Budget Padding: Between National Assembly and Law


By Barr. Chesil N. Drenkat

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria clearly and unambiguously spells out the distinct but symbiotic relationship between the functions of the executive and the legislative arms of Government with regards to originating and the passage of appropriation bill otherwise referred to as the Nation’s Budget for each financial year. Sec. 81(1) states “That the President shall cause to be prepared and laid before each house of the National Assembly at any time in each financial year estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the federation for the next following financial year. At this point, we may need to pause in a bit to construing, dissecting and assimilating the intentions of the constitutional requirement of Sec. 81(1) “.. Laid before each house of the National Assembly at any time….” vis-à-vis the constitutional role of the National Assembly subject to but not limited to Powers and Control over public funds, Public Revenue and Chapter II which is “FUNDAMENTAL OBJECTIVES AND DIRECTIVE PRINCIPLES OF STATE POLICY”. From the foregoing, I submit that the National Assembly’s role stands visibly like the Rock of Gibraltar with phrases such as “……. in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly, ……. authorized by an act of the National Assembly, commonly used and as randomly stated in sections 80 and 81 of the 1999 constitution. Laying proposed appropriation bill before the two chambers of the National Assembly is therefore pursuant to and consistent with the constitutional role of NASS with respect to Powers and control over Public Funds and Public Revenue and to ensure compliance with fundamental objectives and directive principles of State Policy as enunciated in Chapter II of the 1999 constitution. In this regard, the 1999 constitution envisage a healthy symbiotic constitutional relationship between the executive and the legislative arms of Government, one that is predicated on mutual respect (exclusive but interdependent in functions) all geared towards good governance for the Nigerian Nation. Padding the Budget: Pursuant to the constitutional requirement as contained in Section 81 of the 1999 constitution, the act of laying the proposed appropriation bill before the two chambers of the National Assembly necessarily suggest that the eyes and senses of the Nation represented by the 109 Senators, 360 members of the House of Representatives will take a cursory look in superintending over the administration and application of public funds. In the discharge of this enormous task, the Executive cannot honestly claim that the legislative chambers of NASS never detected flaws or serious errors in the appropriation bill such that would have rendered the bill suspect in motive and lacking in equitable spread to reflect our diverse and peculiar needs. For instance, former President Goodluck Jonathan ensured that attention via significant budgetary allocation was given to the standardization and functioning of rail lines from Lagos to Kano. In reciprocity, President Muhammad Buhari wants the commencement and completion of the Southern Coastal rail lines from Calabar to Lagos. Imagine if both Presidents initiated such laudable projects in their respective zones and the Hullabaloos it would have created, fanning regional suspicion. On the whole, by these projects, the two Statesmen would have achieved a coordinated network of rail lines linking the South East, South South and the entire North to the Coastal Seaports of Lagos and environs all to ginger and sustain economic growth pursuant to the objective of good governance. At both times, the National Assembly acted in tandem with their oath of office “and always in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity, solidarity, well-being and prosperity of the Federal Republic of Nigeria…” Padding is defined respectively as “using soft material to give comfort or dishonestly make bills more expensive than they should be”. By the 1st definition and with regards to the constitutional duties of both chambers of the National Assembly “—for the presentation of the Appropriation bill by the executive”, I am constrained to believe that adjustments, readjustments, alignment and realignment may be necessary and compelling. The act of doing so may be regarded as panel beating or padding (as being used now). To achieve this end, padding is a necessary action in the circumstance and in the interest of the constituent parts of Nigeria. Going by the second and negative definition of padding which is “Dishonestly make bills more expensive than they should be…” padding in this regards means blowing the budget out of proportion. Doing so makes the budget unrealistic and therefore unrealizable and if Mr. President gives consent to it by signing it into law, it will mean he has willfully walked into a legislative bobby trap. This later situation appears not to be the case from all information surrounding the 2016 appropriation bill placed in the public domain. The Nigerian public is aware that President Muhammadu Buhari withheld his accent until all grey areas were sorted out following which heads rolled in the budget office. It will therefore appear that the 2016 appropriation bill was flawed at inception and presentation to the National Assembly and inputs from both chambers adjusted it to realistic and implementable document before the accent of Mr. President was secured. Central to the entire budget imbroglio is the role of Reps. Abdulmumin Jibrin, erstwhile Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation. So vociferous was he that we were all held spell bound by his assurances and reassurance that the budget was never padded until Mr. President ultimately signed the bill into law. The padding controversy only came to the fore after he was sacked as Appropriation Committee Chairman. Determined not to sink alone or be used as a sacrificial lamb, he blew the whistle that indeed the 2016 budget was “padded” after all. ALLEGATION NO 1: That 10 House of Representative Committee chairmen padded their respective committees’ budget to the collective tune of N280 Billion. ALLEGATION NO 2: That Mr. Speaker and 3 other principal officers unduly pressurized him to appropriate additional N40 Billion constituency projects arbitrarily and disproportionately in their favour. On allegation No 1, it is apparent by this assertion that the act had been done by the 10 Committee Chairmen with the consent, collaboration and approval of Jibrin, erstwhile Appropriation Committee Chairman. This implies that the 10 benefitting MDA’s are involved in the scam or how else can they explain their silence when such increases on their respective budgets is a raging national issue. Jibrin’s claim in this regard is verifiable and can easily be detected since he is central in allocating the unsolicited increases contrary to the budgetary needs of the 10 MDAs. As a credible whistle blower, Jibrin should be bold to tell us at what negotiated price he allowed the N280 billion raise or if it was simply his official magnanimity, pro-bono as Appropriation Chairman to so dash out whooping amount. Taking wools off our eyes and not toying with the sensibilities of Nigerians, there is more explanation to be made on this allegation. On allegation No 2, my understanding is that Jibrin’s failure to bow to the pressure by Mr. Speaker and the three other principal officers led to his sack. It means the process was on-going but not concluded as at the time of Jibrin’s sack. Revelations that Mr. Speaker and the three Principal Officers got various sums in billions of Naira allocated for their constituency projects goes to suggest that members did not create a base and ceiling for the allocation of their constituency projects. The whistle blown by Jibrin in this regard is necessarily a wake-up call for members to ask for equity on allocation of constituency projects since being Principal Officers are mere privileges willingly conferred via elections that makes them first amongst equals. With party intervention, Nigerians expect speedy and amicable resolution of the sharing formula for the N100 billion already allocated for constituency projects. I make bold to suggest that it should be tilted more in favour of first time legislators who are not committee chairmen as to boost their relevance and pave way for their re-elections towards enhancing and entrenching the desired quality and continuity in Nigeria’s legislature and legislative processes. From the foregoing, unless further investigation reveals otherwise, I have not seen any infractions to the 2016 budget that may be construed as padding punishable under any known law or statutes in Nigeria. The Nation may be put on a wild goose chase that may turn up to be a needless distraction to the focus President Muhammadu Buhari ought to give in revitalizing the Nation’s sufficiently battered, raped and sinking economy, made worst by rising waves of regional economic criminalities that threaten to render Nigeria prostrate but for the strong willed personality of Mr. President. On the other hand, the National Assembly must put its house in order by stopping the emission of nuisance as the Nation has more than enough to contend with. In other climes, pursuant to the whistle blown and the weight of allegations made, Jibrin would have been arrested and kept in protective custody not just as a prime suspect central to investigation, but more for his safety and the interest of the nation. Going by his allegations, he has unapologetically cast aspersion on the integrity of the National Assembly in addition to injuring the Nation’s psyche and misleading Mr President into signing the 2016 Budget. Unless, investigation is concluded and prosecution becomes necessary, Jibrin remains the No. 1 Suspect, “Padder-In-Chief” in the whole sordid affairs popularly known as budget padding. It is therefore needless for any rational thinking person to suggest the resignation of Mr. Speaker or any Principal Officer of the National Assembly over these shallow and unsubstantiated allegations. Drenkat is a legal practitioner and public affairs commentator. He resides in Jos

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