It is often said that when two elephants fight, the grass suffers. However, we often overlook the fact that even when two elephants make love, the grass suffers too. This explains the relationship between the executive and the legislature and the impact of this relationship on the citizens. When the executive and the legislature fight, they try to undermine and delay each other and this results in the delays and frictions in the approval of the budget and other necessary laws that will have positive impact on the people.
During the 8th session of the National Assembly, budgets were delayed more than six months into the budgeting fiscal year with negative impact on the people. On the other hand, when the executive and the legislature are in love, there will be a high probability of both colluding to embezzle the state funds to the detriment of the people. So, the constitution clearly specified the functions of each of these arms of government and enjoined them to dutifully carry out their functions for the peace, order and good governance of the country. This relationship is most needed in the issue of the budget, which is the most important piece of legislation in the country.
A budget is a statement of expected income and expenditure for a given period, usually one year. It is a mere estimate and being a mere estimate, the oversight function of the legislature is more important than the approval function of the legislature. This is because, in approval, the estimate represents hopeful wishes which may or may not come to pass. But during oversight function, the legislature is dealing with how the budget has fared and the level of success that the nation attained in the implementation of the budget. They are now dealing with realities. The progress or failure of the nation depends on how serious the legislature takes its oversight function. According to the Constitution, oversight function of the legislature is channeled towards exposing corruption, inefficiency and waste. These are the three greatest problems of Nigeria. On the day the legislature will live up to its responsibility in these areas, Nigeria will be transformed into a first class world within the shortest time possible.
Unfortunately, in Nigeria, it is during the approval of the budget that we witness the most crises between the two arms of government because of padding, whereas in advanced countries, it is during the oversight function that you witness most frictions between the two arms of government because the legislature there are not interested in padding. Padding is the adding of projects to the budget by the legislature without the consent of the executive and this has been the major source of conflict between the two arms of government since 1999 and has also undermined the ability of the legislature to conduct its oversight function on the executive as the padding of the budget has the effect of settling and compromising the legislature who added them once he is allowed to implement them. He can no longer move against the executive if the executive fails to perform.
Generally speaking, the legislature makes the law while the executive implements the law. They are equal, but separate arms of government. The legislature was established to check the excesses of the executive. As regards this issue of the process of making the budget, the relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution are Sections 58(1), 59(1)(a), 80(2), 81(1)(2). For benefit of clarity, we will reproduce some of the sections in full. Section 80(2) states that, “No moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation except to meet expenditure that is charged upon the fund by this Constitution or where the issue of those moneys has been authorised by an Appropriation Act, Supplementary Appropriation Act or an Act passed in pursuance of Section 81 of this Constitution”. Section 81(1) states that, “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”. While Section 81(2) states that, “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”.
From the foregoing provisions, we can deduce that the preparation of the estimates of the revenues and expenditure in the budget lies squarely on the executive and the only heads of expenditure to be included in the Appropriation Bill are the ones presented by the President to the National Assembly. The authorization of the budget lies squarely on the Legislature.
Legal minds readily agree with me that one of the cardinal principles of interpretation of statutes is that the express mention of one thing is the express exclusion of other alternatives. It would appear from this that the express mention of the President as having the power to prepare the estimates of revenues and expenditure in the budget expressly excludes the power of the Legislature to do the same. The power of the Legislature to authorize, therefore, is limited to removing any head of expenditure it finds not to be in the interest of the people and reducing any amount of money slated for any project, which it finds too much for the project. With respect, the Legislature has no power to add any project, head of expenditure or increase the amount of money slated for any project once the budget is presented by the President to the National Assembly. There is no place in the Constitution where the word constituency project is mentioned.
This position respects the constitutional principles of separation of power, checks and balance. For instance, the Legislature is the approving authority and cannot at the same time be an initiating authority. If this is allowed, we will come to a point where the Legislature will allocate all the money to itself and approve it by overriding the President’s veto. This was the major reason the framers of the Constitution removed the power to initiate any project in the budget by the Legislature because no arm of government can check or balance it. On the other hand, the Legislature being the authorizing authority, can check the excesses of the President by rejecting or reducing his budget proposals in line with the wishes of the people.
We note also that the budget, when passed into law, called an Appropriation Act, is binding on the executive to implement and the President cannot refuse to implement it without reasonable and verifiable excuse. Indeed, it is an impeachable offence for a President to wilfully refuse to implement any item on the budget. It will be unusual for the Legislature to unconstitutionally introduce its own projects and pad the budget beyond the capacity of implementation by the executive and turn back to hold the executive responsible for its lack of implementation.
Having clearly enunciated the legal requirements of the law as regards the processes involved in making a budget, we want to point out that there is nothing in the legal process that limits the power of the legislature to engage the executive, through political process, to ensure that certain projects which will be of benefit to the people are included in the budget, before the President causes it to be laid before the National Assembly, but to unilaterally add any project or pad the budget in any form and approve the same, after the budget is presented to it, without consultation and consent of the President, we submit, with respect, that the Legislature has no constitutional power to do so. The President should also consult the Legislature as an important arm of government before preparing and presenting the budget to ensure that the budget reflects the interest of all. This will certainly reduce the friction between these two important arms of government and ensure speedy and early passage of budgets for the benefit of the people. With the good relationship between the executive and the legislature of the 9th session of the National Assembly, we have no doubt that the 2020 budget will receive the due speed and approval it deserves.