Two civil society organizations have taken the Imo state government to task following a recent declaration by the government that it is operating ‘a rolling four-year budget’

The Southeast Governance Network (SEGON) and Legislative Watch accused Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo state of operating an illegal budget.

The Imo state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Chinedu Offor while reacting to the allegation that the state was running an inaccessible budget had said, as also published in a national daily, “Either you come to my office or ask any of the folks to come to my office and collect a hard copy of the budget. Some of these groups are either too lazy to mischievous or both in making the minimal effort to get to the truth. In any case, the fact is that Governor Okorocha on live television presented his budget to the House of Assembly. The unique feature of the Imo budget is that instead of an annual budget we have a rolling 4-year budget that has taken into account all capital projects within the tenure of this administration.”

Reacting, SEGON’s spokesman, Dr. Jude Ohanele said, “Rather than stooping low to look for words to describe our network for making a legitimate demand, Offor should address the cogent issues raised. If they are operating a lawful budget, they should post it on their government websites. I didn’t need to go to Ado Ekiti state to get the budget of Ekiti state; they have it available and accessible on the Ekiti state government’s website because they are operating a lawful budget. It goes without saying that the reference to a four years budget by the Imo state commissioner for Information is not only unconstitutional but deceitful. The people are waiting to see the budgets on the various government websites in the Southeast of Nigeria. ”

Citing Section 121(1) of the Nigerian Constitution which states that, “The Governor shall cause to be prepared and laid before the House of Assembly at any time before the commencement of each financial year estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the State for the next following financial year”, Ohanele stressed that the constitution renders the Imo state four-year rolling budget illegal and unlawful.

Commenting also on the issue, Hon. Ngozika Ihuoma, the National Coordinator of Legislative Watch, a legislative advocacy group maintained that Okorocha and the Imo House of Assembly are either displaying their lack of capacity to operate the constitution or engaging in mischief.

“Budget is a constitutional issue and Section 121(1) is very clear that budget of a state or LGA is annual because a financial year in Nigeria is 12 calendar months. Consequently, a four-year budget is illegal, alien to our constitution and is an impeachable offence on the part of the Governor while the members of the House could be recalled for being a party to such illegality. Budget is the only law the legislature must enact annually for the achievement of Chapter II of the provisions of the 1999 constitution as amended. No state can amend Section 121(1). ”

Ihuoma however noted that there is room for a supplementary budget within the year to take care of unforeseen circumstances like the present flood in Oguta and Ohaji /Egbema council areas. According to him, a state can provide a medium or long term economic or development plan of 2-4 years but implementation of such arrangement, he said, must be presented to the House of Assembly annually for passage into law.