in line with Section 59 (4) of the Constitution.
A constitutional lawyer in the National Assembly pointed to what he claimed was the ignorance of presidency officials who were mistaking the constitutional provisions on appropriation with that pertaining to other bills.
Whereas Section 58 of the Constitution pertaining to ordinary bills allows the president to wield a veto on a bill passed by the National Assembly and allow the National Assembly to override the veto, the president is, however, bound by the provisions of Section 59 (4), which applies to money bills, to re-present the budget where he applies the veto.
(4) Where the President, within thirty 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.
A constitutional lawyer in the National Assembly leadership speaking on the issue, yesterday, expressed concern that the country could be headed towards a constitutional crisis unless the President immediately signs the budget bill.
Speaking before the President signed the bill last night, the source said: "It is in the best interest of the President to sign the bill before him otherwise we are headed towards a constitutional crisis where the budget would be taken from him and he would no more have a say on it.
"Should he fail to sign it, he is now bound to physically re-present the bill to the National Assembly and from then he would lack any power to make an input again."