From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Presidency has described as fictional reports that President Muhammadu Buhari is angry with members of the National Assembly over budget padding by over N700 billion in the 2022 budget, including insertions of 6,576 new schemes worth about N37 billion.
In a statement by Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the Presidency said while it is true that Buhari expressed disagreement with the padding and many other alterations, including the “reduction in the provisions for many strategic capital projects to introduce ‘Empowerment Projects”, innumerable lies are being spread about the President being “angry” at, had “blasted” or “lashed out” at the Parliament. This is farther from the truth.
The statement read in parts: As the President of the Senate, Dr Ahmed Lawan said shortly after the budget-signing ceremony, disagreements as the ones listed by the President are normal in the everyday Executive-Parliamentary relationship because, as he explained, “executive and legislative judgements don’t always have to be the same.”
“While we note that there are people who are trying to create a fiasco between the two arms of government on account of the budget, we assure that they will, in the end, be disappointed. The Executive and the 9th National Assembly have since moved away from the wild, destructive political games of the past, conducting themselves in a way that puts national interest supreme in their decisions. We doubt if there is a patriotic citizen who wants to see the return of the operating environment engendered by the 8th Senate when an elected government was held in chains, held hostage to the desperate political ambitions of a clique, and the public denied needed services including that which impinged on national security. Happily, the 9th National Assembly is more about policy than politics.
“Under the constitution, both arms of government are coequal and at the same time, independent and interdependent. The rule of the game is cooperation and the President, as a democrat fully accepts this.
“Rationale for Assenting to the 2022 Appropriation Act:
“Mr. President was clear and candid in expressing his reservations with the numerous changes to the 2022 Budget made by the National Assembly, which would hamper its implementation. However, to respond to critics that question why assent to the Budget if it was so severely tampered with, we wish to respond as follows:
(1) Need to Save Value-Additive Projects, Programs & Policies:
Although over 10,733 projects were reduced and 6,576 new projects were introduced into the budget by the National Assembly, there are tens of thousands more provisions in the 2022 Budget, all of which, when efficiently and effectively implemented, will have significant developmental impact on the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Nigerians.
Given Mr. President’s commitment to improving the lot of the Common Man, it was felt that it would not be wise to throw away the baby with the bathwater. Ongoing Capital Projects, Critical Recurrent Votes, Priority New Projects – all feature in the 2022 Budget and Mr. President’s forbearance in assenting to the Budget will save these provisions from implementation delays and other challenges.
(2) Dealing with Modern Democratic Norms:
President Buhari is a democrat who deeply believes in the supremacy of the Constitution, with its checks and balances across the three arms of Government. In terms of the passage of legislations like the Appropriation Act and other Money Bills, the National Assembly has equal responsibilities with the Executive. Indeed, if Mr. President had declined assent to the 2022 Appropriation Bill, the National Assembly has powers to override the President’s veto if they can drum up a 2/3 majority vote. This is the constitution. Happily, this situation has not arisen during the tenure of Mr. President’s Administration, and the Executive’s relationship with the Leadership of the 9th National Assembly is much improved over what happened with the 8th National Assembly. It is on account of his confidence in the strength of this excellent working relationship that Mr. President has directed that an Amendment Budget Proposal should be prepared and submitted to the National Assembly, once they return from their recess. It is hoped that the National Assembly will carefully consider and approve the 2022 Amendment Budget Proposals, once presented to them in due course, for the benefit of all Nigerians.
It is important therefore that, in place of “anger” or confrontation, President Buhari showed the democracy-loving side of his personality as he signed the budget at the same time calling for dialogue with the parliament to resolve the contentious issues.
The Presidency under Muhammadu Buhari and the parliament under Lawal and Gbajabiamila are committed to a good neighborly relationship and this or any other disagreement between the two arms of government will not alter the dynamics of that relationship.