Mixed reactions trail Senate’s move to override Buhari on budget timeline bill

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The Senate last week took bold steps to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of the “Budget Timeline Bill”.
The move, buoyed by the report of the Senate Technical Committee on Declined Assent to Bills by the President headed by David Umaru (APC, Niger East), has received mixed reactions, even as it is seen as positive steps by the senators to address the intractable challenge of budget delays.
While some analysts have commended senators for the initiative, others believe they are embarking on a wild goose chase.
This comes as Senate President Bukola Saraki referred the bill to the Senate Committee on Constitution Review for further legislative work.
The Committee, chaired by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu), is expected to carry out public hearing on the all-important bill any moment from now.
The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Fourth Alteration, No. 28), which was earlier rejected by President Buhari in 2018, seeks to amend Sections 81 and 121 of the 1999 Constitution, by making it mandatory for the president and governor of a state to lay the annual budget estimates before parliament three months to the end of a financial year.
It also compels the parliament to pass the annual budget before the commencement of the next financial year.
President Buhari had in 2018 declined assent to the constitution amendment bill on the grounds that sections 2 (b) and 3 (b) of the proposal “appear not to take full cognisance of the provisions of Section 58 (4) of the 1999 constitution”.
In rejecting the president’s submission, the David Umaru-led panel had posited that the bill was not in conflict with the 1999 constitution as claimed by the president.
The purpose of the bill, the committee had explained, was to ensure that Nigeria reverts to the January to December budget cycle.
Section 58 (5) of the 1999 Constitution provides that two-thirds of both legislative chambers of the National Assembly (73 senators and 240 members of House of Representatives) are required to override the president’s veto.
In an interview with BusinessDay, Austine Aigbe of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), said the move was commendable. According to him, the process ought to have been started before now.
“The National Assembly ought to have attempted to override the president’s veto. If they had done so before and it went through, the president would have been conscious of the way he was not signing bills,” Aigbe said.
“Even if they do not have the numbers, the point is, they should just try it. What kills business is not taking risks. The National Assembly needs to take risks by trying to override the president’s veto on any bill,” he said.
Aigbe argued that there are many other crucial bills like constitution amendment bill that would have improved the budgetary process and the PIGB that would have improved the petroleum sector.
 “And just now, we have been ranked very high in terms of misery index. IMF just ranked us the second lowest in terms of the way we use our sovereign wealth fund. Bills that would have strengthened our economic architecture have been thrown out based on political affiliation. And I think it is not helping us as a country,” he said.
Other political commentators say overriding the president’s veto would be a tall order considering the fact that not only are both chambers polarised along party lines but lawmakers against the president’s action cannot garner the required two-thirds to upturn his decision.
Checks by BusinessDay revealed that APC currently controls the Senate with 57 senators, as against PDP with 47 lawmakers. African Democratic Congress (ADC) has two, while All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), Social Democratic and People’s Redemption Party (PRP) have one senator each.
“Getting two-thirds majority to override the president’s veto is not a tea party. Since none of the political parties in the Senate can garner two-thirds, I can say with all confidence that the move by the Senate is dead on arrival,” a legal practitioner, Ike Etiaba, said.
“You will also recall that since Nigeria’s return to the Fourth Republic in 1999, the National Assembly has been able to override the president’s veto only once. That was during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in year 2000 where the National Assembly overrode the president’s veto on the bill establishing the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC),” he noted.
In a statement sent to BusinessDay, an advocacy group, the Centre for Social Justice, lauded the Senate’s decision to override the president’s veto.
The statement signed by Eze Onyekpere, its lead director, called on both legislative chambers to expeditiously pass the bill.
“This call is based on the understanding that there can be no meaningful reform of the budgeting process without fixing the timeframe for presentation and approval of the budget,” the group said in the statement.
“In making this call, we are convinced that the president has not benefitted from proper advice before refusing assent to the bill. Evidently, this bill should have been a celebrated quick win for the administration considering that the president had, in many speeches, declared the intention of the executive to restore the financial year to the January to December timeline,” it said.
 
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