In spite of the speedy passage of the 2013 Appropriation Bill by the National Assembly, indications emerged at the weekend that its implementation may not take effect from January 1, 2013 as envisaged.
The National Assembly had a fortnight ago passed a N4.987 trillion budget for the 2013 fiscal year but the lower chamber effectively blocked any appropriation for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in what observers described as a sign of the escalation of hostilities between the National Assembly and Presidency over the issue of SEC Director-General Ms Arumah Oteh. The House had called for Oteh’s sack over issues bordering on high handedness at her duty post.
The presentation of the budget estimates in October was based on the understanding that the National Assembly will give the bill accelerated passage and President Goodluck Jonathan would sign it into law for the budget to commence on the first day of 2013. However, there were speculations that the president had refused to sign the budget into law because he had reservations on some of the clauses included in it.
One of them, it was learnt, is the tenth clause which states thus: "All revenue howsoever described including all fees received, fines, grants, budgetary provisions and all internally and externally generated revenue shall not be spent by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for recurrent or capital purposes or for any other matters nor liabilities thereon incurred except with prior appropriation and approval by the National Assembly."
The President was said to be insisting he would not sign the budget unless the clause excluding the SEC from the budget was deleted. Checks have however revealed that even though both chambers of the National Assembly passed a harmonised version of budget before proceeding on holidays, the full details of what they approved was yet to be transmitted to the Presidency. Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi however dismissed the speculation that that the President refused to sign the budget. Emodi said that she was neither aware of such a decision nor is it in tandem with the disposition of the Presidency towards the National Assembly particularly on budget issues.
She explained that the President had always been a team player and would have sought dialogue with the leadership of the National Assembly if he had any misgivings on the budget.
"There is a harmonious relationship between Mr. President and the National Assembly. Mr. President is a team player and to say he has refused to sign the budget connotes hostility," she said.
If he does not like anything in the budget as passed by the National Assembly, he would definitely have communicated his position to the leadership and members of the two chambers with a view to resolving the issues amicably.
"Remember that it was the President that initiated the process of having the budget passed early. He ensured that he presented it early and the National Assembly reciprocated that gesture by passing the budget of a succeeding year, for the first time, before the end of the preceding year. He cannot be the one to delay the process now because he is not serving himself but the Nigerian people," Emodi said. However, checks at the weekend showed that the National Assembly may be laying an ambush for the Presidency on the 2013 appropriation bill.
A member of the Senate Committee on Capital Market, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, disclosed the assembly was aware of the possibility of the President withholding assent from the bill because of the combative position of the lawmakers on SEC’s matter.
According to him, with the passage of the 2013 budget, the National Assembly has presented the Presidency with a fait accompli on Oteh except the President withholds his assent.
The lawmaker said if the budget is not signed by the President within the 30-day timeframe, then the National Assembly would come to the conclusion that the president has vetoed the bill in order to protect the embattled SEC DG.
"We are aware that a number of bills are still pending before the President because he has not signed them and what the rule says is that when a bill has been passed by two chambers of the National Assembly and forwarded to the President and he refuses his assent within 30 days, then the National Assembly would move to override his veto and the President’s assent would not be required.
"We are just waiting for the 30-day grace to expire before we take our decision but I must confess that there is no going back on our position that the present director general of SEC should be removed based on a plethora of petitions and complaints against her," he said. He said it was left for the Executive arm to either build on the cordial relationship with the National Assembly or allow the interest of a single individual to spoil the relationship.
Chairman House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, said that the National Assembly chose to tighten the noose around the SEC’s neck in view of the weight of allegations leveled against Oteh by her staff and professionals in the capital market. Explaining that the lawmakers did not have anything personal against her, Mohammed said, "What we are saying is that certain requirements have not been met; practitioners came during the public hearing on the issue to complain that she is not competent, the situation is we have a wrong person in place."
He said he would not preempt the President on whether or not he will veto the bill, warning against actions that may heat up the polity. Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Hon. John Enoh expressed disbelief about the speculation that Jonathan had refused to sign the budget.
Enoh said that the information might not be correct given the structure of the budget when it was passed on December 20, 2012. "I am not aware. But if it is true, then we have to confront it when we come back. The way we passed the budget and immediately went on break meant that a few things were left undone. What was passed were the broad figures and we needed to put together the full details before the budget can be transmitted to the President. This will take some time but it is only when the full details of the budget has reached the President that one can then begin to count the days to know whether it has been signed or assent had been withheld.
"As it is now, the idea that President Jonathan has refused to sign the budget because of the Oteh matter does not even arise," Enoh explained.
Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon Afam Ogene also ruled out the possibility of President Jonathan refusing to sign the budget because of the clause regarding the Securities and Exchange Commission. He however hinted that it will take about two weeks into the new year before the full details of the budget will be compiled and conveyed to the President.
Ogene argued that whenever the two chambers of the National Assembly pass a harmonised budget, the President is constitutionally bound to sign it.
"By the laws of the land, he should sign it, but if he doesn’t because of one misgiving or the other, then the proper thing to do is to convey his misgivings to the National Assembly," he said.
Ogene said that if it becomes an outright refusal and the National Assembly is convinced of its collective decision on the budget, the law will also take its course.
The implication is that there is a strong possibility that when dialogue fails, the National Assembly may override the President’s veto on the budget as a last resort.