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Withdrawal of $496m tucano aircraft : Outraged senators head for showdown with Buhari

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By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Henry Umoru & Dirisu Yakubu
BUJA—Senators are headed for a stormy session today, outraged, over the anticipatory approval and payment of $496 million to the United States Government by President Muhammadu Buhari for the purchase of 12 A29 Super Tucano aircraft.

Super Tucano

The approval for the payment was made without appropriation by the National Assembly, and in direct conflict with the provisions of the constitution, National Assembly members fumed, yesterday.

Today’s stormy session is expected to be further aggravated by plans to use the newly amended Legislative Houses and Privileges Act to clamp an indefinite suspension on Senator Ovie Omo-Agege, APC, Delta Central over his alleged role in the invasion of the chambers by thugs, last Wednesday. The amended act signed into law by President Buhari last January, among others, gives the Senate the powers to ban until the end of the session.

Meanwhile, the Senate leadership, last night, met on how to direct today’s proceedings with heightened feelings by the legislators on alleged encroachment of their power over the purse.

The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has called on National Assembly members to immediately commence constitutional processes against President Buhari for allegedly violating his oath of office by the withdrawals.

The senators, Vanguard learned yesterday, are angry over the withdrawal of the funds which they alleged was a continuation of the seeming disregard of the role of the National Assembly in the nation’s democracy.

“You can see he even stated it on paper that he did what he is not supposed to do,” a source privy to the development in the Senate said, yesterday.

A senator who spoke to Vanguard on the issue, yesterday, said the report of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, which investigated the issue, is expected to be tabled today. The Senate source said the showdown and debate on the issue might be shifted to tomorrow after consideration of the president’s letter in which he acknowledged making the anticipatory approval.

Buahri’s letter to NASS

In the letter to the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, President Buhari had said: “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 this House for the sum of US$496,374,470.00 (equivalent to N151,394,421,335.00) to be included in the 2018 Appropriation Bill, which the National Assembly is currently finalising. 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.

A Senator, who spoke with Vanguard said: “Yes, the issues will come and as expected, there will be sharp division among us, but at the end of the day, there will certainly be a common ground for all of us.”

Besides the issue of the anticipatory approval, another issue to surface tomorrow is the matter of Senator Omo-Agege. Vanguard gathered of a plan by some senators to ensure that Omo-Agege was permanently locked out of the 8th Senate. This will likely be resisted by his collaborators in the Buhari Parliamentary Support Group.

However, his antagonists in the Senate Vanguard learned, last night, have fetched the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act as their weapon to put him out of the Senate..Though the law gives the Senate the right to suspend an errant member up to the end of a legislative session, Vanguard gathered that the angst against the Delta senator was fuelling momentum to put the suspension till the end of the life of the 8th Senate.

“You can be assured of it that he will not enter the Senate again till 2019,” one source close to the Senate leadership said at the weekend.

On Omo-Agege

Vanguard gathered, yesterday, that the major instrument to be used in dealing with Omo-Agege would be the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act of 1957, as amended and signed into law by President Buhari in January 2018.

Section 20 of the act relating to acceptance of bribes by members, reads: “Any member of a Legislative House who accepts or agrees to accept or obtains or attempts to obtain for himself or for any other person any bribe, fee, compensation, reward or benefit of any kind for speaking, voting or acting as such member or for refraining from spoken, voted or acted or having so refrained shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine of four hundred naira (N400) or to imprisonment for two years or both such fine and imprisonment.

Section 21 pertaining to Contempt of a Legislative House by members reads: “Any member of a Legislative House who – being a member of a committee in the House, publishes to any person not being a member of such committee any evidence taken by the committee before it has been reported to the House; or assaults or obstructs a member of the Legislative House within the Chamber or precinct of the House; or is convicted of any offence under the Act, shall be guilty of contempt of the Legislative House.

“Where any member is guilty of contempt of a Legislative House, the House, may by resolution, reprimand such member or suspend him from the service of the House for such period as it may determine: Provided that such period shall not extend beyond the last day of the meeting next following that in which the resolution is passed, or of the session in which the resolution was passed, whichever shall occur.

“No salary or allowance payable to a member of a Legislative House for his service as such shall be paid in respect of any period during which he is suspended from the service of the House under the provisions of this section.

Nothing in this section contained shall be construed to preclude the bringing of the proceedings, civil or criminal, against any member in respect of any act or thing done contrary to paragraphs (b) or (c) of subsection (1) of this section.”

The Legislative Houses Act section 22 relating to a suspended member excluded from the chamber and precincts, reads: “A member of a Legislative House who has been suspended from the services of that House shall not enter or remain within the Chamber or precincts of the House while such suspension remains in force, and, if any such member is found within the Chamber or precincts of the House in contravention of this section, he may be forcibly removed there-from by any officer of the House and no proceedings shall lie in any court against such officer in respect of such removal.”

The arrest and release of Senator Dino Melaye, APC, Kogi West is also likely to be raised on the Senate floor today in a sitting that is likely to see senators vent anger at the executive arm of government.

PDP seeks sanction against Buhari

Meanwhile,  the PDP yesterday, flayed the president for the anticipatory approval and expenditure of  $496 million. The party through its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan in a statement said the lack of legislative approval rendered the spending of the money illegal and unconstitutional.

“We charge the National Assembly to investigate the whereabouts of the balance from the $1bn ECA fund and the purposes for which it has been taken, as well as save our democracy and constitutional order by invoking appropriate legislative processes against President Buhari for this violation before it becomes too late.

“President Buhari is aware that his unilateral spending of $496 million (N151.374 billion) from the ECA, without recourse to the legislative approval of the National Assembly, is a gross violation of the laws and constitution of Nigeria and a direct affront to our statutory order as a democratic state.

“By this action, President Buhari has technically suspended the 1999 Constitution (as amended), plundered the inherent powers of the National Assembly as the principal institution of democratic rule, while re-enacting a sole administratorship in governance as if our nation is operating a military regime,” the party stated.

The party alleged that the approval of the huge sum of money by Buhari was a move intended to procure the support of his US counterpart, Donald Trump for his 2019 re-election bid.

“More disturbing is the revelation that President Buhari paid $496 million for the purchase of military aircraft from the United States;  ignoring allegations of overprice and issues concerning due process, just to achieve a political expediency of currying President Donald Trump’s support for his 2019 re-election bid.

“President Buhari’s action amounts to a gross misconduct and betrayal of public trust because, in the bid to push a personal agenda, he deliberately side-stepped statutory legislative scrutiny and acted in clear breach of section 80 (3) (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

“While section 80 (3) states that ‘no moneys shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the Federation, other than the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the federation unless the issues of those moneys has (sic) been authorized by an act of the National Assembly’, section 80 (4) provides that ‘no moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund of the federation except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.

“It is shocking that President Buhari, whose administration prides on claims of transparency and zero tolerance for corruption, elected on a platform that lay claims to the height of progressivism (sic), who boasts of the highest standards of integrity, can mundanely resort to a violent abuse of our constitution just to suit a desperate passion of seeking re-election,” the statement noted, adding that “the resort to falsehood, deception, and secrecy in the withdrawal from the ECA and the reported $469 million payment for the military aircraft raises very serious issues regarding the integrity of the Buhari Presidency.”

It’s a constitutional aberration  —Ozekhome

Reacting to the development yesterday, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, condemned the withdrawal describing it as a “constitutional aberration” capable of calling into question the checks and balances expected in a presidential democracy.

He said: “The seal and approval of the Presidency on $1bn funds earmarked to allegedly combat insurgency without due and prior legislative authorization which cloaks the appropriation with the aura of legitimacy, constitutes a brazen demonstration of constitutional contempt and an indefensible arrogation, usurpation, and encroachment on the premier legislative function of the National Assembly.

“It is a constitutional aberration; an affront on the ideals of our constitutional democracy, the values of democracy itself and the hallowed doctrine of separation of powers that characterize our constitutional philosophy,” noting that “appropriation by any governmental authority must comply with the blueprint set out in the relevant sections of the Constitution. Any other thing, act or omission done outside of the express contemplations of the framers of our constitution is illegal, unconstitutional and constitutes an anathema smirking of embarrassing contempt for the country’s grund-norm,” he added.

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