•Buhari’s letter sparks controversy
The withdrawal of $496 million from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) without the approval of the National Assembly yesterday unsettled was on the front burner yesterday. It triggered a stormy session in the House of Representatives, report DELE ANOFI AND DAMISI OJO.
IF some House of Representatives have their ways, the lower chamber of the National Assembly will initiate an impeachment proceeding against President Muhammadu Buhari.
Reason: no portion of the Nigerian Constitution allows the President to grant anticipatory approval. The contentious issue is the withdrawal of $496 million (about N151.4 billion) to buy military equipment from the United States (U.S.) government.
The funds were drawn from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for the procurement of 12 Super Tucano aircraft.
In a bid to beat the payment contract deadline for the aircraft purchase lapsed, President Buhari gave the approval in anticipation that the Green Chamber would approve it as part of the 2018 Appropriation Bill.
The 2018 Appropriation Bill, which was submitted by the President to the joint session of the National Assembly on November 7, last year, is yet to be passed by neither of the chambers.
But some lawmakers have kicked against the disbursement of the $496 million without parliamentary approval. To them, such actions amounted to a breach of the constitution by the President.
Their displeasured followed the reading of President Buhari’s request in a letter by Speaker Yakubu Dogara at the plenary yesterday, informing the House that $496 million had been spent for the procurement of military aircraft from the U.S. government.
In his letter, Buhari explained that the expenditure was made in anticipation that the Green Chamber would approve it, as part of the 2018 Appropriation Bill, still before the National Assembly.
The letter entitled: “Supplementary input into the 2018 Appropriation Bill: Purchase of Super Tucano Aircraft from the United States Government”, was dated April 13, 2018.
It reads: “I wish to draw the attention of the House of Representatives to the ongoing security emergencies in the country. These challenges were discussed with the state governors and subsequently, at the meeting of the National Economic Council on 14th December, 2017, where a resolution was passed, with the Council approving that up to $1 billion may be released and utilised 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.
“It would be recalled that, for a number of years, Nigeria had been in discussions with the United States Government for the purchase of Super Tucano Aircraft under a direct Government-to-Government arrangement. Recently, approval was finally granted by the United States Government, but with a deadline within which part payment must be made otherwise, the contract would lapse.
“In the expectation that the National Assembly would have no objection to the purchase of this highly specialised aircraft, which is critical to national security, I granted anticipatory approval for the release of $496,374,470.00. 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 $496,374,470.00 (equivalent to N151,394,421,335.00)to be included in the 2018 Appropriation Bill, which the National Assembly is currently finalising.
“The balance of the requirements for critical operational equipment is still being collated from the different security services and will be presented in the form of a Supplementary Appropriation Bill, in due course.
“The Honourable Minister of Defence and other appropriate officers will be available to provide further details, as may be required.
“While thanking the Honourable Members for the usual cooperation, please be assured Mr. Speaker, the assurance of my highest regards.”
However, the lawmakers felt the President erred by granting anticipatory approval before asking for parliamentary nod.
Raising a point of order, Kingsley Chinda, (PDP, Rivers), said the President’s action was an infraction against the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and that such act should not be treated with levity.
According to him, impeachment proceedings should be instituted against President Buhari.
He said: “There is nowhere in our law that talked about anticipatory approval. We cannot seat down and allow this to take place.
“You are talking about anticipatory approval. Is this House a rubber stamp? It is an impeachable offence. There is no infraction that is worse than this. Let us not continue to sleep. I propose that we commence impeachment on Mr. President.”
Sunday Karimi (PDP, Kogi) said the President should be ready to face the consequences of impeachment.
Karimi said: “This is the time to tell the President that we have been elected to serve our people. There is need for this house to reply him and tell him that he has breached the constitution and should be ready to face the consequence.”
Sergius Ogun (PDP, Edo) said: “Chuba Okadigbo was impeached for anticipatory approval. We are not a lame duck House.”
Deputy Minority Leader Chukwuka Onyeama (PDP, Anambra) said: “It has been established that there’s a breach of the constitution. What we should be talking about now is to reply the executive.”
However, the Chairman, House Committee, Emmanuel Orker-Jev (APC, Benue), said the President’s letter must go through the second reading as stipulated by the House Rules.
Orker-Jev’s submission was greeted with disapproving shouts of no from his colleagues.
Also, Aliyu Sani Madakian (APC, Kano) said the House Rules should not be applied on the matter as Section 1 of the Constitution provides that the constitution shall be binding on everybody, and that any other law inconsistent with it is null and void.
Deputy Majority Whip, Pally Iriase (APC, Edo) expressed the view that two wrongs could not make a right.
Mohammed Tahir Monguno (APC, Borno) said: “I concur with the submissions of the chairman rules and business. It is the same constitution that gives us the right to come up with our rules.”
Speaker Dogara ruled that the House would go by its rules and the letter would go to second reading before a decision is taken on it.
Afenifere, ANN kick
The Pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere urged the National Assembly to probe the President for withdrawing from the ECA without the National Assembly approval.
It described the development as “an act of corruption and misappropriation of public funds.”
Speaking to reporters after its meeting at the residence of its leader, Chief Ruben Fasoranti in Akure, the Ondo State capital,the group maintained that the National
Assembly should probe the President.
Its spokesman Yinka Odumankin who read the communique after the meeting, said: “The meeting frowned at the anticipatory approval and payment of the sum of $496 million to the U.S. government by President Buhari for the purchase of Super Tucano aircraft.
“It is disturbing that the act was carried out by the President who now asked the National Assembly to include the money he had already spent in 2018 appropriation act under consideration.
“This is against Section 83 of the 1999 Constitution which says no money shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the federation other than the consolidated revenue of the Federation, unless the issue of such money has been authorised by an act of the National Assembly.
“Since there was no act of the National Assembly that authorised the spending of this money, it is clear that the President’s action is a clear subversion of the 1999 Constitution.”
The Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) also condemned the withdrawal accused the President of putting the cart before the horse.
In a statement in Abuja by John George Itodo, a member of its National Executive Committee (NEC), the party alleged that the costs of the fighter jets were inflated. It hinged its allegation on multiple media sources.
It said the President only notified the National Assembly after the withdrawal had been made in disregard for the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The statement reads: “The present APC government has been trying to outdo the former PDP government in terms of perpetration of illegalities.
“This same APC, when in opposition, vehemently attacked the former President Goodluck Jonathan for making approvals from the ECA, yet he never made this type of approval for which the formal president was nearly lynched, albeit literally.”
The ANN described as unfortunate that the APC which rode into on the strength of its change mantra has not demonstrated the readiness to effect positive changes in the lives of Nigerians.
It alleged that the ruling party was storing up cash to prosecute the forthcoming elections.
“We know the APC is building a financial war-chest for the 2019 presidential election,” the ANN claimed.
From: Thenationonline news