How far can the members of the House of Representatives go in their threat to impeach President Goodluck Jonathan over his alleged non-implementation of this year’s fiscal budget?
This is the knotty question in Nigerians’ minds.
The Reps had, at one of their sittings, condemned the poor implementation of the 2012 budget and resolved that the government must achieve 100 per cent implementation by the time they resume in September. Otherwise, they said, they would commence impeachment proceedings against the President.
Jonathan, during the presentation of the 2012 budget christened, “Fiscal Consolidation, Inclusive Growth and Job Creation,” admitted Nigeria “can only progress in this course and turn our possibilities into reality when we diligently adhere to the implementation of well- thought-out and articulated developmental policies.”
Spearheading the sanction is the Minority Leader of the House and member of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, who warned, “If, by September 18, the budget performance has not improved to 100 per cent, we shall begin to invoke and draw up articles of impeachment against Mr. President.”
He cited Section 143 of the 1999 Constitution to buttress his position, saying the action of the President amounted to “gross misconduct” and constituted sufficient grounds to initiate impeachment proceedings against him.
Section 143 (1) of the constitution says the President or Vice-President may be removed from office “whenever a notice of any allegation in writing, signed by not less than one-third of the members of the National Assembly” is presented to the Senate President, stating that the holder of the office is guilty of “gross misconduct” in the performance of his official duties.
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 to fully implement the budget.
In response, the Federal Government has admitted that it could not achieve 100 per cent budget implementation by September, as ordered by the lawmakers. Indeed, the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, argued that achieving 100 per cent budget implementation was not feasible.
She 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 implement the budget.
As the Reps were perfecting the impeachment strategies, the Senate may also support them.
It is regrettable that over the years, the budgetary process has suffered delay for a number of reasons, ranging from inadequate planning, to the late submission of estimates, too long a period for its passage, faulty procedure for scrutinising the budget, corruption, poor implementation and inadequate mechanisms for monitoring.
In most cases, budgets are approved as late as the third quarter of the fiscal year. Worse still, supplementary budgets are 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 challenges.
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 skip 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 tackled if the nation must operate a sound fiscal system.
I wonder how far the lawmakers can go in their adventure, going by the odds against them and the growing division among them and the apparent absence of a common purpose, coupled with the crisis of credibility arising from the bribery allegations levelled against members over the years.
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 threaten the Executive whenever they are ‘broke.’
Gbajabiamila 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.
He 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 defence of those who elected him and in the interest of the country.
“I find it rather curious that these attacks came within 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 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, the Peoples Democratic Party, has admitted that the “President is making errors that require impeachment,” but vows that it will not force the House to change its mind.
Is the impeachment threat ‘business as usual’ or a joke carried too far? Time will definitely tell!