The aggrieved opposition lawmakers, including a number of All Progressive Congress (APC) reps, alleged that President Buhari’s action is an impeachable offence.
The law makers made their feelings known when a letter titled: ‘Supplementary input to the 2018 Appropriation bill: Purchase of Super Tucano Aircraft from the United States Government,’ dated 13th April, 2018 was read on the floor.
In the letter Buhari disclosed that $1 billion was approved by the State Governors at the Federal Economic Council on 14th December, 2017 where a resolution was passed to buy arms to equip the security agencies in the country.
“With the Council approving that up to $1 billion may be released and utilized from the Excess Crude Account to address the situation. Subsequent upon this approval, we are preparing a comprehensive schedule of all the requirements for each of the security services for presentation to the National Assembly for consideration.
He explained that Nigeria had been in discussions with the US government for a number of years for the purchase
of the Super Tucano Aircraft under a direct government-to-government arrangement, adding that the US government recently granted the approval with a deadline within which part payment must be made otherwise the contract would elapse.
“In expectation that the National Assembly would have no objection to the purchase of this highly specialized Aircraft, which is critical to national security, I granted anticipatory approval for the release of $496,374,470. This was paid directly to the Treasury of the United States Government.
“I am therefore writing, seeking approval of this House for the sum of $496,374,470 (equivalent to N151,394,421,335) to be included in the 2018 Appropriation bill, which the National Assembly is currently finalizing.
“The balance of the requirements for critical operational equipment is still being collated from different security services, and will be presented in the form of a supplementary Appropriation bill, in due course,” Bihari said in the two-page letter.
He also informed the House that the Minister of Defence and other appropriate officers will be available to provide further details as may be required by the Lower Chamber.
However, the ‘anticipatory approval’ granted by the President generated a heated debate as some aggrieved lawmakers described Buhari’s action as an impeachable offence and breach of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Kingsley Chinda, chairman, House Committee on Public Accounts who raised a point of order, argued that “there’s nowhere in our laws that talk about anticipatory approval, that’s the content of the letter Mr Speaker just read.
“Last week, we asked our committee on ethics to look at the issue, but clearly Mr President has now said that it has been expended.”
“Is this National Assembly a rubber stamp? (Members shouted no). Let’s even say there’s something like anticipatory approval, what if we fail to approve?”
“This is an impeachable offence. There’s no misconduct that’s bigger than this kind of action. There’s no country that will tolerate this. I think this is an indication of what has been happening.”
“I urge that we begin impeachment process on Mr President based on this offence,” the River State lawmaker proposed.
On his part, Ali Madaki (APC-Kano) who cited the provisions of Section 1 of the 1999 Constitution observed that the content of the constitution shall be binding on everybody, and that any other law inconsistent with it is null and void.
“So, I believe that even if our rules say so, this constitution overrides that.”
On his part, Shehu Garba who warned the House not to trivialize the issue at hand, maintained that all the Parliamentarians have sworn oath to defend the Constitution, hence should leave no stone unturned to commence the impeachment process.
He also argued that the House should not sweep aside the issue of N460 million fuel subsidy being spent by the present administration every day without the approval of the National Assembly. He said it further confirms the level of impunity being perpetuated by Buhari’s government.
In his contribution, Sunday Karimi (PDP-Kogi), also expressed concern over the breach of the constitution.
“My colleague has raised a very crucial constitutional point, and I think we shouldn’t waste time in acting. Mr President has accepted that he breached the Constitution and he should be ready to face the consequences.”
However, in his intervention, Pally Iriase, Majority Deputy Chief Whip and Mohammed Monguno (APC-Borno) pleaded that the debate should be allowed to scale through first reading and would be subjected to further debate when the bill is slated for second reading.
In the same vein, Chukwuka Onyeama, Deputy Minority Leader, argued that “it has been established that there’s a breach of the constitution.”
“What we should be talking about now is to reply the Executive. Even in our homes, we don’t do things like that. Such actions have consequences. A lot of things like this have happened in the past in this administration,” he noted.
In his remarks, Tajudeen Yusuf, chairman, House Committee on Capital Markets and Institutions argued that there was no justification for hurried payment of $496 million for a product that would be delivered in year 2020.
“I want to appeal that we shouldn’t misinform ourselves. This is a letter telling us what has been done. I appeal that we should jettison the idea of being partisan in all matters. I stood here as a member of PDP during the 7th Assembly and raised a motion on subsidy, and heaven didn’t fall.”
“The arms we are talking about will be supplied in 2020, so what is the urgency in it? This is an impeachable offence,” he observed.
Kayode Oladele, chairman, House Committee on Financial Crimes observed that the request should have been transmitted by the Executive earlier for consideration.
“I know that this is a very tensed matter, but let me say that the Executive should have brought this earlier for appropriation. We know that exigencies take precedence,” Oladele noted.
Other lawmakers who spoke in support of Buhari’s action including: Yakoob Balogun (APC-Lagos), noted that the 2018 budget has not been approved. As far as we’re concerned, the 2017 budget is still in operation.
On his part, Dan-Agundi maintained that “if an appropriation of a financial year has not been approved, the President may order for withdrawal of certain amount”
“I think the letter of Mr President has not violated any provision as long as the amount doesn’t go out of the threshold.”
In his intervention, Emmanuel Orker-Jev, chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, submitted that the letters of this nature should be allowed to go through first reading and not subjected to debate.
While ruling, Speaker Dogara assured that the bill will be subjected to debate next Thursday with the view to allow members to make input. Dogara observed that the 2017 budget will run up to May, 2018 so nothing affects that.
KEHINDE AKINTOLA, Abuja