$496m jets fund: Buhari survives impeachment motion in Senate

President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday survived impeachment motion in the senate.

The motion is not completely dead though.

The upper chamber resolved to refer the motion 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.

Senate President, Abubakar Bukola Saraki saved the day when he prevailed on his colleagues to refer the contentious matter to the Judiciary and legal Matters Committee for guidance and direction on the way to go.

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 he request of Mr. President C-in-C 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 Mathew Urhoghide (Edo South) intervened and 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 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 matter on Thursday was raised by me to say that this request that was sought by M. President is procedurally wrong. What has been read by the leader this morning was that this matter has been referred to the appropriate committee for the inclusion of this amount of money that has already been spent.

“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, 9Saraki) 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. I so move M. President (Saraki).

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.

“If we have a Chief Executive who doesn’t want to behave according to the Constitution, we follow the Constitution to handle such Chief Executive. There is no other name to call this than that this is an impeachment offence. It is an impeachable offence and we cannot allow that. We cannot stay here and this assembly will be taken for granted”.

Senator Abu Ibrahim came forcefully to defend the presidential action. The Katsina South lawmaker said that the Senate should appreciate the fact that President Buhari acted in national interest.

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

Ibrahim said, “Mr. President took action based on national interest that is why he authorized 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. 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 Obasanjo from excess crude account to pay the Paris Club and fund two projects without National Assembly approval. Obasanjo left $943 billion in 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 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 whhen 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 PDP to tell us which of their governors have 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 further said that “the payment was government to government without pecuniary interest whatsoever. It was for the security of this country which all of us support. The money should not have come to us in the first instance because the governors approved it. Only 53 per cent of the money should 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 assembly for approval.”

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

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

He said that 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.

In his contribution, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, said that the admittance by the Presidency that the money had already been spent was a vindication of his motion that something was amiss in the purchase of the fighter Jets.

The Imo East senator recalled that a former Senate President, Chuba Okadigbo was removed from office over alleged anticipatory approval.

Anyanwu said that he is aware that those who say that truth targeted by the government “but we should continue to say the truth.”

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.

“This is a motion brought to this Senate by a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as regards to infractions.

“When I was born by my mother, we were twin. I was born a twin and my elder brother and I don’t know how I would be afraid of my elder brother. What I am saying is that, this is an institution. We should keep every friendship and look at the constitution which I swore to protect.

“He was talking about PDP; I remember the late Okadigbo was removed from office based on anticipatory budgetary approval. What has been done today is a pure breach of the constitution and we must realize that. I believe as a responsible and responsive institution, we must put things straight. Someone has brought a motion and we are debating the motion, we have commenced it, it is beyond party affiliation but we have agreed that everything we do is based on the provisions of the constitution and our standing rules.

“The matter has been canvassed and I think we should all contribute on the matter. Yes, when you say the truth, you become a target but you don’t fear to become a target by saying the truth, the truth must be said. What do we do in the case of this issue on the breach of constitution? I think it is important that we look at the issue. I raised this motion and the prayer of this motion and it’s for the appropriation committee to look into the matter. Now, there is infraction what do we do? We have no other thing to do than to follow the constitution which my colleague has spotted section 143 of the constitution.”

Deputy Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah proposed that the matter should be referred to the Judiciary and Legal Committee to consider and guide the Senate appropriately.

The Kebbi south senator noted that in view of the controversy surrounding the matter the advice of the Judiciary and Legal Committee would be handy.

N’Allah said, “I am in a bit of difficulty to understand the purpose of this motion in view of the fact that while the constitution raised certain responsibility for the President, it equally gave the National Assembly to do certain responsibilities. If you have my permission, I would like to read section 83(1-2)

  1. (1) of the Constitution says The National Assembly may by law make provisions for the establishment of a Contingencies Fund for the Federation and for authorising the President, if satisfied that there has arisen an urgent and unforeseen need for expenditure for which no other provision exists, to make advances from the Fund to meet the need.

(2) Where any advance is made in accordance with the provisions of this section, a Supplementary Estimate shall be presented and a Supplementary Appropriation Bill shall be introduced as soon as possible for the purpose of replacing the amount so advanced.

“I am aware that in the last budget, there was provision for supplementary provisions but in view of the controversy that this has generated, I would advise that we have a committee on Judiciary 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. Let us not try to put it as if it is partisan issue. The people who raised the matter, yes, politically they have raised their right to present the matter at the National Assembly on the concern. The advice can suffice to that the Senate can be properly guided on this matter.”

Saraki agreed with Na’Allah and said, “The contribution from the leader addresses two issues. We must take note of that. The concerns we have, according to Sen. Shehu Sani said and all of us agree is that there is security concern in our country. I think also we all agree that from what has been presented to us; definitely there is a breach of constitution.

“The question concerned is, what are the circumstances surrounding the breach of the constitution? Whether those circumstances justified the breach of constitution. This issue has some of you realize, I am sure you all remember that it was August last year, we were on recess when I got the message from the US ambassador that the senate committee at the congress of the United States wanted to visit us because they got a request from President Trump to approve the payment of Tucanos but they needed approval. Their congress wanted to come to Nigeria to speak with their counterparts and we all had to come back from our vacation and I led the team with the House of Representatives members and members here and we met the members of congress on this issue.

“So definitely we were aware that time for this issue. Between September and February, with all due respect, there was ample time for the executive to have carried us along on this issue. So their argument for and against, I think this arguments are valid and I don’t want us to bring it down to partisanship issues.

“These are not partisan issues. The suggestion of the leader that let us sends it to judiciary to advice if the constitution has been breached, the circumstances surrounding the breach of the constitution and the justification. What do we do going forward in trying to even appropriate because the funds have already been spent, do we go under what the leader has come under or we start the whole process of appropriating. I don’t think this exercise is worth it itself because we endorsed it to the US congress. It was after we agreed in September that the US government now went back to give approval to the executive to pay to their own government so they can go ahead and sell this equipment to Nigeria. If we all agree, I will put it to vote and refer the matter to the judiciary and give them a short period of time, that by Wednesday next week, they submit it.”

Urhoghide said “In as much as we don’t want to make this issue very contentious, I want to submit Mr. President that what the leader of the senate advised based on his argument, the section he read does not apply.

Saraki stood his ground and said, “I am not referring it to the judiciary and legal Matters committee because of section 83. He has come up with his own interpretation. I am saying that the only best committee here that can advise us on whether an infraction has taken place or not and how do we move forward to address it normally. By Wednesday, they can bring the report back to us.

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