$496m aircraft purchase: Senators demand Buhari’s impeachment, Reps undecided

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Some senators at the plenary on Thursday, called for the impeachment of President Muhammadu Buhari for allowing the withdrawal of $496m from the Excess Crude Account to purchase military aircraft without National Assembly’s approval.

Most of the lawmakers, who spoke on the withdrawal and spending pointed out that the President had breached Section 80 of the 1999 Constitution, while a few disagreed.

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The 12 Super Tucano aircraft ordered from the United States would be delivered in 2020.

The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, had on Wednesday read a letter from Buhari in which he admitted that the money had been withdrawn and paid to the US ahead of the legislative approval. This, he said, was done to beat the deadline for the arms deal.

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On Tuesday, the letter was slated for consideration and referral to the relevant committee but Senator Mathew Uroghide, who had protested against the expenditure on Wednesday, moved a motion for Buhari’s impeachment for violation of the constitution.

Uroghide, who is the Chairman of the Committee on Public Accounts, specifically urged Saraki to allow the Senate to invoke Section 143 of the Constitution against the President.

He said, “Any amount of money that has to be spent from the Federation Account, must be appropriated by the National Assembly. This one has not been appropriated by the National Assembly and therefore breaches the provisions of the constitution.

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“The Senate is not unmindful of the fact that the objective of this expenditure has been well established, but the procedure for this expenditure is wrong. There ought to have been appropriation before this money was spent.”

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Uroghide added, “There are serious consequences for the violation of our constitution. As a consequence, the only thing that we can draw from on this is that, we call on you (Saraki) to invoke Section 143 of the Constitution. What it means is that this matter does not need to be investigated; it is clear that this offence has been committed by Mr. President.”

Seconding the motion, Senator Chukwuka Utazi stated that it was time for the legislature to be decisive. He noted that Sections 80 and 81 of the constitution stated the powers of the legislature on spending by the executive and how the executive should manage its finances.

Utazi added, “There is no other name to call this except an impeachable offence and we cannot allow that. We cannot stay here and this Assembly and Nigerians will be taken for granted. It should not be so. I rise and support the motion.”

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Also speaking, Senator Shehu Sani has described the expenditure as “a gross abuse of the constitution.”

While Sani stated that he was not in support of the impeachment call, he asked that the payment be refunded and the transaction be started afresh to allow due process.

But Senator Abu Ibrahim described the impeachment call as “a PDP conspiracy.” Ibrahim challenged the opposition lawmakers to name any state governor in the PDP who benefited from the previous withdrawals from the ECA and sought the approval of the state House of Assembly before spending the money.

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Senator Samuel Anyanwu, however, countered Ibrahim, stating that the matter was about respect for government’s institutions and not about party politics.

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The Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, however, argued that the executive might have considered Section 83(1-2) of the constitution, which allows the President to make extra-budgetary spending in an emergency situation.

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N’allah said, “In view of the controversy that this has generated, my advice is that since we have the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, issues of this nature can be referred to that committee. Let them look at it properly and advise the Senate on the way forward.”

Saraki, in his ruling, noted there were two issues: the spate of insecurity and the flawed process through which the government wanted to tackle it.

The Senate President sought the permission of the lawmakers to refer the probe to the Committee, which was unanimously granted.

But the House of Representatives was undecided on Thursday whether to approve a $496.3m request by President Buhari to purchase 12 units of Tucano aircraft from the US.

The House referred the request to its Committee on Rules/Business to look into it and guide the members properly on the way forward.

The House, in keeping with its Tuesday resolution to debate the matter before taking a stance, had listed it on Thursday.

But, as the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, called on the Acting Leader of the House, Mr. Mohammed Monguno, to move a motion for the debate, some members kicked against it.

The motion sought to include the $496.3m in the 2018 Appropriation Bill still pending before the National Assembly.

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It was the Chairman, Committee on Ethics/Privileges, Mr. Nicholas Ossai, who raised a point of order to observe that by the procedure of the House, the request was belated because Buhari had already spent the money.

Ossai quoted Section 80 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to remind members that no funds could be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, “except in the manner approved by the National Assembly.”

He argued, “This motion is not relevant because this money has been spent. This matter cannot be discussed at all. This matter ought to have been thrown away and I urge the House that this motion should be withdrawn.”

However, there were other members, who attempted to protest loudly, saying that the House should at least debate the letter and either approve or reject it.

For instance, the Chief Whip of the House, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, observed that the House would still be in order by debating the motion.

Some members like the Deputy Minority Leader, Mr. Chukwuka Onyema; Mr. Gabriel Onyenwife; Mr. Agbedi Fredie; and Mr. Sergious Ose-Ogun, backed Ossai.

They said the request was “belated” and trying to bend the House rules to accommodate the $496.3m either by a motion or a fresh money bill, would amount to self-indictment by the legislature.

The Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, intervened to rule that in view of the divergent opinions, the debate should be suspended.

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