Deji Elumoye and Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
Caution was thrown to the winds yesterday as members of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Employment, Labour and Productivity engaged the Minister of State for Labour, Productivity and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN), in a 30-minute shouting match over the proposed employment of 774,000 Nigerians under the Special Public Works Programme of the federal government scheduled for October.
At the end of the debate, the committee threatened to suspend the programme for which N52 billion had been voted for in the revised 2020 Appropriation Bill.
Trouble started when the committee at the interactive session in Senate Room 231 asked the Director-General of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Mr. Ladan Argungu, to explain the composition of the 20-man committee inaugurated on Monday by the labour ministry for the implementation of the programme.
But Argungu’s explanation was that he was aware of only eight members of the committee, and referred the federal legislators to the minister for further clarification.
The lawmakers were not satisfied with Argungu’s explanation, saying he was not in control of the programme and accusing Keyamo of hijacking the programme from NDE, while alleging acute lopsidedness in the entire programme.
The joint committee Chairman, Senator Godiya Akwashiki, argued that the NDE director-general and the minister were not on the same page over the matter and suggested that the committee should go into an executive session with both officials so as to resolve the issues.
However, when the lawmakers asked journalists to leave the venue, Keyamo kicked against the move insisting that having been openly accused he should as well be allowed to defend himself in public.
“I came here for an open session and not closed-door session and since you have accused me in public, I will have to defend myself in public and not in executive session,” he said.
When told that he could not dictate to them how the committee session would be run, Keyamo banged the table shouting that he won’t go into a closed-door session with anybody.
Irked by the minister’s outburst, a member of the committee, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe, moved a motion that the minister should apologise for tackling the committee over the rule of procedure.
Oloriegbe’s motion which was adopted by the committee, however, worsened the situation when Keyamo was asked by the committee chairman to tender an apology.
The minister refused to apologise to the lawmakers, saying he had neither done anything wrong nor made any derogatory statement.
The minister was asked to leave if he would not apologise.
Speaking with newsmen shortly after, Keyamo accused the lawmakers of trying to take control of the recruitment exercise under his ministry.
He said while he was not averse to the committee investigating the programme, they could not direct him on what to do as doing so would mean sharing in the powers of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Keyamo said despite granting the lawmakers 15 per cent of the job placement, they still want to hijack the entire programme, taking over the power of the president in the process.
He said: “We have said it before that there is about 10 per cent to 15 per cent reserved for the lawmakers. I have said it openly. What do they need more than that? They want to control the programme and I said no except the president says I should leave it, then I will leave it, but they cannot control the programme.
“They can investigate the programme. I can be coming here every day to explain but they cannot control it. I did not apologise because I did not say anything derogatory. I only insisted that the cameras must be there. There is nothing to apologise for because the constitution says: expose corruption. You cannot expose the corruption behind the public.”
In a statement issued later yesterday, Keyamo rejected what he described as the move by the National Assembly to suspend the selection process.
The minister directed the state selection committee chairmen to proceed with the selection process as planned.