Politics

Disquiet Over NASS’ Extension of 2023 Budgets Lifespan

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Lawyers have expressed fears that the National Assembly's approval of President Tinubu request for an extension of the implementation period of the 2023 budgets from June 30, 2024 to Dec. 31, 2024 will give way to a lot of leakages, wastage, underhand deals and fraud which will not augur well for the country. FRANCIS IWUCHUKWU reports

Some senior lawyers have faulted the National Assembly's approval for an extension of the implementation period for the 2023 main and supplementary budgets to December 2024. The lawyers disclosed that elongating the tenure of the 2023 annual and supplementary budget to December 31, 2024, and for same to run concurrently with the 2024 budget would impact negatively on the polity. It would be recalled that President Tinubu had through a letter to the National Assembly sought a further extension of the implementation period for the capital component of the ₦21.83 trillion 2023 budget, and the ₦2.17 trillion 2023 supplementary budget from June 30 to December 31, 2024.

The Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, made Tinubu's request public while addressing his colleagues upon the lawmakers' resumption for a new legislative session. According to Akpabio, the president's request would be deliberated in a committee of the whole, after they reconvene from a closeddoor session.

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Also reading President Tinubu's request during plenary session, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas, quoted the president as saying that the extension would allow his administration to implement the two budgets fully. The request, according to the president, would involve extending the lives of the N21.8 trillion 2023 budget and the N2.17 trillion 2023 supplementary budget.

The president added that granting the request would also entail that the N27.5 trillion 2024 budget would also be running concurrently with the 2023 main and supplementary budgets. After suspending its rules, the Senate granted the president's request through an expeditious passage of the Bill seeking the extension, in less than 20 minutes. However, the president's request was met with stiff oppositions at the House of Representatives. Trouble had started when the Leader of the House, Julius Ihonvbere, moved for the second reading of the Bills. Apparently not happy with the development, the Minority Leader of the House, Kingsley Chinda, raised concerns about the request for the extension of the two budgets, saying it would be morally wrong for the country to be running on multiple budgets.

Concurrent running of two budgets is a blatant disregard for fiscal responsibility, transparency and accountability

He noted with dismay that the 2024 budget is currently being implemented, while the executive is still requesting for the extension of the 2023 main and supplementary budgets at the same time. He, therefore, made a proposal that important projects in the 2023 supplementary budget be moved to the 2024 budget.

Speaking in the same vein, Hon. Alhassan Doguwa stated that it would be morally wrong to have three budgets running at the same time. However, in his intervention, House Speaker, Tajudeen Abass, pleaded with his colleagues to support the extension of the 2023 main and supplementary budgets implementation. While stating that most items on the supplementary budget were security-related issues, many of the lawmakers started shouting “No, no.”

But after about 30 minutes of closed-door session that followed the rowdy plenary session, the lower legislative chamber extended the 2023 capital component of the 2023 Appropriation Act and the Supplementary Appropriation Act until December 31, 2024 amid opposition from some sections of the House.

Both chambers of the National Assembly had earlier in December 2023, extended the implementation period of the capital component of the budget, along with the ₦2.17 trillion 2023 supplementary budget passed in November 2023 to March 31, 2024. Again, on March 19 and 20, 2024, a further extension was sought by President Tinubu for the implementation period from March 31, 2024, to June 30, 2024. This was equally granted by the National Assembly.

BudgiT, Obi fume

In the meantime, a non-governmental organisation, BudgiT and the presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 general election, Peter Obi, has condemned the National Assembly's decision to grant Tinubu's request. BudgiT argued that shifting the termination date of the budget would no doubt turn the country's annual budget into what it termed as a biennial. The organization maintained that such negates both global and local practice as there is no provision for it in the 1999 constitution and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007.

A statement issued by BudgiT's Communications Officer, Nancy Odimegwu, quoted the group's Country Director, Gabriel Okeowo, as saying that it was worrisome that the President Tinubu-led Federal Government could be drafting a 2024 supplementary budget to be implemented alongside the 2023 yearly budget, 2023 supplementary budget, and 2024 annual budget. The statement titled; “Nigeria Proposes to Run Four Budgets Simultaneously – An Unprecedented Anomaly”, reads; “It is worrisome that the Federal Government is drafting another 2024 supplementary budget to be implemented alongside the 2023 approved budget, 2023 supplementary budget, and 2024 approved budget.

“Recall that the 2023 approved budget of N21.83 trillion, signed into law by President Muhammad Buhari in January 2023, was designed to run for twelve (12) calendar months from January to December, as is the practice globally. “In addition, while the 2024 Appropriation Bill was being drafted, the 2023 Supplementary Budget of N2.17 trillion was passed by the National Assembly and assented to by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu barely two months before the end of the 2023 fiscal year. “The National Assembly had initially extended the implementation of the 2023 approved budget and 2023 supplementary budget to June 30, 2024, and now to December 31, 2024.

“If allowed to be implemented, the practice would convert Nigeria's annual budget into a biennial one, a practice neither provided for by the 1999 Constitution nor the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007. “We call on the Federal Government and the National Assembly to amend the complications of this convoluted budgeting system and return to a disciplined January to December budget calendar. “We also urge the Federal Government to identify and implement only the projects and programs that align with Nigeria's overarching development goals, reduce inequality, and improve the lives of citizens, the bulk of whom are multi-dimensionally poor”

Also expressing his displeasure, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 elections, Peter Obi, condemned the “concurrent implementation of four national budgets by the Nigerian government”, insisting that it is a recipe for chaos, confusion, and catastrophe. In a post on his X handle, the presidential candidate posited that it is a blatant disregard for fiscal responsibility, transparency, and accountability. Obi, who held away as the governor of Anambra State argued that the action of the government would lead to frivolous items in the approved budgets competing with essential projects for limited resources, thereby, exacerbating the sufferings of the Nigerian people. Obi said: “All available evidence has confirmed that the Nigerian government is implementing four national budgets concurrently. This is in blatant disregard for fiscal responsibility, transparency, and accountability. It is also a recipe for chaos, confusion and catastrophe.

“This intentionally reckless action will lead to frivolous items in the approved budgets competing with essential projects for limited resources, further exacerbating the sufferings of the Nigerian people. “It indicates that the leaders are out of touch with reality and lack the competence to manage our nation's finances effectively. “Unfortunately, this deliberate act of fiscal recklessness is being undertaken by elected representatives of the people, thereby betraying one of the cardinal pillars of democracy. Leaders are elected to responsibly manage public resources in an organised way.

“I respectfully appeal and in fact, demand that this situation be reversed immediately in preference for a more responsible and transparent approach to budgeting. We must prioritise the needs of the Nigerian people, not the selfish interests of a few. “This is a call to action for all leaders to desist from actions that will further drive the country into economic chaos. “Neither the National Assembly nor the executive has any excuse to promote or condone such unconscionable behaviour. “We seek and insist on a nation governed by leaders who are frugal and responsible in their handling of public resources. This is the only way we can build a great nation”.

Presidency's response

While responding to a thread of tweets by the LP Presidential flag bearer alleging that government was running four budgets concurrently, the Senior Special Assistant, SSA, to President Tinubu on Media and Publicity, Temitope Ajayi, refuted the claims. Speaking through a post on his X handle, Ajayi said: “Yesterday, @BudgITng raised a false alarm on the basis of rumours that FG is planning a 2024 supplementary budget. “It is important to state that the FG is not planning to run 4 budgets within a fiscal year as being alleged. “The National Assembly only approved that implementation of the capital components of 2023 budget and 2023 supplementary should be extended to December 2024 to achieve its objectives.

“Our country can't achieve sustainable development when federal, states and local governments focus on only consumptive expenditures which is essentially what recurrent expenditures represent. “It is the capital expenditures that drive economic growth, strengthen private sector output and create employment opportunities for citizens. “As a reputable civic organisation, BudgIT can not afford to be flippant and be unduly sensational.

“Expectedly, @PeterObi has jumped on the false claims to push his new round of misinformation”. Corroborating Ajayi's claims, spokesman for the president, Bayo Onanuga, explained that the budget cycle was extended to December to ensure that the capital projects contained in the appropriations were not abandoned. Onanuga explained, “It is because it (the 2023 supplementary budget) is running simultaneously with the 2023 budget. “There are some elements of that budget that were not implemented. That is why they are moving it forward to be implemented. “They have already got the provisions meant for them. So, they are trying to make sure they implement them based on the provision of that budget. It means the 2023 and 2024 budget will run concurrently”.

Lawyers position

A cross-section of senior lawyers have however disagreed with the submissions of both Ajayi and Onanuga in trying to justify the action of the National Assembly on the 2023 budgets. In his comments, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mba Ukweni (SAN), queried the rationale behind the action of the National Assembly. Ukweni said: “How can the National Assembly approve the elongation of the tenure of the 2023 main and supplementary budgets to elapse on December 31, 2024? The 2023 budget has elapsed and there is a new budget in place. So, why would the National Assembly go and extend the life of the dead one?

“The old budget is finished, that financial year has ended, and the National Assembly has passed into law a new budget. Whatever the federal government needs to do should be done in the new budget. “The constitution has a policy of annual budget that should last for a specific period. That is why a supplementary budget can only come when the main budget is not there or when they are adding to the main budget, but not the one that is already spent.

They can only add to the extant one. “What the National Assembly did was an attempt to resurrect the dead because the 2023 budget is spent already”. In his submissions, a rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Mike Ozekhome, faulted the whole arrangement, describing it as untidy. “I thought when a budget finishes, they retire all the money back to the federal government treasury, then a new one starts.

However, the National Assembly under Section 4, 55-58 of the Constitution is empowered on budgetary and Appropriation matters and making laws for the peace, order and good government of Nigeria. “Even, if one questions the motives and the timing of this development, no one can question their powers to intervene legally and constitutionally on such matters as to how budgets are made, how they are expended and how they are signed into law.

“It is perfectly within their rights. Although, aside from that, I do not think it sounds and or looks to me quite tidy that budget balances of 2023, which ought to have been retired to the federal government accounts to give way to the new budget which had come into effect in January 2024, should now begin to run side by side with that of 2024. “It means we are now having two budgets simultaneously. This has never happened before in Nigeria. This will make nonsense of the new budget of 2024 that has been done.

It will give way for a lot of leakages, wastage, underhand deals and fraud which will not augur well for the country”, Ozekhome said. On his part, Chief Solo Akuma (SAN) expressed his displeasure at the National Assembly's action. He queried the lawmakers for assenting the elongation of the tenure of the 2023 annual and supplementary budget without an amendment to the Appropriation Act. He said: The budget each year is an Appropriation Act. The moment the budget is signed, it becomes an Appropriation. “So, to me, with all due respect, if they wish to extend it beyond the year it is meant for, then there is the need for an amendment of the Appropriation Act.

“The amendment to the Appropriation Act cannot be done through a motion. Where it is not done through a due process, then it becomes an unlawful step”. Dr Abiodun Layonu (SAN) while noting that a budget for a financial year runs from January to December, described the National Assembly's action as absurd. “If you have not implemented some things there, it is either you go make provision for them in the following year because you have not executed them. “A budget is just an estimate of what you want to do in terms of the financials and not even so much about projects that you would like to achieve. “If at the end of a particular year, and of which certain amounts have been provided for, but for one reason or the other the same had not been spent, you either take it back to the treasury. “But I think what the federal government is trying to do is what is called an abundance of caution by going to the National Assembly to seek approval”, Layonu said.

 


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