Reps in rowdy session over $496m payment for fighter jets

House of Reps in session

 

….. say president committed impeachable offence

By Kemi Yesufu

Abuja

The House of Representatives witnessed a rowdy session for most of plenary on Monday as aggrieved members accused President Muhammadu Buhari of committing an impeachable offence by approving the release of $496, 374, 470 million (N151, 394, 421, 335 billion) as part payment for the purchase of Super Tucano aircraft from the United States without the approval of the National Assembly.

Members took turns to express their positions on the matter after Speaker Yakubu Dogara read President Buhari’s letter informing the House of the expenditure made by the Presidency in respect of the purchase agreement it had with the US government.

Buhari in his letter dated April 13, drew the attention of the House to the ongoing security emergencies in the country and the decision of the National Economic Council on December 14, 2017, authorizing the release and utilization of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to address the situation.

“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, l 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 billion 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.

“The minister of defence and other appropriate officers will be available to provide further details, as may be required,” the president explained in the letter.

But in a swift reaction, a member Kingsley Chinda (PDP-Rivers) raised a point of order, saying that the constitution does not give room for anticipatory approval of the budget, saying, “the decision of the president is an impeachable offence.”

Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Emmanuel Orker-Jev (APC, Benue) tried but failed to douse the tense atmosphere in the Green Chambers with members insisting on debating the letter.

Speaking in support of the Chinda’s argument, other members Sunday Karimi, (PDP, Kogi), Loveth Idisi (PDP/ Delta)  opined that it is worrisome that the deposit paid by Nigeria on the aircrafts was done without the approval of the National Assembly considering the fact that the aircrafts were to be delivered in 2020.

“based on precedence been set, if the constitution says the process is wrong then it is wrong. If it says it is an impeachable offence then let the process begin”, Idisi said.

Also expressing  his disagreement with the action taken by the presidency, another member, Ali Madaki (APC, Kano)  called on the House to follow the constitution without fear or favour, insisting that “what the Presidency did was impeachable.”

Other members,  Pat Asadu (PDP, Enugu) and  Samson Okwu (PDP, Benue) in their separate reactions suggested that the House writes the president seeking for the return of the money already paid to the US into the Nigerian treasury pending the approval of the National Assembly saying “if the president declines, the House can commence the impeachment process.”

Shehu Garba (PDP, Kaduna)  was another member who called on his colleagues to abide by the provisions of the constitution. He equally advised that the House should demand for an explanation of the N4 billion spent daily on fuel subsidy without the approval of the National Assembly.

In his ruling, Speaker Dogara said that “an appropriation can only be done through a bill and the House would want to operate within the ambit if the rules.” He thereafter, ruled that the president’s request as contained in the letter would be  debated on another legislative day.

 

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