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$496m jets row in Senate, House..Buhari escapes impeachment

The payment of $496m to the United States government by the Federal Government for the procurement of 12 Super Tucano fighter jets generated furore in the Senate and the House of Representatives yesterday.

A motion was moved by Senator Mathew Urhoghide (Edo South) for the activation of Section 143 – on impeachment of the president.

At the House of Representatives, many lawmakers kicked against the President’s letter requesting approval for the payment for the aircraft.

However, the National Economic Council (NEC), the nation’s highest economic advisory body to which the governors belong and headed by the Vice President, endorsed the payment for the planes.

At the end of the meeting at Aso Villa yesterday, Jigawa State Governor Abubakar Badaru said it was important for Nigeria to quickly buy the military jets before the United States changed its mind.

He said: “We forget easily. If you recall, we have been battling with approval from America to buy these equipment since 2014. We were begging America to sell these equipment to us.

“We tried Dubai (United Arab Emirates), they could not allow us, we tried a factory in Brazil, we couldn’t get it. The Americans still could not sell to Nigeria.

“Then, luckily, President Donald Trump said it was okay to buy. So we had to quickly buy before they changed their mind.

“Because there is also deadline and this is a state to state transaction, no middleman, and we are all here concerned about security and they (lawmakers) are raising questions on way and manner you protect people. This is an emergency situation.”

Also defending the payment for the fighter jets during the debate at the Senate, Senator Abu Ibrahim said: “Mr. President took the action based on national interest; that is why he authorised this payment.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is the first time that money drawn from excess crude account is brought to the National Assembly for approval. Since they began to operate this account, I have never seen any expenditure that was brought here for approval.

“$17.7 billion was withdrawn by former President Olusegun Obasanjo from the excess crude account to pay the Paris Club and fund two projects without the National Assembly’s approval. Obasanjo left $943 billion in the excess crude account but former President Goodluck Jonathan frittered away the money with no recourse to the National Assembly. The Excess Crude account increased from $5.16 billion in 2005 to over $20 billion in 2008 and decreased to less than $4 billion by Jonathan in 2010. It never came to National Assembly for approval.

“$2 billion was used by the previous PDP administration to fight Boko Haram in 2014. Governor Godswill Akpabio was the one who moved the motion at the National Economic Council to get the money. $5 billion was taken for power generation when they were sourcing for Niger Delta Power Holding, the same process was not taken by Yar’ adua. It was later taken to the National Assembly and it was approved.

“This is a PDP conspiracy. I will like the PDP to tell us which of their governors has taken the money released from excess crude account to the state assembly for approval. If this is a PDP conspiracy to tarnish the image of Muhammadu Buhari, they will not be able to do it because we are coming out with figures.”

Ibrahim prayed the Senate to consider the matter dispassionately without political colouration.

He added: “The payment was government to government without pecuniary interest whatsoever. It was for the security of this country which all of us support. The request should not have come to us in the first instance because the governors approved it. Only 53 per cent of the money which goes to the Federal Government should come to us for approval because we do not legislate for states and local governments. The PDP has interest in it and wanted to be holier than thou in the way and manner they are going about it. But the same PDP has not sanctioned its governors who have not taken the excess crude account money to their state for approval.”

Senator Godswill Akpabio raised a Point of Order to cut Ibrahim short.

Akpabio said that he could not recall ever moving a motion to withdraw money from the excess crude account as alluded to by Ibrahim.

He said the Senate should discountenance the reference to him “because I did not even see Senator Abu Ibrahim in any of our meetings”.

Ibrahim took the floor again to say that he was totally against the impeachment motion “because it is politically motivated”.

He prayed the Senate to endeavour to work for the interest of the country.

The upper chamber resolved to refer the motion for impeachment to its Judiciary and Legal Matters Committee for advice and guide on whether to activate Section 143 of the Constitution which deals with procedures for impeachment of the President, as advised by Senate President Bukola Saraki.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters, Senator David Umaru, was asked to submit his report next Wednesday.

The controversial motion followed another motion by the Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, about the need to include $496,374,470 (equivalent of N151,394,494,335.00) in the year 2018 Appropriation Bill.

Na’Allah specifically prayed the Senate to consider the request of Mr. President on the inclusion of USD 496,374,470 (equivalent of N151,394,494,335.00) only in the 2018 Appropriation Bill for the purchase of Super Tucano Aircraft from the United States Government.

Saraki was about to refer the request to the Appropriation Committee for further legislative work when Senator Urhoghide (Edo South) raised a Point of Order.

Immediately Urhoghide moved that the Senate should activate Section 143 of the Constitution, the chamber went dead.

When the chamber came alive once again, there appeared to be a sharp division among the senators which Saraki laboured to control.

Urhoghide, who referred to his aborted attempts to argue the matter on Wednesday said: “This ought to have been the first request to this Senate. We must put it on record that this is a violation of procedure as stated in the 1999 constitution….

“The objective of the expenditure is very well established but the procedure is wrong.

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

“I want this Senate to resolve that what the President (Buhari) did is procedurally wrong and a violation of our constitution. It must be condemned and, of course, the consequences of section 143 of our constitution should be invoked.”

Senator Chukwuka Utazi (Enugu North), who seconded the motion, said: “Mr. President, a time has come when this Senate has to rise up and do the job which the Constitution has stipulated that we have to do.”

He described the impeachment motion as out of order especially as the President’s action was not for any pecuniary interest.

Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP, Imo) said the Presidency’s admittance that the money had already been spent was a vindication of his motion that something was amiss in the purchase of the fighter jets.

He insisted Section 143 of the Constitution should be followed to deal with the alleged infraction on the Constitution.

Anyanwu said: “I wanted to invoke order 53 (6) of our standing rule which states that no senator shall input improper motives for any other senator. What Senator Abu Ibrahim was saying is out of context on the issue of PDP. It is wrong. I think he should withdraw that.

$496m request divides Reps

President  Muhammadu Buhari’s request for parliamentary  approval for the purchase of military equipment at $496m failed to scale second reading on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday.

Speaker Yakubu Dogara had to refer the request to House Committee on Rules and Business for clarity on the status of the request, whether to be treated as a bill or motion.

He also requested that the House be furnished with information on whether there had been a precedence on such issue  before or not.

President Buhari in a letter to the House requested for the approval of the House for the  purchase of Super Tucano aircrafts from the United States (US) government.

House Leader Femi Gbajabiamila presented the letter and it generated heated debate that eventually led to the invitation of  the Ministers of Defence, Finance and other appropriate officers to brief the House on the need to include the requested the 2018 Appropriation Bill.

The Speaker eventually  referred the letter for second reading.

When the request came up for second reading yesterday, lawmakers differ on whether to approve or reject it.

While some lawmakers opined that the request should be thrown out because the  President had already breached the constitution by spending the money without due process, other felt that national interest  should be considered whikentakingbthe decsion.

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