$496m Withdrawal: House Lawmakers Grandstand, Call for Buhari’s Impeachment

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James Emejo in Abuja

In what appeared to be grandstanding, lawmakers in the House of Representatives Tuesday clamoured for President Muhammadu Buhari’s impeachment over his alleged breach of the Constitution.

The call for his impeachment was the fallout of the anticipatory approval the president gave for the withdrawal of $496 million from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for the procurement of 12 Super Tucano aircraft from the United States government without the consent of the National Assembly.

The call for the impeachment process started after the president’s letter on the withdrawal of the $496 million from the ECA, which was addressed to the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, was read out at plenary.
As exclusively reported by THISDAY, Buhari in the letter is seeking for the inclusion of the $496 million in the 2018 Appropriation Bill which is yet to be passed by the legislature.

Buhari had explained in the letter that he gave the anticipatory approval for the withdrawal of the amount because of the February deadline given by the U.S. government to close the deal on the aircraft purchase.
But the letter, which was read immediately the House resumed sitting after an executive session, seemingly drew the ire of members.

It all started when Hon. Kingsley Chinda (PDP Rivers) raised a point of order, pointing out the constitutional breach by the president.
He said Buhari was in breach of the Constitution given that the expenditure had already been incurred even before seeking parliament’s consideration and approval.

“Mr. Speaker, there’s no such language as anticipatory approval in our law,” he said, adding that the House cannot be the rubber stamp of the Executive.
Chinda argued that a “constitutional infraction like this is impeachable”, to which many members chorused, “yes”.

“Let’s commence the impeachment of Mr. President right from this moment,” he added.
He said such impunity by the president would never be allowed in any democracy in the world.
“We have no reason to allow things to continue this way. We have power over the purse. Must we approve everything?”
He called on the National Assembly to assert itself as a watchdog, noting that it appeared to be asleep and had evolved into an institution that can only bark and not bite.

Backing his assertions, Hon. Karimi Sunday (PDP, Kogi) pointed out that the $496 million was spent without the parliament’s approval and challenged his colleagues to take up the responsibility of questioning the constitutional breach.
“It’s time to tell the president that we were elected to serve the people. We are not going to take what he’s done,” Sunday said.

He said the House needed to reply the president, drawing his attention to the fact that he was in breach of the Constitution and there would be consequences.
Also, the Deputy Minority Leader, Hon. Chukwuma Onyema, while describing the constitutional breach as a shame, said the House should reply to the president’s correspondence and alert him on the infraction and consequence.

Hon. Aliyu Madaki (APC, Kano) also supported his colleagues on the constitutional breach by the president.
Also, Hon. Yusuf Tajudeen (APC, Kogi) said: “We shouldn’t misinform ourselves. It’s a letter telling us what has been done and not a bill.
“I appeal we jettison partisanship on this issue. The executive has always told the public that we are the ones killing the economy.

“We were told that the aircraft are to be supplied in 2020 and so why the rush?”
Hon. Sergius Ogun (PDP, Edo) said the House had the right to do the needful, recalling that the former Senate President, the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo, was impeached after he gave anticipatory approval for the construction of streetlights in the assembly complex in 2000.

Also contributing to the debate, Hon. Lovette Idisi (PDP Delta) said based on precedents, it would not be the first time the executive has spent public money outside the National Assembly’s approval.
According to her, “We should not support illegality, what is wrong is wrong. We should rise and speak the truth. I second the motion for impeachment proceedings.”

Although the clamour for the president’s impeachment enjoyed the overwhelming support of lawmakers Tuesday, it proved difficult to actually commence the process to unseat Buhari.
This was largely because a few members who were against the move, cited the need to adhere to the House rules in dealing with the issue.

According to them, the correspondence from the president to the speaker ought not to have been debated on the same day it was read, as stated in the rule book of the House.
But proponents of the impeachment bid said such rules apply to bills and not letters, insisting that the issue be trashed out Tuesday.
It was apparent that those in favour of commencing the impeachment process were concerned that if the matter was deferred to a later date, members may be compromised through lobbying to abandon the move.

It was at this stage that the Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Emmanuel Oker-jev, intervened, stating that by the House rules, debating the president’s letter would have amounted to putting the cart before the horse as “this is just the first reading”.
Seeking clarity, the Speaker Yakubu Dogara sought to know if there were instances of first reading concerning letters received by the House.

“The letter is asking for appropriation and there’s no way to appropriate because it’s not a bill. But let’s operate within the ambit of the rules,” Dogara said.
Agreeing with Dogara and Oker-jev’s position, Hon. Iorember Wayo (APC Benue) said: “The wrong thing has been done and there are infractions of the Constitution. But let the issue be properly brought to the floor. Let’s wait until that day.”

However, Hon. Sylvester Ogbaga (PDP, Ebonyi) countered Wayo, saying that the president’s letter was a mere communication and not a bill.
He said: “It doesn’t enjoy first or third reading. It’s consistently out of order to subject it to a first reading.”

Hon. Pally Iriase (APC, Edo) said though such unapproved expenditure could no doubt instigate anger, “a letter from the president should be slated appropriately, as this is the first time.”
At a point in the debate, it was difficult to reach a consensus on the matter.
Eventually, the speaker had to resort to the House rules to defer the formal debate on the president’s letter to another day but was curiously silent on the precise date the debate would take place.
According to him, “We have a procedure of doing things. Normally, we will commit it to another date for debate.”