Between The Presidency and National Assembly: A Case for Legislative Independence

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By Omogbolahan Sheba

The legislative arm of government, the arm of government primarily responsible for making laws, in recent times has consistently engaged in a ‘’warfare’’ of some sort with the executive arm of government on the rather arbitrary use of legislative power by the former in amending, expunging and recalibrating the letters of an already submitted budget forwarded by the executive. The Appropriation bill (Budget) as is the case in most nascent democracies is required to go through the distilling processes and inward requisite scrutiny by the legislatures. This in most cases will require Ministers, heads of agencies/parastatals to defend what has been prepose forward to the legislatures. This paper is inspired by the consistent complaints by the executive as regards the continual alterations, additions to the budget already made and set forward to the National Assembly for passage. This paper seeks to scrutinize and further bring to bare the legality of the National Assembly to alter the letters and figures of a budget put forward by the Executive. At the end of this paper the reader will be able to appreciate the issues raised and ostensibly solutions offered.

As stated earlier, the legislative arm of government, a creation of the 1999 Constitution as amended as stated in Section 4 (1) is vested with the responsibility of making laws. In relation to our discuss, we are more concerned with the power of the legislature to alter, amend a budget proposal forwarded to it by the executive. In understanding this, first thing is to take a rather critical approach at understanding the process at which a budget comes into fruition and the necessitating input of the legislature in this regard.

The budget as is the case in most democracies is the life wire and road map for any government and administration. The budget acts as a blue print, guide for government expenditure in a fiscal year. The budget however in compliance with democratic tenets and principles of checks and balances is usually prepared by the executive arm of government and subsequently forwarded to the legislative arm for approval. Like in most democracies, in the United States, India and Nigeria. The budget comes by way of an Appropriation bill which is forwarded to the parliament by the executive and passed to become an Act of parliament. The Appropriation Act when passed is the compass and sensory organ directing government spending.

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THE NIGERIAN SITUATION:

In relation to Nigeria, the executive arm of government has perennially complained about the high-handedness and overbearing attitude of the Legislature in altering with the Appropriation Bill sent to it. In one of the most recent vituperations by President. Muhammadu Buhari dated the 10th February, 2022, in seeking the approval of the National Assembly for the Supplementary budget 2022 decried the penchant attribute of the National Assembly in removing, adding, altering certain key projects contained in the Appropriation Act. 

IS THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY ACTING ULTRA-VIRES?

This brings us to the key question. Is the National Assembly, acting outside its authority? The National Assembly is the arm of government primarily responsible for making laws, however, to state poignantly it will rather be an obvious act of ignominy to bask in the euphoria that the legislative power of the National Assembly ends at law making.

Understanding the concept of Budgetary process, as explained earlier, the Appropriation Bill comes to the National Assembly as a ‘’Legislative Bill’’ which for all intent and purposes is subjected to the regular distilling process of a Bill prepose before parliament. That is, the Appropriation Bill goes through the regular procedure of a legislative bill and often its subjected to readings, committee scrutiny, debates, defense before eventual passage by the parliament and then forwarded to the President for assent.

Having a cursory look at the provisions of Section 81 (1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended it states thus;

  1. (1) 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.

(2) The heads of expenditure contained in the estimates (other than expenditure

charged upon the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation by this Constitution)

shall be included in a bill, to be known as an Appropriation Bill, providing for the

issue from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the sums necessary to meet that

expenditure and the appropriation of those sums for the purposes specified therein.

In giving this provision it’s literal interpretation, one is constrained to understand that the very intention of the draftsmen is that the Appropriation Bill should be subjected to legislative procedure and scrutiny, in fact, to further reiterate already stated postulations, the whole essence of this procedure is to checkmate the advertent excesses of the executive that may be occasioned in the cause of preparing the budget.

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Understanding the principles of Separation of Powers, which whole essence is for institutions and arms of government to act separately and independently from each other, the legislative arm of government as a matter of fact is not an appendage of the executive but rather both institutions ought to be partners in the wheel of progress. The only solution left for the executive is to forward a Supplementary Appropriation Bill in most cases to parliament and to further harmonize and liaise with the National Assembly in areas of national interest rather than outrightly seeking to arm twist parliament into believing that they ought not to perform their constitutional legislative functions.

Section 81 (4) states the need for the President to put forward a Supplementary Appropriation Bill when the amount appropriated in the Appropriation Act is insufficient, it states-

                  Section 81 (4)- If in respect of any financial year it is found that –

                   (a) the amount appropriated by the Appropriation

                   Act for any purpose is insufficient; or

                   (b) a need has arisen for expenditure for a

                   purpose for which no amount has been

                   appropriated by the Act,

                  a supplementary estimate showing the sums

                  required shall be laid before each House of the

                  National Assembly and the heads of any such

                  expenditure shall be included in a Supplementary

                  Appropriation Bill.

The (Supplementary Appropriation Bill) as explained, although is to allow the executive prepose forward additional Appropriation Bill where the amount appropriated in the former is found insufficient, it is important to state that this procedure also is subjected to the same procedure as the former.

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Conclusively, the executive arm of government can not in any way act in isolation and therefore needs the support of the legislature. Thus, the way these perennial complaints by the executive can be settled is when there is regular harmonization between both arms of government. Rather than seeking to arm twist the legislature, the executive should be persuasive and both arms of government should act in National interest.

Omogbolahan is a lawyer in Abuja, Nigeria and can be contacted on gbolahansheba@gmail.com or 07039075997

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