AS a build-up, the original motion on the alleged non-implementation of the budget was moved by the Chairman, House Committee on Rules/Business, Albert Sam-Tsokwa, who sought an interface between Jonathan and the leadership of the House on why it had been difficult for Ministries Departments and Agencies, MDAs, to fully implement the budget.
In the course of debate, lawmakers amended the motion, saying that a meeting with the President was not necessary, as another amendment to the motion advised Jonathan to direct the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to “stop forthwith”, what it termed the violation of Section 6 of the Act.
The amendment, which was proposed by the Chairman, House Committee on Works, Ogbuefi Ozomgbachi, demanded the immediate release of all the funds earmarked for projects in the first and second quarters of the year. He said it was a breach of the law to hold on to funds budgeted for projects. The session overwhelmingly endorsed the amendment.
A twist was, however, added to the scenario when the Chairman of the Committee on Capital Market, Ibrahim El-Sudi said the impeachment threat was a mere handiwork of the opposition in the lower chamber of the National Assembly.
He claimed that contrary to the widely-publicised reports on the impeachment threat, the House of Representatives had not taken any decision on what would be Jonathan’s fate.
El-Sudi said the impeachment threat “came from members of the opposition and they are entitled to their opinion. It was not a resolution of the House. The House resolved that the President should implement the budget as passed. The House has not taken a decision on what will happen come September”.
Another member, Karibo Nadu, representing the President’s constituency, Ogbia Federal Constituency of Bayelsa State equally kicked against the impeachment threat. Nadu accused the Reps of deviating from the motion. He argued that Gbajabiamila’s call for impeachment was “irrelevant” to the purpose of the motion.
“Mr. Speaker, the issue of impeachment of the President is not relevant to this motion. What has that got to do with budget implementation?” he queried. He was however, shouted down by lawmakers who urged Gbajabiamila to continue with his submissions.
The spokesman for the House, Zakari Mohammed, had insisted that the resolution on impeachment proceedings against Mr. President stands. “It is a resolution of the House, not a resolution by one person. There is nothing that can be done to change that resolution before September 18.The House is on break; we are not working now. We cannot continue to respond to the same old issue,” Mohammed averred.
Contrary to El-Sudi’s claim, he said the threat to impeach Jonathan was the decision of all members of the House. “The resolution of the House was clear and simple. Gbajabiamila’s prayer was taken as part of the resolution of all the members,” Mohammed, a Peoples Democratic Party member said.
Mohammed alluded to the fact that there had been attempts to heat up the polity over the decision of the House “by diverting attention from the main issue, which is poor budget implementation”.
As the law makers remain divided, the Federal Government admitted that it could not achieve 100 per cent budget implementation by September, as directed by the lawmakers.
The Minister of Finance, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, argued that achieving 100 per cent budget implementation was not feasible. She said: “In terms of 100 per cent implementation, I think that what I read that was said by sections of the National Assembly was that we would have to do 100 per cent implementation of the budget by September”.
The minister identified some of the challenges facing the efficient implementation of the budget to include the inadequate time frame needed to get the designs and conduct feasibility studies for constituency and new projects in the budget, as well as the problem of movement of funds by the National Assembly, from one category to another, to where ministers could be able to implement.
As the House of Representatives was perfecting its impeachment strategies, the Senate, the upper house is allegedly in the know of happenings and may swing the way of the Reps.
It is regrettable that over the years, the nation’s budgetary process had suffered delays for a number of reasons, ranging from inadequate planning, late submission of estimates, too long a period for its passage, faulty procedure for scrutinizing the budget, corruption, poor implementation and inadequate mechanisms for monitoring.
In most cases, budgets were approved as late as the third quarter of the fiscal year. Worse still, supplementary budgets were usually concluded at the tail end of the financial year. All these flops do not allow for proper execution of projects, coordination of programmes and the overall monitoring of the budget resulting in decay of infrastructure and economic downfall.
Speaking in the same vein, a former Minister of Finance, Mansur Muhtar, in the Daily Trust issue of May 27, 2011 had observed that: “During the bilateral discussions and budget defence meetings that led to the finalisation of the 2010 budget, many MDAs clamoured for additional resources in excess of their 2009 capital votes but were unable to demonstrate commensurate executive capacity to justify increased allocations”.
Also, a World Bank chief, Onno Ruhl, in allAfrica.Com noted that: “What happens to the budget is that the projects are there without all the necessary plans. There is a debate between the government and the National Assembly on why the budget did not get implemented; it would never get implemented because there were no plans.
This is what people skipped when they want to talk about political debates. Even if you have those plans, my experience is that any project always takes longer than the plan, not just in Nigeria, but also in other places”.
It is evident, therefore, that the problem of budget delays and non-compliance with its implementation is a virus that must be eliminated for the nation to operate a sound fiscal system.
I WONDER how far the law maker will go in their adventure, going by the odds against them and the growing divisions among them and the apparent absence of a common purpose goal, coupled with the crisis of credibility, arising from the bribery allegation levelled against members over the years.
Most recent is that of Farouk Lawan who used to be chairman of two important committees: the controversial Adhoc Committee on Monitoring of Subsidy Fund and that of Education. The oil magnate, Mr. Femi Otedola had indicted Lawan for allegedly taking bribes to influence the committee’s report.
Lawan is a well respected legislator and leader of the “Intergrity Group” which sprear-headed the removal of the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Patricia Olubunmi Etteh over the N628 million house renovation/upgrading scandal. Lawan is now battling to protect his own integrity since the alleged $620,000 bribe scandal broke out.
Again, the House may never be taken seriously, going by the way previous impeachment threats have gone, culminating into the widely-held opinion that the legislators could soft-pedal once they are ‘settled’; in other words, they hang on impeachment threats whenever they are ‘broke’.
A few examples suffice. On August 13, 2002, the House passed a resolution asking President Olusegun Obasanjo to resign within 14 days or be impeached. The motion catalogued the alleged presidential offences which, it said, amounted to “grave misconduct”.
As usual, solidarity marches to the Presidential villa were arranged across the country; traditional rulers were summoned and ‘mobilised’ to condemn what they said they saw as an attempt to “heat up the system”, prominent citizens and former Heads of State were approached to plead with the House leaders.
At the end, the allegations were quickly and quietly dropped after some time and Obasanjo, who ruled the nation till 2007, described the threat as a “joke carried too far”, thereby infuriating many members of the National Assembly.
For allegedly embarking on selective implementation of the 2009 Appropriation Act, members of the House of Representatives threatened to impeach the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. They also accused Yar’Adua of endorsing the withdrawal of N119.12 billion from the Excess Crude Oil Account to cushion the shortfall of revenue for the year without the approval of the National Assembly.
It was stated that of the N119.12 billion withdrawn, the Federal Government got N51.79 billion (52.68 percent), while states and local governments shared N67.33 billion and additional sum of N127.37 billion proceeds from the sale of government houses and other transfers within the first quarter of the year.
Yar’Adua had in a four-page letter of Wednesday, May 13, 2009, expressed his inability to implement the budget as a result of shortfall in revenue, disclosing the sharing of the sum of N127.37 billion realised from the sale of government houses and other transfers within the period under review.
At another time, the lawmakers also pushed for Yar’Adua impeachment, for being away from the country for days without notifying the National Assembly.
So, how far can Gbajabiamila and his colleagues go? Already, he has raised the alarm that a faceless and amorphous group has been after him since he moved that Jonathan should be impeached if he failed to do the right thing. The opposition leader claimed that though he was sanctioned for professional misconduct, at a time, but was neither tried in any US court for any criminal offence nor convicted.
Gbajabiamila said: “To the discerning, it is clear where these attacks are coming from and indeed a crying shame that an elected representative can no longer speak freely in defense of those who elected him and in the interest of the country.
I find it rather curious that these attacks came on the heels (only three days) of my moving for articles of impeachment against Mr. President come September 18 if the proper thing is not done and the Constitution and laws of the country continue to be violated. At no time did I ever think taking on a powerful office would be a tea party or would not produce virulent attacks. Such it would be naivety on my part.
However, I am propelled by the belief that the hottest part of hell is reserved for those who say nothing when they should”.
For now, Jonathan’s party, PDP, had admitted that the “President is making errors that require impeachment”, but vowed that it will not force the House to drop the impeachment plot.
Is the impeachment threat business as usual or a joke carried too far? Time will definitely tell!
Mr. ADEWALE KUPOLUYI, wrote from the Federal University of Agriculure, Abeokuta, Ogun State.
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