We are writing to inform you of developments in the attempt by the National Assembly (NASS) to amend sections 81 and 121 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. The two sections prescribe the timeframe for the presentation of Federal and State budget estimates by the President and Governor to the NASS and the State Houses of Assembly respectively.
The amendment (Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (Fourth Alteration, No. 28) Bill, 2017)proposes that instead of the old order, where the President and Governors present the budget estimates at any time in each financial year, they would now be bound to present same not later than 90 days to the end of the financial year. The amendment proposes a new subsection 1 (a) to the two sections by giving a time line to NASS and State Houses of Assembly to pass the budget for the incoming year before the end of the financial year in which the budget estimates is presented, vis before the commencement of the next financial year. Essentially, budgets will no longer be presented late or approved late like happened in the last three years. The budget will now be ready on or before January 1 of every year.
This amendment has secured the approval of both Houses of NASS and that of the required majority of State Houses of Assembly in accordance with section 9 of the Constitution. But the President has failed, refused or neglected to give assent to same. Section 58 (4) and (5) of the Constitution provides as follows:
(4) Where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within thirty days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds his assent.
(5) Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House, by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.
It has been more than thirty days since the bill was forwarded to the President for his assent and there is no information in the public domain on his reasons for refusing assent to the bill. Ideally, this would have come by way of a letter to NASS. In the circumstances, how do we respond in civil society to ensure that the President either gives assent to the bill or get the NASS to override the presidential veto? Your views on the activities needed to achieve this objective will help all of us working on the budget and its transparency and accountability to make a significant progress towards reforming the budgeting process in Nigeria.