By Chinelo Obogo
Minority leader in the House of Representatives, Leo Ogor, has stated that the legislature has the constitutional right to veto President Muhammadu Buhari’s decisions and will not concede its powers to the executive. He said this recently on a Television interview, monitored in Lagos, while defending the decision of the lawmakers to insert new items into the 2017 budget.
There are concerns that the delay in the signing of the budget comes with its own challenges. For example, there are reports that you and your colleagues inserted over 400 new items into the budget. Why did that happen?
Every budget has a financial year and Section 318 of the constitution defines what a financial year is. When you examine one of the clauses in that section, you would see that there is a major lacuna which borders on budget preparation. So, for us to address the issue properly, we have to go to the root of budget preparation. The executive needs to understand that in preparing a budget, you must carry every Nigerian along. Who actually prepares the budget of this country? It is the civil servants that prepare the budget, and what actually is a budget? These are the questions that they need to ask themselves. If a civil servant can confidently write a budget and you are saying that the representatives that are close to the people cannot be privileged to have water and basic facilities in their areas, then automatically, you are empowering them to offer poor representation no matter how you look at it.
But in a situation where for instance, you find community projects like boreholes in a federal budget, does it not give you a lot of concern that there is a misplaced priority?
It could be, but these are purely allegations. Let me tell you what happens; in the 2016 budget there were projects that were introduced, but when the executive were preparing the budget, they removed all those projects. Some of those projects were projects that had actually been awarded and it would be very unwise for us as lawmakers not to re-introduce these projects into the budget because the government had already started spending money on them. So why would you stop a project when you have already started the funding of some of them? It does not make any sense.
From the budget that was passed by the National Assembly, some of your colleagues were accused of cutting off funding from some projects like the Lagos/Ibadan expressway that was presented to the National Assembly. Is that not a fact?
The executive is the one that spends and that is why they need to understand what the law says. On the issue of the Lagos/Ibadan expressway, we debated the issue and we could see a major problem in our federalism. There is what we call the East-West road and there are people who probably would not use the Lagos/Ibadan expressway which is a very important road in the South West geo-political zone throughout their lifetime. If you ask them to choose between the two roads, definitely they would choose the East-West road. That is where the legislator comes in because the constitution is very clear that there must be fair distribution of the resources that would be used for all these projects.
From recent events, it does look like the National Assembly arm-twists the executive into having its way. Is that correct?
I believe that there is one major problem that we have not appreciated in this country; let us look at the clear principles of separation of powers as stipulated in the constitution under sections 4, 5 and 6. Section 4 of the constitution gives the legislature the power to make good laws for the country while Section 5 states that subject to the provisions of the constitution the executive powers of the nation is vested in the President, while the judiciary is vested with the powers to interpret our laws. So, if you put the three arms of governments in hierarchy, you’ll observe that the executive comes last.
Do you not think that the legislators are over reaching themselves?
The constitution gives the legislature some high level of exclusivity. No bill from the executive or anyone is finality; it cannot come to the legislature and you expect that bill to go back the way it came. If you look at section 59, subsection 4 of the constitution, it gives the power to the legislature to veto the President if he refuses to sign any bill passed by the National Assembly and it would become the law of the land.
The constitution gave the executive the right to append their signature to a bill, but if they refuse, National Assembly can veto the President. The responsibility of the President is to execute the laws passed by the National Assembly, except they are telling us that the budget is not part of our lawmaking process.
Are you worried about the way and manner things have gone, causing tempers to rise?
I am very worried because if care is not taken, there would be a major crisis, which we do not pray for and the House has taken two major decisions to that effect. I do not envy the acting president because I can only imagine the pressure that he would be facing. He should continue with his approach of reaching out to different groups. I also advise the security agencies to be careful about how they handle the situation, because if they do not handle it properly, it might snowball into another major crisis. Osinbajo should tell the Arewa youths to withdraw their statements because the unity of Nigeria is not what we should be discussing.
The Southern leaders have given the Federal Government till October 1 to implement the recommendations of the National Conference. In a country where we have a parliament, how can such recommendations work?
We have to be properly guided by our constitution, and even if there is a National Conference report, it has to be presented to the National Assembly. When the conference issue started, we disagreed with the approach because there was no enabling law guiding it, but in the interest of democracy, the executive can send the document to us. I believe that most of the requirements in the document are reflected in the amended constitution, but if there are some specific issues it can be resolved.