• I granted anticipatory approval to beat deadline – President
By Christiana Ekpa and Umar Muhammad Puma
The House of Representatives, yesterday, expressed dissatisfaction over the $496million paid to the United States government for the purchase of Super Tucano aircraft without approval by the National Assembly.
The House accordingly resolved to transmit a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari to inform him about the infractions he has allegedly committed.
But the President in his letter read on the floor of the House gave indication he gave anticipatory approval for the purchase of the aircraft in national interest, especially that only a little time was left before the offer for the purchase would lapse, added to the fact that the negotiation for the transaction had been ongoing between the Federal government and the United States of America.
The Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, intervened to prevent a breakdown of law and order as he said that it was improper for the House to breach procedure by debating the matter since it was only read for the first time. He said the House would as well be guilty of the breaches the President was alleged to have committed if it proceeded to debate the matter immediately. .
The lawmakers’ anger followed the President’s communication to the Speaker Dogara, for a supplementary input to the 2018 appropriation bill, for the purchase of Super Tucano Aircraft from the United States government.
The House of Representatives last week mandated its Ethics and Privileges Committee to investigate the claims, which the Speaker alleged amounted to theft if it were found to be true.
The President in a swift reaction furnished the National Assembly with the letter where he agreed to carrying out the transaction in anticipation of the legislature’s approval.
In the letter read to the House after emerging from about two hours of executive session, the President said,” 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 National Economic Council on 14th December, 2017, where a resolution was passed, with the Council approving that up to US $1billion may be released and utilised from the Excess Crude Account to address the situation.
“Subsequent upon the 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 US$496, 374, 470.00. This was paid directly to the treasury of the United States Government.
“I am therefore writing seeking approval of the House for the sum of US$496, 374, 470.00m ( equivalent to N151, 394,421,335.00.) to be included in the 2018 appropriation bill which the National Assembly is currently finalizing. The balance of the requirements for the critical operational equipment is still being collated from the different security services and will be presented in the form a supplementary appropriation bill in due course”, the President stated.
Raising a point of constitutional Order over his communication, under Section 80 and 81 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, Hon Kinsley Chinda, objected saying that this had to do with issues of financial expenditure and control of the funds of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
He said that the law was very clear in the foregoing sections, that no money shall be withdrawn from the consolidated revenue account of the federation except it has been authorized from an appropriation Act.
Chinda told the House that the language, anticipatory approval employed by the President to defend his act was not known to the constitution on this matter.
Reminding the House that the committee which received a referral on this matter had not even sat, the lawmaker said that the President had written to confirm that he took and spent the money without approval.
Irked by this act, the lawmaker told the House that the President was planning to make them a rubber stamp, stressing that “this is a constitutional infraction and it is an impeachable offence.
“ No misconduct is so serious like this kind of infraction. It is only in an autocracy that this can be found. Let us not continue to sit and allow things go in this way. Let us wake up from our slumber. I propose that we commence an impeachment for Mr President”, Chinda moved.
In a swift counter to save the President, Emmanuel Orker-Jev, Chairman Rules and Business, told the Speaker that it was not right to subject that letter to debate according to House rules, saying that the presentation was taken for first reading and should only be debated at second reading since it was a bill.
He urged the Speaker to stand it down, but the Speaker refused, granting more lawmakers the opportunity to speak on the letter.
In his contribution, Ali Madaki in a point of order, said that by Section 1 of the 1999 constitution, the House rule was inferior, as the constitution was supreme.
The Speaker therefore ruled that Rules and Business slate the communication for debate at second reading.