Lawyer and pro-democracy activist, Mr. Tunji Abayomi, has warned the acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, not to sign the 2017 budget into law and advised him to initiate a public interest litigation against the National Assembly for increasing the budget submitted to it for approval by the President.
Mr. Abayomi’s position was made known in a letter to the acting President. Dated 23 May, the letter described the decision of the federal legislature to increase the budget by an estimated N143billion as unconstitutional and a reboot of the “primary source of conflict between the Executive and the Legislative arms of government” since the country returned to civil rule in 1999.
The pro-democracy activist noted that the National Assembly is empowered by the constitution only to approve the budget, not to create a budget head, insert projects in the budget, increase the budget submitted to it or allocate money as it wishes.
“It is emphatically the prerogative of the President to manage the national economy, to determine how much money he needs to carry out the execution of the economic ends of his administration, which he has the duty only to determine. The President owes a duty in keeping with the sacred authority presumed to be given to him by the Constitution to execute the Constitution and laws to ensure that national powers are not unduly centralized or accumulated in the legislature or fragmented to the detriment of other powers,” wrote Mr. Abayomi.
He pointed out that the practice predates the 2017 budget, recalling that he once had to complain in a letter to the National Assembly leadership in 2002 when he wrote to Messrs. Pius Anyim and Ghali Na’ Abba, the then Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively.
In the letter, dated 14 June 2002 and excerpted in the recent one, Mr. Abayomi said he warned that the decision of the National Assembly to increase the budget was a bad precedent.
The lawyer argued that it amounts to “strange legislative extravagance” that the federal legislature, which the constitution authorizes to approve the budget will, at the same time, sit to make a budget.
“For example, the President’s budget may be placed on rational national income estimate outside the consideration or contemplation of the legislature, in which case, the increase initiated by the National Assembly exceeds rational budget ceiling based on national income. Any increase by the National Assembly will often amount to subversion of presidential expenditure power and, accordingly, will be in excess of legislative responsibility,” he argued.
He explained that what the Constitution stipulates is that the National Assembly should work with the budget presented to it by the executive arm and not one created by it.
The National Assembly, he reiterated, cannot increase any expenditure head, as such will amount to creating a budget for the country, an action outside its primary sphere of making laws.
“The legislature that is inaugurated by the constitution to approve the heads of expenditure contained in the estimates in our national budget is not meant and ought not to be a master of the Executive. Its responsibility is to make laws, not expenditures or other executive decisions. It is the President, as head of the national administration, with exclusive national constituency power of the Republic as Chief Executive Officer, that is required to lay his expenditures and purposes thereof, before the National Assembly for approval, not for inclusions or additions. The legislature must approve, but not without input,” Mr. Abayomi maintained.
While conceding that the legislature can intrude in the budget as representatives of the people, he explained that such intrusion is limited.
“First, it can refuse to pass the budget until its interest is affirmed therein by the Executive, but not the legislature itself. Second, it can forward to the Executive its preferred interests, specifically requesting from the Executive some accommodation within the budget,” he submitted.
According to Mr. Abayomi, the Executive, realizing it depends on the legislature, will, under normal circumstances, accommodate the interests of the legislature as much as is feasible or possible. He stated that in a democracy, all issues are negotiable where the interest of the populace is paramount. The lawyer added that the best approach is avoidance of confrontation between the Executive and Legislature.
This, he noted, is possible when the budget office of the Executive has a cordial relationship with that of the legislature in a way that ensures arrival at an acceptable estimate before presentation to the National Assembly.
Mr. Abayomi pointed out that the unconstitutional intrusion into the budget by the legislature resulted in the National Assembly increasing its own budget by N10billion over what it spent last year.
By its unconstitutional increase of the budget, submitted by the President for approval, Mr. Abayomi stated, the National Assembly has violated the principle of separation of powers, the country’s law compels to avoid the concentration of different powers in just one hand.
He supported his position with the 1982 Supreme Court ruling (Bendel State V The Federation, which stated: “The object of the creation by the Constitution of the three separate departments of government is not merely a matter of convenience or a governmental mechanism, but to preclude the comingling of different powers in the same hand.”
Mr. Abayomi warned that if the acting President fails to make the National Assembly comply with the constitution, he will initiate litigation against the federal legislature to end the trend of bad leadership.