LAGOS—Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang, said yesterday that President Muhammadu Buhari has powers to spend $496 million for the purchase of military aircraft without the approval of the National Assembly.
Enang spoke at a time spokesman of the President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation, Festus Keyamo, SAN, said the President, in withdrawing $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account, ECA, acted under the doctrine of necessity, and that his action was justifiable.
Enang spoke while discussing ‘the implications of bypassing the National Assembly’ in an interview on African Independent Television, AIT, yesterday. Keyamo, on his part, spoke as a guest on Channels Television politics programme Sunday night.
Enang’s statement drew immediate reactions from some lawyers who remained divided as to whether the President had the powers to make such spending without the approval of the National Assembly.
The presidential aide explained that what was pending before the legislature was a request to include the sum in the 2018 budget, adding that the National Executive Council, NEC, had approved the expenditure in December, 2017.
He further argued that it was legal to spend money from a budget yet to be passed in anticipation of approval.
Enag said: “The law and the constitution recognise contingencies. And when we finish collating what is needed for the balance of the $1 billion, after $496 million, we will bring a supplementary budget before the legislature.”
Asked if senators were right to call for the invocation of section 143 (which allows for a president to be removed from office if found guilty of gross misconduct), Enang said: “He is not guilty of gross misconduct and the question of section 143 is not what is pending before the legislature.”
He argued that there was precedence of spending from the Excess Crude Account without the permission of the legislature by past administrations.
Enang said: “It is following due process. It is what I will call Internal Standard Proprietary Procedure in procurement in terms of security. The money has not even been appropriated.
“This government has come to clear and clean every misconduct and in the course of it, questions will arise as to every action and we are ready to justify them.”
On whether he would applaud this act by the President, he said: “Applauding this act is like saying that something wrong has been done. Nothing wrong has been done. Mr President acted in good faith.
“The executive, the judiciary and the legislature have what is called inherent powers, powers that inheres in your office, especially in cases of emergencies. The executive acted upon its inherent powers and this was a case of emergency.”
He, however, failed to state whether or not the executive didn’t have enough time to communicate with the legislature before the approval.
Buhari’s action justifiable — Keyamo
Similarly, Keyamo, explained on Sunday night that the withdrawal of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account for the purchase of Tucano Aircraft by the Presidency was done under the doctrine of necessity, stressing that the President’s action was justifiable.
Keyamo, who was a guest on Channels Television programme, “Sunday Politics”, said: “Nigerians will understand that the President acted under necessity. In this case, there is justification for what Buhari did and that is found in the doctrine of necessity.”
He explained that the purchase of Tucano Aircraft was done in the overall interest of Nigerians, since it is aimed at combating terrorism and insurgency.
Keyamo, who is also a member of the All Progressives Congress, APC, and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, praised the Buhari administration for transparency in handling the affairs of the country.
According to him, this explains the reason the United States of America sold the weapons to Nigeria.
“It is a credit to Mr President that he went back to the National Assembly to seek approval. Other Presidents did not do that at all.
Obasanjo paid about $17 billion to pay the Paris club without even going back to the NASS, even thereafter. So it is a huge credit to Buhari that he wants to still instill some financial discipline,” Keyamo said.
President Buhari had come under criticism, especially by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, following the controversial purchase of the aircraft at the cost of $496 million.
The Senate had during its plenary last Thursday, asked the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, to invoke Section 143 of the constitution, in view of President Buhari’s approval of the extra-budgetary spending of $496 million to purchase the aircraft.
In a motion moved by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Account, Senator Mathew Urhogide, said: “It’s a violation of Section 80 subsection 1, 2, 3, 4.
He had said: “The procedure of the expenditure is wrong. There ought to be an appropriation before such expenditure. I hereby request that the Senate President should invoke Section 18 of the Constitution.”
President did no wrong — Ogala
Reacting to Ita Enang’s statement yesterday, former chairman, Committee on Judiciary, Lagos House of Assembly, Babatunde Ogala, said: “The Federal Government withdrew this money from the Excess Crude Account, ECA, not the federation account.
There are two different issues here. If the money had been withdrawn from the federation account, perhaps, I would have been saying the President has committed some infractions.
‘’The constitution is clear about this. The ECA is the money kept from the excess crude oil fund. I understood that the arrangement for the withdrawal of this money was always between the state and the federal government.”
List offences committed — SERAP
In his reaction, Executive Secretary of SERAP, Tokunbo Mumini, said: “If they want to impeach the President, they, the National Assembly, have to tell us specifically what constitutional breach he has committed. It must be clear as to what provisions he has breached and what he has done contrary to the provisions of the constitution.
“Stating what he has done is the only way to agree with them (National Assembly). That means they have to tell us what the constitutional provisions say about the breach.
Buhari acted in spirit of the constitution —Sagay
Also reacting to Enang’s statement yesterday, Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption, PACAC, Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN, justified the President’s withdrawal from the Excess Crude Account, ECA, saying he acted within the spirit of the constitution.
Sagay said: “I think it all depends on the circumstance. My understanding of the whole thing is that negotiations were concluded with the US government and payments were to be made immediately in order to be able to sustain the agreement. That is the impression I get.
“The unfortunate thing is that this is a country in which the National Assembly, whether PDP or APC, is the opposition party. Every opportunity that they have to run the President down will be seized with relish. Otherwise, if there was good faith, even if the President does that so he can secure a security contract that will make this country safe, why should the National Assembly go for the jugular?
“So, there should be good faith because the National Assembly acted in bad faith because they want to go after President Buhari. The President did not go against the spirit of the constitution because if he had spent the money and did not revert back to the National Assembly, you can say he went contrary to the constitution.
“But if he is going back for retroactive approval, then, it is within the spirit of the constitution.”