There was tension in the House of Representatives on Tuesday over a letter from President Muhammadu Buhari requesting the National Assembly’s approval of $496,374,470 for the purchase of Super Tucano aircraft from the United States government.
The lawmakers queried Buhari’s powers to appropriate and spend money without any recourse to the National Assembly, which statutory function it was to give approval to all national expenditures.
Recall that Buhari had approved the withdrawal $462 million from the Excess Crude Account, ECA, to the United States government for the procurement of the aircraft without a prior approval of the National Assembly.
The queries were occasioned by the reading of a letter dated April 13, 2018, and entitled: “Supplementary input to the 2018 appropriation bill: Purchase of Super Tucano aircraft from the United States Government” from the President by the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, at resumption of plenary on Tuesday.
In the letter to the leadership of the National Assembly read after an executive session of the House, Buhari explained that the United States government had given a payment deadline for the aircraft purchase, otherwise, the contract would lapse.
Part of the letter read: “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 December 14, 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.
“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 US$496,374,470.00. This was paid directly to the Treasury of the United States.”
Usually, presidential communications are not debated but hardly had Dogara finished reading the letter than the House erupted into anger against the decision and action of the President. The explanation did not go down well with the lawmakers who argued it was an impeachment offence.
Kingsley Chinda, the Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts, immediately called for the impeachment of the President, saying, “There is no language on the presidential approval. The expenditure has already been secured without any approval. We cannot sit down and do nothing. National assembly is not a rubber stamp. Today, it is as if we are like dogs that cannot bark. It is an impeachable offence”.
With the atmosphere at the chambers fully charged and the thunderous shouts of “yea, yea” welcoming Chinda’s remarks, the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara intervened, reminding the members that the letter was actually addressed to him.
He, however, said a new date would be slated for the debate of the letter, either on impeachment procedure or necessary steps to take.
Yet the lawmaker representing represents Obio Akpor Federal Constituency of Rivers state continued: “For three years now, there is no day in the country that people are not being killed. We should commence impeachment now. By our rule, the letter of this nature should not be debated upon but should be carried out with action.’’
Also speaking, Aliyu Madaki (Kano) supported the impeachment move on President Muhammadu Buhari, urging an immediate action from the House.
“My brother and colleague, Chinda made same explanation which is very clear and we should follow suit,” he said.
In the same vein, Sunday Karimi (Kofi) said Buhari had broken the law and must face the consequences.
“The issue he raised bothered in our responsibility. This is the time to tell Mr. President that we are prepared to serve our people. He has broken the constitution and should be ready to face the consequences. He has spent public money without approval”, he said.
Also speaking, the Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Onyema Chukwuka, suggested a reply to Buhari’s letter with a detail on how he had breached the law.
“We should talk about this now. What we should talk about now is to reply Mr. President. We should write back to the executive, asking him that he has breached the constitution. And he should be ready to face law. There us one law we all stand by. And he is not different,” he said.
In his submission, the Chairman, Rules and Business, Oker Jev said Chinda was putting the cart before the horse, adding that following the House rules, that was the first reading of the Bill. He added that the letter could be debated during second reading.
At his stage, the speaker intervened, reminding the House that the issue was related to procedures, and referred the House to the inputs by Jev. But again, the House erupted in deafening shouts of “yea and nay”.
With the House under control, TJ Yusuf (Kogi) asked the House to jettison the sentiment of party affiliations and speak truth to power for Nigerians.
“What we have here is a letter telling us what he has done. We should drop the idea of being partisan. It is about Nigeria people. The public don’t know whether you are PDP or APC when they go out there to write about us. It is about all of us,” he said.
Similarly, Samson Okwu said: “This matter is a serious matter and we need to be very careful. It is not an issue that should be politicised and tribalised.”
On his part, Shehu Garba asked the House to make the President to also account for the funds spent on petroleum subsidy.
“I believe we should not be tribalised. Our letter should also include that the President needs to explain $460 million that was already spent and N4 billion spent on petroleum. It is very annoying for anybody to mislead the House. It is an impeachment offence and everybody should stand by it,” he said.
The leadership of the House, in a tactical move to quell the demand of members, suspended debate on the payment for the jets till another legislative day.