By Sudiq Ibraheem
The Presidency came to the rescue at the nick of time. It was appropriate, timely and God-sent. The Presidency literally belts the cat and put the so-called budget padding in proper perspective.
The Presidency made its views known on the vexed issue through the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang. The duo agreed that the 20126 budget signed by President Muhammadu Buhari was never padded at any given time.
Udoma specifically insisted that it was not possible for Buhari to have assented to the much-taunted padded budget. This is because of the tedious process of passing budget. He explained it out this way:
“I will like to explain the process of our interaction with the National Assembly in terms of the budget. When the Executive finishes with the budget, it is taken to the National Assembly; the assembly processes the budget, then they invite us to explain what we have done, after this they send it back to the Executive. If we are satisfied with it the President signs it; and if we are not, we ask them to look at the document again.
“In this case, we were not satisfied and for the reasons we had given at the time, we asked them to look at the document again. When they finished, they sent it back and it was a better document and the President was able to sign.”
Enang could not agree less, saying there was no room for padding. He was sure this was not possible; because the budget passing process was well articulated:
“There was, to our knowledge, nothing like padding of the budget. The budget as assented to by Mr. President is the budget passed by the National Assembly and that is the same budget being executed.”
There the Presidency rested its submission on budget padding. It gave a clean bill of health to Speaker Yakubu Dogara, the man in the centre of the controversy, who immediately took it up from there. He continued from where he stopped, arguing that padding should not be taken as corruption.
It was an explanation he had to make after being grossly misunderstood. But last week Dogara meticulously marshaled his point and threw it open for public debate. This time around, he made himself pointedly clear, no ambiguity; he wanted to change the direction of the discourse. He spoke in Abuja at the Civil Society Dialogue Session on one year of the Legislative Agenda, put together by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC).
That was a perfect forum for one to lay bare his views and argue his case. It is only a novice that would not explore and exploit such an opportunity. Dogara lashed on it to the best of his ability and knowledge. He took the maximum advantage of the auspicious occasion and its audience.
He made it known and clearly that members of the National Assembly cannot be prosecuted for discharging their constitutional responsibility of lawmaking including the budget process. That is the gospel truth; he entered his case in this manner:
“The constitution talks about the estimates of revenue and expenditure to be prepared and laid before the National Assembly. The constitution did not mention the word budget. And the reason is very simple. Budget is a law. Going by very pedestrian understanding of law, the function of government is such that the Legislature makes the law, Executive implements and the Judiciary interprets the law.
“I want this thing to sink so that we can understand it from here and perhaps it may change the ongoing discourse.
“If you say the National Assembly does not have the powers to tinker with the budget, that we just pass it. When it is prepared and laid, we turn it into a bill. If it is a bill, how does other bills make progression in the parliament in order to become law?
“If you contend that we cannot tinker with the appropriation bill, though it is a money bill, it therefore goes without saying that we cannot tinker with any executive bill.
“Because if they (Executive) bring a bill they will not consult the public to say come and give us your input on this bill. It is the legislature that does that by the instrumentality of public hearing and when we aggregate your views is only our duty as representatives of the people including the media and CSOs to make sure that your voices are reflected so that by the time we hear from you we now turn it into a legislative bill and when it gets to the President and he signs they say some people have padded the bill.
“They cannot be ground for any investigation on the procedure or proceedings to commence against a member of parliament either the Speaker or the President of the Senate once they are done in the exercise of their proper functions.
“The law is there you can go and read it. This is in order to give independence to the legislature. If the legislature is not independent we cannot do anything. If whatever you say on the floor of the House or in the committee is subject to litigation then all the members will be in court. And at the end of the day when debate comes you cannot even air your view. Nobody can hear you.”
That was how Dogara put the imaginary padded budget where it rightly belongs; the dust bin. He was encouraged and emboldened to do so by the apparent nod from the Presidency. He did not expect it and never worked for it. But when it came, he was not careless to let it slip away unutilised. He went all out to make maximum use of it; it paid off handsomely too.
Just as Enang suggested earlier, let us wait for the APC’s findings on the matter that is very dear to us all; both friends and foes. He said: “The party is handling it as a domestic party affair and has enjoined all of us not to make public comments on it, because the matter is still under consideration.
“We would not want to get into the detail of it so that we won’t preach the ethics or directives of the party or pre-empt the findings of the party.”
•Ibraheem contributed this piece from Abuja