Rejection of Ajaokuta Completion Fund Bill- GUARDIAN EDITORIAL

A recent report that the President had rejected a strange bill containing special fund to complete a notorious money gulper called Ajaokuta Steel project should not be twisted as a bad idea. It is good for the over-all health of the economy at this time.
At a sitting of the Upper Chamber, the Senate President read the President’s letter conveying his refusal to sign into law, the bill for funding completion of the Ajaokuta Steel project.

In his letter, President Buhari told the representatives of the people that the major reason for declining assent to the Ajaokuta funding bill was a clause in the draft law to allocate a whopping one billion dollars (I billion USD) from the Excess Crude Account (ECA).

The President submitted that, “it is not the best strategic option at this time of budgetary constraints, with competing needs.” Besides, he said that as the ECA belongs to the Federation, there was a prior need to consult the National Economic Council, which involves all the states.

According to him, other stakeholders that should have been consulted were the Ministry of Mines and Power, and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.

The President noted that these inputs were necessary to create the optimal legal regulatory framework, as well as the institutional mechanism to adequately regulate the steel sector. He also made a point concerning fiscal discipline in stating that such bills seeking to make appropriation of revenue to fund public expenditure should be included in the annual appropriation bill to ensure the mandatory scrutiny by the National Assembly and relevant ministries, departments and agencies.

In the case of Ajaokuta, the President’s reasons are valid but if the points are taken one by one, it becomes apparent that they are but inputs by the executive, which can be considered and incorporated in the final version of the law that emerges.

The legislature should, as it is conventional, cast its net wide to involve all stakeholders in the process of lawmaking. It is that inclusion that provides the opportunity for relevant agencies of the government to contribute and advise the establishment about the status quo and extant laws.

One reason that recurred in most of the cases was duplication of functions in existing agencies. It is generally accepted that amendments to existing laws become necessary to cater for the ever-changing political and economic situation.

What is discernible from this instance is that there has been a communication gap between the executive and the legislature in the context of lawmaking for the common good.

In either case, if there is cordial relationship between the two arms of government, the differences can be resolved, in the interest of the country. The Ajaokuta Steel project is too important to be subjected to a mere letter of rejection of a funding bill by the president.

The governing party and their caucuses in the bicameral legislature should have bridged the communication gaps that have always led to rejection of many bills – sometimes for reasons that could have been taken care of with good lobbying among other policy instruments and strategy.

It is an arduous process to get a bill through committee assessment, public hearings, first and second readings to approval in plenary by each chamber.

Therefore, it is understandable that members of the federal legislature would not be happy when a bill is rejected by the executive arm. But they too should consider the economic climate of the country while making laws that will create more bureaucracies that can overstress the lean national income.

Besides, why has the angst of the legislators not galvanized them into invoking their powers to over-ride the President’s veto even once in recent time? It is ironic that members who passed bills for the welfare and progress of the nation and the citizens, including themselves, would withdraw into hibernation mode when it becomes necessary to assert their locus and status in the tripod of democratic governance.

In this, they have been failing the people who elected them. They need to do some introspection about their own consensus building mechanism? Can’t they too overcome primordial sentiments? Did the National Assembly require any further impetus for individual members to set aside partisan political considerations and act in the interest of the nation?

The Ajaokuta Bill and the seven others rejected by the President recently were passed in 2018. In this period of transition, the golden opportunity for the Eighth Assembly to engrave itself in the annals of democratic governance in Nigeria may have been lost.

Meanwhile, the executive arm and indeed the presidency should note that the nation has not witnessed robust Executive Bills to the Eighth Assembly that will round off its session in June this year. And there is a sense in which citizens can understand serial rejection of bills to mean that most of the bills rejected have been Private Member Bills, which the presidency did not know much about beyond public hearings that they hardly attend. This too is a sad commentary on national productivity and public policy development – that normally flow from provisions of robust laws.

The Ninth Assembly and the Executive arm that will be in place from May 29, 2019 should note the effects of the aforementioned low productivity on national development since 2015.

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