Members of the National Assembly have come down hard on President Buhari for unilaterally approving the sum of $496 million for the purchase of Tucano Aircraft without appropriation with some calling for his impeachment. KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL writes
President Muhammadu Buhari has come under criticism from the legislature for not seeking approval from the National Assembly before withdrawing the sum of $496 million used to procure aircraft from the United States. Both chambers berated the President for the move following his letter requesting that the money be included in the 2018 budget.
It would be recalled that the President had in a letter dated April 13, 2018, impressed on both chambers of the National Assembly to accommodate the $496 expenditure as supplementary input in the 2018. He drew the attention of the legislature to the ongoing insecurity around the country and informed them of the National Economic Council’s decision on December 14, 2017 authorizing the release and utilization of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to tackle the situation.
President Buhari said upon the approval, his administration was preparing a comprehensive schedule of all requirements for each of the security services for presentation to the National Assembly for consideration.
The letter reads in part: “It would be recalled that for a number of years, Nigeria had been in discussions with the US government for the purchase of Super Tucano Aircrafts under a direct government to government arrangement.
“Recently, approval was finally granted by the US 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 specialized 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 US government.
“I am therefore, writing, seeking approval of this House for the sum of N151,394,421,335 to be included in the 2018 Appropriation Bill.
“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”, Buhari said.
However, the legislators faulted the President’s expenditure which according to them, was done without recourse to the National Assembly, stressing that his action was in breach of the constitution which provides that the National Assembly appropriate funds before expenditure.
In the House of Representatives, most members expressed displeasure over the President’s action and kicked against consideration of his letter. While taking turns to air their views on the constitutionality of the President’s approval as well as the procedure for the transmission of the request as listed on the order paper, they noted that the constitution did not provide for anticipatory approval of the budget thus, it was an impeachable offence.
Reacting, Kingsley Chinda, raised a constitutional point of order, citing Section 80 and 81 of the constitution and maintained that it did not provide for anticipatory approval of the budget. He added that Buhari’s decision is a clear evidence of what had been happening in this administration and called for the impeachment. “There is no language on the presidential approval; the expenditure has already been secured without any approval. President Buhari’s action contravenes Sections 80 and 81 of the constitution; it does not provide for what the president is asking us to do; the constitution does not provide for anticipatory approval. What the president has done is an impeachable act and we should commence impeachment of the president”, Chinda stated.
Similarly, Ossia Nicholas Ossai argued that the motion was uncalled for given that the money had been spent without the approval of the National Assembly adding that the President through his letter, admitted to have breached relevant section of the constitution. “I don’t see any reason why we are debating this motion since the money in question has been paid from the government coffers without National Assembly approval. But one thing I want to say is this House should not endorse illegality perpetuated by the anticipatory approval given by President Buhari because it did not follow the appropriate process”.
Also, Lovette Idisi posited that the President’s request was unconstitutional and goes against the tenets of democracy and stressed that Section 36(8) prohibits retrospective approval of such legislation. He urged the House to avoid falling into what he described as a trap by the executive. “What the President’s letter is asking us to do is to indict ourselves and we know what that amounts to”.
On his part, Simon Arabo while noting the insecurities in the country and the need to nip it in the but said the president should have sent an addendum to the 2018 budget since it is still in the works.
“Insecurity is in the increase at the moment and anything that can be done to stop it should be welcomed. The president’s approval of the money for the purchase of the aircrafts is one of such but I would have expected the president to send an addendum to the 2018 budget which is still in the works so we can accommodate his request”.
In his ruling, Speaker Yakubu Dogara, who re-echoed earlier submissions that President’s Buhari’s request was in breach of the constitutional provisions, explained that there is no straight forward approach to the issue hence, the need for further consultations because what the letter is requesting approval for is expenditure already made. He referred the issue to its committee of Rules and Business to verify whether there exists a precedence set by previous Assemblies.
“This is a very controversial issue and requires further consultation including previous climes; I don’t think as a matter of law, there’s a straight forward answer to this problem presented by the letter or what it is asking us to do yet, on the other hand, we are duty bound to consider it”.
While the House deferred further action on the request pending the findings of Orker-Jev-led committee on Rules and Business, a mild drama ensued in the red chamber as Senators were divided along party lines over demands for the impeachment of President Buhari over the matter. While some posited that he breached the constitution, others differed.
Moving a motion to that effect, Senator Mathew Uroghide, urged president of the Senate, Bukola Saraki to allow the chamber invoke Section 143 of the Constitution, arguing that President Buhari breached Section 80 (1,2,3,4) of the Constitution. Citing orders 15, 42 & 52, Uroghide asked that the matter be referred to the appropriate committee of the Senate. “The objective of the expenditure is very well established but the procedure of the expenditure is wrong. There are serious consequences for the violation of the constitution. As such, I hereby request the Senate President invoke Section 143 of the constitution.
Senator Abu Ibrahim in his debate, dismissed calls for the President’s impeachment which he said was a politically motivated and argued that since the establishment of the ECA, no President has ever sent a formal request to the National Assembly seeking approval for appropriation of funds. “This is a PDP conspiracy. I will like PDP to tell us which of their governors have taken money released from the excess crude account to the state assembly for approval. If this is a PDP conspiracy to tarnish the image of Muhammadu Buhari, they will not be able to do it because, we are coming out with figures”.
On his part, Senator Shehu Sani described the expenditure as a “gross abuse of the constitution but differed on the call for Buhari’s impeachment. He instead, asked that the money be refunded and the transaction started afresh. “We are not ignorant of the insecurity challenges that is ongoing in the country and how it affects the stability of our country. I believe that the monies that are spent on security is worth it and I appreciate the efforts of the federal government to bring an end to killings in Nigeria but this is no reason to breach the constitution. We should not impeach the president but ask that the money be returned and due process followed.
Speaking on the matter Senate President, Saraki said “…the concerns we have, as Senator Shehu Sani said, all of us agree that there is definitely security concerns in our country. At the same time, we all agree that from what has been presented to us, there is definitely a breach of the constitution. The question is what the circumstances surrounding the breach are and whether those circumstances justify the breach of the constitution.
“I am sure you will all remember that in August 2017, when I got the message from the US ambassador, that the Senate committee at the congress of the United States wanted to visit us because they had received a request from President Trump to approve for the payment of the Tucano but they needed Congress approval. Congress wanted to come to Nigeria to speak with their counterparts. Between September and February, with all due respect, there was ample time for the executive to have carried us along on this issue; there are arguments for and against and those argument are valid. What do we do going forward in trying to appropriate because the funds have already been spent…”, Saraki stated.
Like the House, the Senate directed its committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters to determine if any infraction was committed by President Buhari in his approval and direction for the release of the funds for the purchase of the aircraft.
While the committees get to work, Nigerians await the outcome of their assignment and whether or not both chambers of the National Assembly will make good their resolve to commence the process of impeachment if indeed, the President breached the constitution.
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