The Senate yesterday poured scorn on President Umaru Yar’Adua’s implementation of budgets with its presiding officer, Chief David Mark, urging the administration to immediately reorder his seven-point agenda to a manageable frame. Driving home its frustrations on the implementation of the budget by the administration, the Senate President also ordered the Nigerian National Petroleum
Corporation (NNPC), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and all other revenue generating agencies of the Federal Government to pool their incomes into the federation account for appropriation by the National Assembly.
The Senate nevertheless advanced the N4.07 trillion appropriation bill for second reading yesterday.
Besides, the Senate resolved to stand down plenary sittings for the next two weeks to enable Senate committees attend to the budget proposals of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government.
Debate on the Appropriation Bill was repleted with complaints by Senators who complained on the poor implementation of the federal budget which was generally put at 30 per cent for capital projects.
While Senators from the Niger Delta including Senators Paulker Emmanuel, Effiong Bob, James Manager and Nimi Barigha-Amange, faulted the overwhelming weight of the East-West road on the budget of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, others like Senator Joy Emodi faulted the sectoral allocations in the federal budget.
Senator Emodi described the 6.1 per cent growth rate projects as over ambitious.
Gains and Pains of Yar’adua’s absence, By Taiwo Adisa, Group Editor, Nigerian Tribune
One week ago, President Umaru Yar’Adua left Abuja, Nigeria’s seat of power, for Saudi Arabia on an appointment with his doctors at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital.
President Yar’Adua, who has not really enjoyed good health since he emerged the president in May 2007, had left the country in the wake of the budget impasse that rocked the National Assembly.
The two chambers of the National Assembly were engaged in what appeared to be a bitter feud over the venue of the joint sitting for the presentation of the 2010 budget.
Yar’Adua had sought the permission of the lawmakers, through letters he forwarded to the President of the Senate, Senator David Mark and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Dimeji Bankole, on November 17, 2009. The presentation was to hold on November 19.
The correspondence asked the National Assembly to permit the president entry into the chambers for the purpose of a joint sitting to present the budget estimates. President Yar’Adua had said that his request was in line with Section 81(1) of the 1999 Constitution, which mandates the president to cause estimates of expenditure and earnings of the federation to be laid before the chambers of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
But a twist crept in just a day to the planned budget presentation, when the Senate president asked the spokesman of the Senate, Senator Ayogu Eze, to announce a change in venue from the lower house to the Senate chamber.
It would be the first time such a change would take place and members of the House who complained that the Senate chamber was too small to accommodate the entire 469 lawmakers and members of the president’s entourage, threatened to boycott the event.
President Yar’Adua was subsequently advised by the Senate to adhere strictly to the letters of Section 81(1) of the 1999 Constitution, which does not mandate him to personally present the budget estimates.
The president immediately got the message and as if he was waiting for that advice, news came from the Presidential Villa, on Monday, November 23 that Yar’Adua would send the budget through his Special Adviser on National Assembly Matters, Senator Mohammed Abba Aji, while he would be on his way to Saudi Arabia that day.
The promptness of the president’s decision to abide by the advice of the Senate on the matter has raised issues to the effect that many now hold the belief that the budget impasse was originally contrived as a result of the president’s deteriorating health condition.
There is no gain saying the fact that the nation has been on a cliff edge since President Yar’Adua left the country on November 23.
There can hardly be any gain from such a departure, as it was largely impromptu. The president apparently left the country without communicating his absence to the President of the Senate, in accordance with Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution.
The section says: “Whenever the president transmits to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, a written declaration that he is proceeding on vacation or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such functions shall be discharged by the Vice-President as Acting President.”
The implication of the above situation is that the vice president cannot be seen as acting president, no matter how long Yar’Adua stays in Saudi Arabia to attend to his health.
The grave implication of this is that files that demand the president’s attention can only be taken to his table and they cannot be attended to by the vice-president.
It also means that bills that have been passed into law by the National Assembly, which are awaiting the president’s assent, have to wait since there is no law recognising the vice-president as acting president in line with the dictates of the constitution.
Already, sources confirmed that two bills prepared by the National Assembly, including the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) budget of 2009 and the Public Procurement Amendment Act 2009, which are awaiting presidential assent, could not be assented to for now.
In the same vein, the budget bill, which is currently undergoing legislative action in the National Assembly, cannot become operational even if it is given accelerated passage by the lawmakers.
The president, who will put pen to paper to give such bills the force of law, has to endorse the documents or do so through the acting president, who has to emerge through the provisions of the 1999 Constitution stated above.
It means that the entire country can be shut down in the absence of the president and an acting president. The constitution has not given specific roles to the vice-president, thus making him almost completely incapacitated unless he is duly recognised as acting president.
Section 141 of the 1999 Constitution establishes the office of the vice-president, while Section 142 indicates that nomination of a candidate to the office of president shall not be deemed to have been completed unless he nominates an associate as vice-president.
The sections state thus: 141. “There shall be for the federation a vice-president.
142. (1) In any election to which the foregoing provisions of this part of this chapter relate, a candidate for an election to the office of president shall not be deemed to be validly nominated unless he nominates another candidate as his associate from the same political party for his running for the office of president, who is to occupy the office of vice-president and that candidate shall be deemed to have been duly elected to the office of vice-president if the candidate for an election to the office of President, who nominated him as such associate, is duly elected as president in accordance with the provisions aforesaid.
“(2) The provisions of this part of this chapter relating to qualification for election, tenure of office, disqualification, declaration of assets and liabilities and oaths of president shall apply in relation to the office of vice-president as if references to president were references to vice-president.”
It is only in Section 146 of the constitution that there are unambiguous statements on what use the office of the vice- president can be put in case of emergency.
Section 146(1) states that “(1) The vice-president shall hold the office of president if the office of president becomes vacant by reason of death or resignation, impeachment, permanent incapacity or the removal of the president from office for any other reason in accordance with Section 143 of this constitution.”
Although the presidency can paint a picture of peace and tranquility in the governance of the country as long as Yar’Adua is abroad, including claims that Vice -President Goodluck Jonathan is in charge, in truth and in reality, there is nobody acting in place of Yar’Adua.
Another implication of that is the fact that even if Jonathan presides over sessions of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), the decisions can be quietly withdrawn if the president is not at home with them whenever he returns, since constitutionally, no one has the power of acting president for now.
There is another loss to be incurred by Nigeria if the president’s stay abroad is further prolonged. The 2009 budget is already poorly implemented, but there was the hope that with the approval of virements and the supplementary budget, the presidency could fast-track some things. With Yar’Adua’s absence, that hope is lost.
But it is actually the capital portion (infrastructural development) of the budget that will suffer and that is the area that directly touches the lives of the people.