After an unusually long delay of the 2017 Budget, the National Assembly, NASS, has finally passed the 2017 Appropriation Bill amounting to N7.441trn – including N143bn added on by the lawmakers.
The amount added is less than two per cent of the total sum approved. Despite this, some groups and activists are raising objections. While some insist that Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, cannot or should not sign the budget in the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari, others urge the Acting President not to sign on account of the N143bn increase by the National Assembly.
We strongly believe that those asking for a further delay are not well informed on both counts. It may well be that some groups have developed a cynical attitude to our Federal legislators such that anything done by the lawmakers which is not in tandem with the wishes of the Presidency is to be condemned out of hand.
To begin with, Osinbajo is the Acting President with all the powers of the President to go with that role. The letter that President Buhari transmitted to the National Assembly notifying it of his medical vacation in accordance with Section 145 of the 1999 constitution transferred full presidential powers to the Acting President, Osinbajo. Naturally, he will consult with Buhari, but he must sign the budget without further delay because, for the Nigerian economy, delay is dangerous. Second, it makes no sense for a budget held up until half of the year to be delayed further on account of a disagreement over a figure adjustment of less than two per cent, especially when most of the additional funds provided will be spent by the Executive Branch.
Third, in a Presidential system, such as we are practising, the legislature controls the nation’ purse. The NASS has the power to appropriate funds and also supervise how it is spent in line with its oversight functions. It has the power to approve funds without distorting the policy thrusts and development agenda of the government.
This is why the President’s Advisers on National Assembly Matters act like the bridge between the two arms of government to ensure that they work harmoniously for the good of the people. The National Assembly is not supposed to be a rubber stamp of the Presidency. They are representatives of the people employed by the constitution to provide checks and balances to check impunity.
To ask Acting President Osinbajo. not to sign because the NASS did its job is not only grossly out of tune with the constitution, it is also not in the national interest. The Acting President should sign the budget and proceed with gusto with its implementation to enable us to salvage what is left of this financial year.