Should President Goodluck Jonathan sign the 2013 Appropriation Bill now, as submitted to him by the National Assembly, he would be violating the constitution and committing illegality.
This was disclosed by radical lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, who quoted the Nigerian constitution to back his claims.
According to Mr. Falana, the impasse that has so far stalled the signing of the 2013 Appropriation Bill into law may not be resolved anytime soon until President Goodluck Jonathan re-presents the Bill to the National Assembly.
The President had on October 10, 2012 addressed a joint session of the National Assembly where he presented a N4.25 trillion budget proposal, tagged “Budget of Consolidation and Inclusive Growth.”
In line with the executive’s desire to see the 2013 budget passed before the end of last year the two chambers of the National Assembly approved the proposal on December 20.
The controversial amendment
Though the lawmakers adopted the crude oil production capacity of 2.53 million barrels per day and an exchange rate of N160 to the dollar proposed by the executive, they raised the benchmark oil price from $75 per barrel to $79, and added extra N63 billion to the budget.
Other key assumptions and parameters in the 2013 appropriation accepted by the lawmakers included gross domestic product growth rate of 6.5 per cent and inflation rate of 9.5 per cent.
Senate spokesman, Eyinnaya Abaribe, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES few days after the approval that the Appropriation Bill was immediately transmitted to the president a day after lawmakers passed it.
But, apparently angered by the decision of the lawmakers to review upwards the proposed crude oil price benchmark from $75 per barrel to $79, in addition to the N63 billion smuggled into the final budget, key members of the executive, including the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, denied receiving the document.
The President was to later declare that he would withhold his assent to the N4.924trillion Appropriation Bill till the lawmakers rescinded their actions on the oil benchmark, zero allocation to the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, and removal of extraneous items injected into the original proposal.
Since then, various stakeholders have intervened to broker a truce between the President and the National Assembly over the crisis which appears to have slowed down government business.
Though Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala on Tuesday acknowledged ongoing interventions, including by the leadership of Nigeria’s ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to resolve the impasse, she dismissed as “premature” and “unrealistic,” speculations that the President was going sign the budget this week.
However, indications are that even if PDP were to succeed in brokering peace, the President would be treading the delicate path of disobedience to the provisions of the constitution if he goes ahead to sign the Appropriation Bill without re-presenting the amended proposal to the National Assembly for confirmation.
Signing an illegality
Mr. Falana told PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday that the Appropriation Bill 2013 can no longer be signed as it is by the president, as the budget has already been overtaken by events following the lingering face-off.
According to the constitutional lawyer, even if the various interventions were to succeed in resolving the crisis, the President can no longer legally assent to the Bill without violating Section 58(4) of the Constitution.
The provision states: “Where the President, within thirty days after the presentation of the Bill to him, fails to signify his assent, or where he withholds assent, then the bill shall again be presented to the National Assembly sitting at a joint meeting, and if passed by two-thirds majority of members of both Houses at such joint meeting, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.”
Since the lawmakers passed the budget proposal since December 20, 2012, the refusal of the President to assent to the Bill has lasted beyond the mandatory 30 days stated by the constitution.
“Having not assented to the Appropriation within 30 days of the receipt of the receipt of the Bill, the President is mandatorily required to present the Bill to the joint sitting of the National Assembly, which may decide to pass it by two-thirds majority,” Mr. Falana said.
On the alternative, he said, President Jonathan could approach the Supreme Court to seek its intervention to determine the extent of the powers of the National Assembly to rewrite the budget in order to resolve this lingering constitutional crisis.