NO member of the National Assembly
can be investigated or charged to court for performing their constitutional
responsibility of lawmaking, including budget, Speaker of the House of
Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, has said.

Dogara, who spoke in Abuja, on
Thursday, at the Civil Society Dialogue Session on one year of the legislative
agenda organized by Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), noted that the
2016 budget had been controversial from the beginning, adding that it took
dialogue, compromise and consensus to produce a workable document.

The Speaker argued that by virtue
of the provisions of the Legislative Houses Powers and Privileges Act, no
member of the parliament could be charged to court or investigated for
exercising their powers of law making.

On the powers of the National
Assembly over budget, Dogara maintained that the appropriation bill was just
like any other bill which must be subjected to normal legislative processes and
scrutiny.

“The constitution talks about
estimates of revenue and expenditure to be prepared and laid before the
National Assembly. The constitution did not mention the word budget and the
reason is very simple. Budget is a law. Going by very pedestrian understanding
of law which even a part one Law student can tell is that the functions of
government is such that the legislature makes the law, executive implements and
the judiciary interprets the law.

“The budget, being a law,
therefore, means it is only the parliament that can make it, because it is a law.
And I challenge all of us, members the media and Civil Society Organisations
(CSOs) to look at our law and tell me where it is written that the president
can make a budget.”

The Speaker maintained that by the
provisions of the 1999 Constitution, only the National Assembly had powers to scrutinize
the revenue and expenditure estimates submitted by Mr President.

“What I am saying is further
reinforced by section 80(4) of the Constitution which says that no money shall
be withdrawn from the consolidated revenue fund or any other fund of the
federation except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.

“I want this thing to sink so that
we can understand it from here and perhaps, it may change the ongoing
discourse.

“If you say the National Assembly
doesn’t have the powers to tinker with the budget that we just pass it. When it
is prepared and laid, we turn it into a bill. If it is a bill, how does other
bill make progression in the parliament in order to become law?

“If you contend that we cannot
tinker with the appropriation bill, even though it is a money bill, it,
therefore, goes without saying that we cannot tinker with any executive bill.”

On zonal intervention projects,
popularly known as constituency projects for members of the National Assembly,
Dogara said it was the only means through which lawmakers attract federal projects
to their constituents.

This, he said was necessary because
the projects selection process was such that it lacked integrity, as it was
always lopsided against most federal constituencies.

The Speaker emphasized on the need
for more sensitization of the public on the role of the legislature in the
appropriation process, saying the misconception of this role led to attempts to
discredit the 2016 budget.

He said: “Recent efforts seeking to
discredit the document are a consequence of inadequate knowledge of the legal
framework governing appropriation in a presidential democracy. This has,
nonetheless, opened a new vista of duty for us as a legislature to enhance both
internal competences of members, as well as the sensitization of the public on
the role of the legislature in a presidential democracy.

“The 2016 budget was controversial
from the outset, but the House handled the controversy with maturity, employing
democratic tools of dialogue, compromise and consensus by which an
implementable 2016 budget was passed and assented to.”

While commending the role of civil
society organisations in educating the public, he stressed that “it is our duty
and responsibility to remove any clog in the wheel of progress once we have
made the determination that such a situation exists.”

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