The Law Making Process
A Law begins life as a Bill. A Bill is a proposed Law. It can emanate from the Presidency, in which case it is an Executive Bill. Or it can emanate from a member of NASS, in which case it is a Private Member Bill. A Bill is read for the First Time (to inform members of its formal arrival), and then at a subsequent sitting its general principles are debated and, if members think it worthy, the Bill is read a Second Time and sent to the relevant Legislative Committee for further work. The Committee organizes a public hearing where the public is invited to contribute. Inputs are collated in a report which the committee brings back to the larger house. The larger house goes through the report, line by line, debating and voting on each one. Then the Bill is read a Third Time and passed. Because we have a bi-cameral legislature, this process has to happen twice in both chambers, separately. Then a Harmonization Committee, comprising members of both chambers, is set up to reconcile any differences between the versions passed by the two chambers. The harmonized bill goes back to both chambers for a formal assent before it is sent to the President for his assent. If he gives it, the Bill becomes Law. If he doesn’t, it remains a Bill, unless NASS chooses to override the President’s veto by passing the Bill by a two-thirds majority. Please note, whether Executive or Private Member, a Bill must go through this process to become Law.
The Budget is a Law. It is a Law detailing the Government’s spending plans for the year. So, like any other Law, it too begins life as a Bill. However, unlike any other Bill, It is always an Executive Bill, because it is the constitutional responsibility of the Executive to prepare the Budget. But it must be sent to NASS, like any other Bill, and it must be passed by NASS, like any other Bill, before the Government can spend a kobo out of it. The Budget goes through the exact same legislative process described above, the only real difference being that when it is committed to the relevant legislative committees, the general public is not invited to make contributions. Instead, the relevant MDA is invited to come and justify its budgetary provision. That the Legislature can re-write any Bill before it is not really in contention, but it is argued that the Budget is a special type of Bill, and so the Legislature can only agree or disagree with its provisions, but should not re-write any of them as this would amount to the Legislature making the Budget, which is the constitutional responsibility of the Executive. These are conflicting interpretations of the Law which can only really be settled by a court of law.
The Origin of Constituency Projects
Till then, politics and governance must go on. So, in the early days of the 4th Republic, the Legislature argued that considering the over-centralized nature of the Nigerian government, whereby a little village in a little known local government in a scarcely noticed State will spend years waiting for the Federal Government to notice that it has no light and include this in its almighty budget, the fastest way to bring development to the grassroots was to allow legislators – who come from all over the country, and are in touch with these villages and LGAs all over the country – to introduce projects into the budget directly from the grassroots. The argument carried, and became the genesis of Constituency Projects.
How It Works
Even though the Executive conceded this to the Legislature, they worked out controls between themselves. So, one, the Executive caps the total amount the Legislature can insert as constituency projects. It is an amount that is factored in when the Budget is being prepared, after discussions with the Legislature. Two, the Executive is still responsible for the execution of these constituency projects. So, it is not that the legislators are given the money to go and do the projects, no, they put it in the budget and hand the budget over to the Executive to execute. Three, whether or not a constituency project is executed still depends on the Executive’s priorities and the amount of cash actually available to it in the budget year. In effect, a legislator who really wants a constituency project of his/hers executed must get up, go down to the relevant MDA and stubbornly chase the file. Things are further complicated by the fact that projects can span several budgetary years, and that all 469 legislators are out there doing the same thing. This, in fact, puts a lot of leverage in the hands of the budget-holder in the relevant MDA. This is where a legislator’s personal political clout can make a difference in how quickly he/she is able to get a project from paper to reality.
How The Process Can Be Abused
Of course, a situation where 469 people are able to separately develop micro-developmental projects and include them in the budget can make centralized economic planning problematic. But it only, in fact, adds another layer of complexity to what already is, seeing as the F.G must co-ordinate with the 36 states and 774 LGs to achieve its economic plans. This is a problem that can be easily surmounted with proper co-ordination by the Party in power across all levels and branches of government. So, the real danger for abuse of constituency projects is not in the concept itself really, but (as is all too common in Nigeria) in its execution. Quickly, 3 common points of abuse:
1. Where the lawmaker just dreams up a project that has no bearing on the needs of the generality of his people, e.g if he/she goes and buys farm land in some village and uses his/her office as a lawmaker to get the F.G to build a road that goes to that farm, and that is the only purpose that road serves;
2. Where the lawmaker puts a project in the budget and then colludes with officers in the relevant MDA to get the project awarded to a firm he/she owns. (Note: as part and parcel of modern Nigerian politics, which heavily involves politicians brokering special access to public resources for their direct constituents, lawmakers routinely lobby MDAs for the privilege of nominating contractors to execute projects, as a way of creating employment for their constituents. As with everything else in life, some lawmakers use this opportunity for their own direct self-enrichment, while others use it in a genuine attempt to help others.)
3. Where the lawmaker puts a project in the budget, allows the executing MDA to choose its contractor itself, but then goes behind and attempts to shake down the contractor by insisting that since the projector is ‘his/her own’, the contractor must ‘settle’ him/her before executing the project. A really unscrupulous legislator could even threaten to ‘mobilize boys’ to disrupt the execution of a project if the contractor refuses to pay up.
In every case, however, abuse requires, at the very best, that the relevant MDA turn a blind eye to what is happening on site. In other words, the MDA in charge of execution holds the trump card always.
Back to Abdulmumunin Jibrin
So, he mischievously used the term ‘budget padding’ to refer to the insertion of constituency projects in the budget by law makers. This is NOT budget padding. Budget padding is when an item that costs N100 is inserted into the budget at N150. He knows this. Not when a lawmakers inserts a line item requiring the construction of a Film Village in his constituency to create jobs for his constituents. But I believe he chose the term ‘budget padding’ because it is scandalous, it would get the attention of a President like Buhari, and would also get our energetic army of social activists talking.
His Real Grouse
I am not sure. I have not spoken with him. But having seen some of the ‘evidence’ he has released I can make an educated guess. I think he is annoyed that he got a lot of heat from his colleagues for inserting a certain amount of projects into the budget, while those he knows inserted a lot more got no heat at all. This is how it works. One of the reasons why being a leader in the National Assembly (i.e Senate President, Speaker, Majority Leader, Whip etc), or being Chairman of the all-powerful Appropriation Committee (which Jibrin, as direct payback for his vigorous support of Dogara during the Speakership tussle, was), is so lucrative is that you are high up in the pecking order. So, when NASS gets its budget for constituency projects, for instance, you can channel a big portion of it to projects in your own constituency. The lower down you are, with the first-time green-horn legislator at the lowest, the less consideration you get. So, Jibrin’s documents show the top dogs requesting the citing of the lion’s share of projects in their constituencies. But this is not evidence of a crime; this is evidence of an internal pecking order.
His Real Crime – Stepping On Toes
Not in the righteous, anti-corruption way he’s trying to project now, no. As Chairman Appropriation, the Committee that compiles the reports of the various Committees on the Budget into one consolidated report, you have to deal with a LOT of requests from colleagues, all desperately wanting one project or the other included in that final version of the budget you will present to the larger house. How you handle this deluge will make or mar you as an Appropriation Committee Chairman. From the way Jibrin interacted with Okonjo-Iweala, in that famous exchange of theirs years ago, I can make an educated guess as to his tactfulness and diplomatic ability. I think his people-management skills let him down and led to his eventual removal as Chairman. And unable to take it lying down, he kicked up a storm.
Did Any Budget Padding ACTUALLY Take Place?
I hope so. To justify all this time we have spent talking about it. I hope so. Because budget padding happens, and it’s the sort of crime that has to be coordinated across both arms of government to work, so really shining a light on it would be shining a light on a true systemic rot. But, honestly, what is happening now is looking like the old familiar scene, where a temporarily disgruntled politician borrows the language and, therefore, energy of social activists to fight his rofo-rofo right, not to change the status-quo in the end, but to change his/her current position within it. Sadly, with the Senate already in crisis, it’s looking like Change will have to wait till 2019, to re-apply to the Nigerian people for consideration.