$496m Fighter Jets: PDP, APC Lawmakers Disagree On Buhari Impeachment
The All Progressives Congress members in the National Assembly and their Peoples Democratic Party counterparts have disagreed on the possible effect of the report of the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters looking into the purchase of the $496m aircraft on President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Senate had, on Thursday, mandated the committee to investigate the controversial purchase of the $496m fighter jets from the United States by the President without approval of the National Assembly.
The committee will submit its report on Wednesday. The President reportedly withdrew $496m from the Excess Crude Account to pay for the aircraft without the approval of the National Assembly.
The APC lawmakers, who spoke with SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, dared their PDP counterparts, saying the opposition members could not impeach Buhari even if the panel report indicts him.
Senator Mathew Uroghide (Edo, PDP) had, in a motion, on Thursday, urged Senate President Bukola Saraki to allow the Senate to invoke Section 143 of the Constitution against the President.
Section 143 of the Constitution deals with the process of the impeachment of the President and the vice-president.
Uroghide (Edo PDP), in the motion, had stated, “There are serious consequences for the violation of our Constitution. As a consequence, the only thing that we can draw from on this is that we call on you (Saraki) to invoke Section 143 of the Constitution. What it means is that this matter does not need to be investigated; it is clear that this offence has been committed by Mr. President.
“I want the Senate to resolve that what the President has done is procedurally wrong and is a violation of our Constitution. It must be condemned and, of course, the consequences that are contained in the Constitution – in Section 143 – should be invoked.”
PDP won’t get two-thirds of votes to impeach Buhari –Senator Akanbi
But Senator Adesoji Akanbi (APC Oyo) has allayed fears that Buhari would be impeached.
Akanbi, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, said no matter the outcome of the committee’s investigation, the opposition PDP senators would not get the required two-thirds of votes to impeach the President.
He urged those calling for Buhari’s impeachment to also consider the reason cited by the President for not waiting for legislative approval before approving withdrawal and payment for the aircraft.
Akanbi, who noted that there was a constitutional breach by the President, said Nigeria would have lost the opportunity to get the military equipment if the Federal Government had missed the deadline for the payment.
He said, “Sincerely, spending money without the approval of the National Assembly may not be justifiable but we should look at the circumstances in which it was done. Is the reason given to the National Assembly genuine enough? The National Assembly has to be convinced on why that was done.
“I am sure that with the outcome of the report of the committee set up to look into it, the National Assembly will be convinced. Yes, it (purchase) breached the constitution. The transaction did not follow the normal democratic process but there was a timeline that must be met for the benefit of the country.”
Akanbi also pointed out that the state governors, which jointly own the money with the Federal Government, approved that $1bn be withdrawn and spent on security, out of which the payment for the aircraft was made.
When asked what would happen if the panel indicts Buhari, the lawmaker stated that the PDP Caucus, from which the call for impeachment came, did not have the number to execute the impeachment process.
“This is a game of numbers. Two-thirds of lawmakers will be needed. I don’t believe, with our members (APC Caucus) in the chamber, they (the PDP) will get the two-thirds,” Akanbi stated.
Buhari has not violated any law, says Ndume
In his own reaction, Senator Ali Ndume (APC Borno), categorically stated that Buhari had not disobeyed any law. He said the President acted in good faith.
He urged Nigerians to take note of those calling for the impeachment, noting that they were from the opposition PDP.
Ndume stated, “The issue of impeachment came up on the floor of the Senate and as I said before, impeachment is not just done like that. There must be a serious reason for it. I want to say that this impeachment move is dead on arrival.
“One, the President acted in good faith. You know that ever since the insurgency started, the Nigerian government had been struggling to get arms, ammunition and equipment to fight the insurgency. Under the previous administration, all efforts were made, but because of the alleged human rights abuses’ claim by the Amnesty International and other international organisations, the efforts were virtually frustrated.
“The coming of this President, because of his integrity, determination and international support, he was given the go-ahead to pay for those fighter aircraft. I don’t think that anybody, who is reasonable, will now say that once we have been given the go-ahead for something that we have been looking for, we should start wasting time again trying to get the National Assembly’s approval first before we pay.”
Ndume argued that several withdrawals from the ECA had been made by the previous administrations without seeking legislative approval, but Buhari, out of genuineness (of his intention) chose to write to the National Assembly.
“This one was done in good faith and because it was done in good faith, and for the fact that the National Executive Council, consisting of all the governors of the 36 states also approved it, I don’t see any big deal that should lead to raising the issue of impeachment,” he added.
The lawmaker pointed out that the impeachment process would fail.
“Let me say that we don’t have any fear on that. If the committee decides that the President has committed an infraction, there must be a procedure and that is why I said we believe that they will never get the required two-thirds to impeach Mr. President, especially in this case where the action of Mr. President was in good faith,” Ndume stated.
Wait till Wednesday, PDP senator tells APC counterparts
But a PDP senator Mao Ohuabunwa (Imo PDP) asked the APC senators to wait till Wednesday when the committee is expected to present its report. According to Ohuabunwa, whatever the lawmakers say remains their opinion until the Senate takes a decision on the matter.
He said, “That day we were prepared to debate it but since the Senate President, in his wisdom, ruled that we should have a legal opinion, we will wait until Wednesday to see what the committee will come up with. Anybody saying anything now is just on their own because they are senators. When the Senate takes a decision, whatever your opinions are will be consumed. Let us wait.”
I don’t regret my comment on $496m aircraft purchase –Urhoghide
But the Edo State senator, in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, said he did not call for the impeachment of the President.
He said the judiciary, human rights and legal matters committee, which the Senate mandated to investigate the purchase of the $496m aircraft, would determine the next move of the lawmakers on the allegation against Buhari.
Uroghide stated that the referral of the allegation against the President to the committee was part of the impeachment process required by Section 143 of the constitution.
He stated, “The procedures are stated in Section 143. The referral to the committee is part of the process — to determine whether really an infraction has been committed. That is where Section 143 starts from. I am just a member of the Senate and one person cannot be bigger than the Senate.
“If you go through the section, it will tell you that what the Senate is doing now is like an investigation. Then, two-thirds of us — of the entire membership of the Senate and the House of Representatives — must sign and President of the Senate will take the correspondence. Then, the President will be asked to explain what happened. Then he will explain it. It is a process. There are about 10 steps. I can’t just say ‘let us impeach the President’.”
Also, Urhoghide said he had no regret moving the motion to invoke Section 143 of the Constitution against the President.
Urhoghide made this known during an interview with journalists in Benin, Edo State, less than 24 hours after he was allegedly attacked by some youths at the Benin Airport.
He stated that the right thing the President would have done was to present a supplementary budget to the National Assembly for the purchase of the aircraft, wondering why that was not done since the offer for the purchase was made in December, 2017, with an expiry date of February 21, 2018.
He said, “We could have said more aircraft should be bought. What they have done is mumbo-jumbo. The President has violated the Constitution, which is the truth. If anybody is pretending that nothing has been done, the person should go to a mental home. Section 80 has been violated.
“I do not have any regret for what I said. I stand by it. Where did I embarrass the President? Because of selfish interest here, people want to show to the President that everybody is cowed in Edo.
“This is not a war I want to fight on partisan basis. I have immunity on what I said on the floor of the Senate. I am being crucified outside for what I said during plenary.
“I am going to report back to the Senate. All the security agencies must see the threat I am subjected to because I performed my duty as a Senator.”
Urhoghide, who is the Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, while narrating his ordeal at the airport, said he had the premonition that he would be attacked.
The federal lawmaker added, “They (critics) have promised to deal with me. If not for the Commissioner of Police yesterday (Friday), nobody knows what would have happened. I obeyed the police commissioner; I remained where I was until the governor came.
“We were side by side talking when a boy hit my head. The governor walked away. Before I left Abuja, I knew what was happening and the person responsible for it. I called him to tell him that it was unnecessary but he did not return my calls.
“Incidentally, it happened in the presence of the state governor. The Commissioner of Police was there and all other security agencies. When the boy hit my head and threw away my cap, they saw it.
“I still assumed that the governor did not see it. It is a shame on the state that an elected Senator of this state could be so humiliated in the presence of our own leaders in the state.”
Reps remain divided, await meeting with Buhari, panel’s report
In the House of Representatives, members also remained divided on whether Buhari breached the constitution.
Investigations in Abuja showed that like it played out on the floor on Thursday, members remained divided on the way forward on the issue of the purchase of the aircraft.
Findings indicated that the division had taken political party lines with the majority of the APC members being largely hesitant in backing the impeachment calls.
“The APC members, who speak against the President’s action, do so with reservation and they are also doing so just to protect the independence of the legislature, not that they are for impeachment.
“You will notice that it is the opposition Peoples Democratic Party members who are shouting more about impeachment”, a senior parliamentary official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, informed one of our correspondents on Saturday.
The source stated that much of how the matter would be decided depended on the outcome of the anticipated meeting between Buhari and the lawmakers.
The source added, “For the House, you know there is no formal position yet on whether to invoke impeachment clause.
“Members still disagree and the decision last week was to refer the President’s matter to the Committee on Rules/Business to guide us appropriately.
“The President has also been invited to address a joint session of the Senate and the House, which will be in the days ahead.
“The committee is expected to sit next week and turn in a report. So, the committee’s report and the meeting with Buhari will set the tone for further actions.”
Key principal officers of the House and some members of the PDP caucus gave different views on the issue, further confirming the division among the legislators.
For instance, the Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, said while it would appear that Buhari committed an “infraction”, it was not weighty to warrant calls for impeachment.
He said, “Whilst I agree there may have been a constitutional infraction, I do not believe it rises to the level of impeachment or gross misconduct, which is the standard requirement by the constitution.
“All that is being alleged is procedural not substantive, and there is a difference. If this is the standard to be adopted, then, all past presidents of Nigeria should have been impeached for doing same thing, if not worse things.
“Impeachment is normally a political thing and we must be careful that we in the APC do not allow the tail to wag the dog.”
The Chief Whip of the House, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, spoke along the same line.
He said, “Agreed that by Section 80 (2) of the constitution, our consent is required to expend public funds, but where a matter or of such nature is deemed by Mr. President to be of national interest, the same section of the constitution under legitimate footnotes, allows the President to do what he did in this case.
“It only makes it obligatory for Mr. President to communicate to the National Assembly, requesting for a post-action approval. That is exactly what has happened in the circumstances.
“I do not see any flagrant breach of our constitution that could warrant unnecessary calls for impeachment of the President.”
But, the PDP caucus disagreed with Gbajabiamila and Ado-Doguwa, saying their “skewed explanation” portrayed them as seeking a soft-landing for Buhari in the face of the “obvious abuse of our constitution.”
A member from Kogi State, Mr. Karimi Sunday, who summed up the views of members of the caucus, argued that the constitution did not provide options or “escape routes for Mr. President when in breach of the provisions.”
Sunday stated that there was only one way to go “which is to invoke Section 143; that means impeachment proceedings. There are no two ways.”
Presidency violated rule of law — NLC, CSOs
Also, the Nigeria Labour Congress berated the President, saying he violated the constitution by spending $496m on aircraft for the military without the approval of the National Assembly.
The union stated that the executive had no right to spend such money without the mandate of the legislature under constitutional democracy.
The NLC Secretary-General, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, in a telephone interview with SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday, said the Federal Government should start doing things in line with the provisions of law and the constitution.
“We operate a constitutional rule of law and that means spending money by the executive without National Assembly approval is a violation of the rule of law; there are no two ways about it.
“We need to start doing things according to law and the constitution. We must stop the arbitrariness which is a violation of the rule of law in the country,” he admonished.
Commenting on the reports that the government did not seek the approval of the National Assembly before paying for the jets due to time constraint, Ozo-Eson said the Presidency could have easily reached out to the lawmakers to endorse the deal with the United States.
There is no tension between us –Presidency
Meanwhile, the Presidency has expressed its willingness to give further clarifications concerning the anticipatory approval granted by Buhari for the purchase of the jets from the US.
The Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, said this in an interview with SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday.
Enang said, “There is no tension between the Presidency and the National Assembly on this issue.
“Unknown to most Nigerians, the President, in his letter, requested that the money for the purchase of the aircraft should be included in the 2018 budget and at the moment, the 2018 budget is still under consideration.
“In a democracy, it is normal for legislators to ask questions and seek clarifications on issues especially as they affect appropriations.”
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