THE Senate, on Thursday, said that it would not concede its powers to the executive, including its powers on the budget, adding that its consultations did not in any way suggest that it had given up legislative powers as contained in the constitution.
The Senate decision followed a Point of Order raised by the Deputy Leader of the Senate, Senator Bala Na’Allah, at the plenary.
Also, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, read the Riot Act to the executive arm of government on the 2017 Appropriation Act, saying failure to implement the budget was an impeachable offence.
Dogara, speaking on the matter of privilege raised by Honourable Lawal Abubakar, who claimed that he read in the dailies that the acting president was quoted as saying the National Assembly had no right to introduce new project in the budget before passage, expressed doubt over the statement.
According to Dogara, “I don’t even want to believe that the acting president made that statement; I don’t want to believe that, sincerely speaking. Because when it comes to the issue of the budget, I think we better say this thing and make it very clear, so that our people will have a better understanding. When it comes to the budget, the power of the purse in a presidential system of government rests in the parliament.”
According to him, “the reason the constitution designers made it that way is because the executive is just one man, it is just the president. Every other person in the executive is acting on behalf of the president; so the relationship between the president and every other person there is that of servant and the master.
“It is only in the parliament where we have representatives of the people that there is equality and you can say your mind on any issue, you can bring matters of priority the way you like. The only time you can be cautioned is when you go outside the rules of debate but in the executive, it is not the case.
“In this part of the world, people exercise executive functions on behalf of the president and want to be like experts in emotional intelligence. Even when the president has not said anything, people are trying to understand what the body language says so that they can tailor their arguments to suit the body language of the president, otherwise that might give them a sack.
“So, the entire architecture of presidential democracy is that it should run on the basis of consensus and convention between the parliament and the executive, and when there is disagreement between the executive and the parliament, the framers of the constitution were smart enough to say ‘look, our hope is in the representatives of the people and not in the executive’, so the parliament can even go along.
“In the case of the budget, for instance, if it were the case that parliament disagrees with the executive on the budget, the worst the executive can do is to say they will not sign and after 30 days if we can muster two-thirds and it doesn’t have to be two-thirds of the entire membership, once quorum is formed, two-thirds of the members sitting and voting, we can override the veto of the president and pass it into law.
“The only other option open to the executive is to say because we didn’t assent to this, this is the budget of the parliament, so we will not implement, but the point is that all of them, including us, are under an oath to faithfully execute the laws of this land. Then the question that will follow is if this a law of the land and the answer is yes.
“We are men of honour whether legislators or executive are bound by the oath of office to faithfully execute that law and in the case of the executive, if it is not done, all of us know the very consequences. I don’t want to call it by its name, we know the consequences. So, in this kind of government, the winner is obvious. So I don’t think we should bother ourselves belabouring this issue.
“We all know where these powers are and under our watch, there is no way this House will be a rubber stamp of any executive. Budgets are priorities of the government because we are representatives of the people.
“We can say even though these are priorities of the government, based on our job of representation, these are not the priorities of the people and we can refuse to fund them.
“In the United States where we borrowed our constitution from, the minute the president steps into this hall with the budget, it is pronounced dead on arrival. It is only what is passed by the parliament that is alive,” the Speaker stated.
Also, quoting Order 43 of Senate Standing Rule, Na’Allah said there were media reports credited to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to the effect that the National Assembly did not possess any power to alter the budget.
He expressed concern that such statement was attributed to the acting president, saying he was knowledgeable enough in law.
“We have operated the Constitution from 1999 till date and I have had the privilege to work with the acting president while I was practising in Lagos as a lawyer.
“We did a lot of things together. So, he is somebody I know very well.
“I will rather believe that what was alleged to have been said could not have been said by him and even if he spoke on the matter, he was misquoted.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this same Constitution we operated from 1999 till date has section 80, and the title of section 80 is ‘Power and Control over Public Funds’,’’ he said.
He read out the provisions of sections 2, 3 and 4 of the constitution to support the argument, adding that it recognised that Nigeria operated a federal structure.
Na’Allah said the constitution also recognised that Nigeria was multilingual, multi-ethnic and multi religious and that was the reason issues of domination were raised in the constitution-making process.
He explained that it was the fear of domination that made framers of the constitution to provide for representation on the basis of population, land mass and on the basis of equality of states.
“This was what gave birth to a bicameral legislature – the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House provides representation based on population and land mass, while the Senate is based on equality of states.
“So, I know that the acting president, who is a Professor of Law, is sufficiently trained in law to know that the National Assembly has powers to tinker with the budget.
“I am not making a case for him and I do not want to believe that he said what he had been alleged to have said.
“I also want to assuage the fears of my colleagues that what was alleged to have been said does not represent the spirit of the framers of our constitution,” Na’Allah said.
He said the explanation was necessary to allay the fears of the lawmakers.
In his remarks, the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, said there was no ambiguity in the constitution on the responsibility of the National Assembly.
He commended the Deputy Leader of the Senate for raising the point and said he was also sure that the acting president was misquoted on the issue.
“This matter has been cleared and settled by the constitution. So, I don’t think there are issues here that are vague.
“I will like to believe too that the acting president must have been wrongly quoted,” he said.
Saraki said the leadership of the National Assembly has had consultations with the executive.
According to him, those consultations did not, in any way, suggest that we would give up legislative powers as contained in the constitution.
“I want to reassure our members on this because it is very important. Based on what we have heard, you may be concerned that one way or another, the leadership has given up some of these powers.
“That is not the case. I believe that as responsible statesmen, there are times we consult and do our best to work with the executive and assist them.
“But as we bend backwards, I don’t think it should be misrepresented that powers given to us in the constitution do not exist.
“That is not the case and this Senate will continue to defend the constitution and ensure that anything we do is in line with the laws of the land,” Saraki said.
The Senate, after its sitting, adjourned till July 4.