The controversy over the powers of the National Assembly with respect to the Appropriation Act appears set to shift to the courts. This is because the President has been ordered by the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos to ensure the prosecution of principal officers indicted in the alleged padding of the 2016 budget, to the tune of N481 billion. The court, presided over by Justice Mohammed Idris, made the order following a suit by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).
According to a report, SERAP had approached the court claiming that it has “credible information from multiple sources that the Department of State Services, DSS, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, have completed investigations into the allegations of padding of the 2016 budget, completed their reports, and indicted some principal officers of the House of Representatives and the Senate, and that the accounts of some of the principal officers containing allegedly illicit funds have been frozen, and that the case files for the prosecution of those indicted were ready.”
If the claims are correct, we wonder why the relevant agencies needed to wait for the President or a court order, to exercise their lawful responsibility to prevent the commission of crime, investigate allegations of crime and prosecute those indicted over a crime. Of course, we are aware that the lawmakers have always claimed to be entitled to tinker with the budget as they deem fit, regardless of the estimates presented by the executive.
Perhaps budget padding is a different kettle of fish, from tinkering with the budget submitted by the executive as we witnessed even with the 2018 budget, now awaiting the President’s signature. We recall that in 2016, the former chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriation Committee, Abdulmumin Jibrin, claimed that after the House had approved in a general session the budget, the principal officers, including him, connived to pad the budget.
If that was what happened in 2016, then even for a lay man, a prima facie case of corrupt practice may have been established. So, we welcome the opportunity for this national cankerworm to be dealt with once and for all. We note, that since 1999, every year, the Nigerian psyche is assaulted by a budget process that smacks of unbridled brinkmanship. Just recently, the former Minister of Finance under President Goodluck Jonathan, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, alleged that the National Assembly inserted about N17 billion into the 2015 budget, before agreeing to pass same.
Was that another case of budget padding, or was it the exercise of legislative rights over the appropriation bill? If it is the exercise of a legitimate power, then the nation is in big trouble, in the hands of an unscrupulous legislature. A legislature that has the powers to extort and hold the executive to ransom, before it performs perhaps one of its most important functions, is most dangerous. So, we welcome this opportunity for the court to determine the extent of legislative powers as provided in the constitution, particularly sections 80 & 81 of the constitution, on powers and control over public funds.
We commend SERAP and urge the President to obey the orders of the court immediately. One of the orders he could obey right away, is to “direct the publication of the report of investigations by security and anti-corruption bodies into the alleged padding of the 2016 budget,” as ordered by the court. That publication should be followed by the prosecution of those involved in the alleged padding.
We commend Justice Idris for his sagacity in granting SERAP the locus to sue and for the expansive orders directing the President to monitor public expenditure, against corrupt practices.
Source: The Nation