In truth, President Muhammadu Buhari did not recognise the budget he signed on June 20 as the same one he presented to the National Assembly on November 17 2017. That day, the president asked the lawmakers to approve an expenditure of N8.6 trillion for this year. However, after ‘deliberating’ for over six months, the federal legislators raised the expenditure level to N9.12trn, an increase of N678 billion.
In doing so, the lawmakers raised the price of oil against which the budget was benched, took funds from certain projects in the appropriation bill to those they introduced without consultation with the executive which has the constitutional right to spend funds. The cuts amounted to N374 billion and affected 4, 700 projects. They included the terminal building at Enugu airport the cost of which was cut from 2 billion Naira to 500 million Naira. The other is the take-off grant for the Maritime University in Delta State which the government condidered “a key strategic initiative”. Funding for it has been cut from 5 billion Naira to 3.4 billion Naira.
The projects the lawmakers smuggled in are 6,403 in number and would cost N578 billion, according to the president. Besides, they went on to increase the budget of the Nstional Assembly from the N125 billion appropriated by the executive to N139.5 billion. The president’s worry is that “Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation. Some of the new projects inserted have not been properly conceptualized, designed and costed and will therefore be difficult to execute.”
In other words, the president is saying the lawmakers have made the 2018 budget impossible to implement. It cannot execute its projects with reduced funding neither can it the ones introduced by the lawmakers because there is no providion for them in the appropriation bill from the executive. Yet the president signed it. His reason: “Notwithstanding the above stated observations, I have decided to sign the 2018 Budget in order not to further slow down the pace of recovery of our economy, which has doubtlessly been affected by the delay in passing the budget.”
Without reopening the old debate about whose responsibility it is to appropriate funds, the executive’s or the legislature’s, it is immediately clear that what the lawmakers have done is selfish of them, therefore, morally wrong. They increased their budget but removed N500 billion from money set aside to compensate workers under the Pension Redemption Fund and Public Service Wage Adjustment. The National Assembly has been described by very eminent Nigerians, incuding former President Olusegun Obasanjo, as a house of corruption. From the padding of the 2018 budget, need we any further proof? We condemn utterly the insensitivity demonstrated by our so called representatives, and dare say it is their pockets they are concerned with, not the welfare of ordinary folks.
Now the bigger issue to resolve is the controversy over who should exercise the constitutional power to appropriate public funds. The president believes the constitution resides that power in the executive to “propose budgets” because “it is the Executive that knows and defines its policies and projects”. The legislature also believes the same constitution gives it the power to amend the budget. Only the judiciary, the third branch of government that has the constitutional duty to interprete laws, can rule on the issue. Let the two contending parties approach the courts to address this apparent constitutional lacuna, if indeed, therè is one.