By Sam Akpe
Let’s conclude this discussion this way: It is wrong both in law and morality for the Executive to believe that the National Assembly must not alter any bill sent to it; particularly the Appropriation Bill which is the most important bill in any genuine democracy. It is even more shameful to have any lawyer of professional and moral repute canvassing such a position in courts and in the media.
Presently, aside from the Acting President who is a professor of law, the former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, a senior advocate of Nigeria, is also contesting the constitutional powers of the National Assembly to alter the Appropriation Bill sent to it by the Executive. In fact, a human rights crusader and senior advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, is already in court on the same issue even after a lower court had dismissed his earlier suit describing him as “a meddlesome interloper” on the issue.
Ordinarily, it would be taken for granted that all the aforementioned eggheads on the legalities and supremacy of the Constitution would be depended upon on matters of this nature. But it’s not happening that way. They seem to have taken contrary positions to our elementary understanding of the constitutional provisions regarding the relationship and powers of the Executive and the Legislature.
It is either all of us are daft or they are collectively pursuing a certain hidden agenda unknown to us. Why would the Constitution demand that an Appropriation Bill is prepared and presented to the National Assembly and the same Constitution is being interpreted as silently stating that such a bill should not in any way be altered both in facts and figures? I’m still waiting for a Osinbajo, Fashola or Falana to tell me the logic behind that provision and why they think that only the Executive is right and Legislature is wrong by virtue of Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
Somebody needs to wake me up from this nightmare. As correctly cited by Yakubu Dogara, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, in the United States of America where we copy our presidential system from, once a copy of the budget proposals is placed before the Congress, it is pronounced dead on arrival. It only comes back to life after the two chambers of the parliament has turned it inside out and return something close to the original copy to the President for implementation. That’s what happens in a real democracy.
Does it mean the Executive and the Parliament in America do not disagree on matters of Appropriation Bill or any other piece of legislation? Of course, they do. But their manner of resolving such disagreements is what matters. If you recall, it was disagreements over a legislation that resulted in the first impeachment of the President in American history.
As observed by Dogara, “the entire architecture of the presidential democracy is that it should run on the basis of consensus and cooperation between the Executive and Parliament; 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 alone.”’
The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It is not subject to personal interpretation and application. All the arms of government are bound by it. Just imagine Fashola asking the National Assembly to approve an unexplained expenditure of N20 billion in the Appropriation Bill so that anytime needs arise, he could just spend the money. That request had no sub-heading. He just needed an approval from the lawmakers. Let’s even assume that his request was genuine, what has happened to Supplementary Budget? Is it not stated in the Constitution that whenever a need for such expenditure arises, the Executive can apply for a Supplementary Budget approval?
Nigeria will be breeding or nurturing dictatorship if the position of the Executive on non-interference by the National Assembly on Executive Bills is allowed to stand unchallenged. It may soon come to a point where the President will have a bill drafted by the appropriate sector of government and signed into law by him without any inputs by the Nigerian people through the National Assembly.
We must understand that whatever name we call our National Assembly, and whatever deficiencies they presently portray, it still remains one institution that is representative of every Nigerian.
The moment the Executive succeeds in scrapping that institution by taking away its constitutional powers, particularly in the area of budgetary allocations, then we are in real trouble. If we must avoid such calamity, this is the time to rise and defend our rights; the rights of our representatives as enshrined in the Constitution.