Deji Elumoye in Abuja
A week after the shouting match between the members of the National Assembly Joint Committees on Employment, Labour and Productivity and the Minister of State for Labour, Mr. Festus Keyamo, the substantive Minister of Labour and Productivity, Dr. Chris Ngige yesterday tendered a formal apology to the lawmakers over the incident.
This is just as Keyamo has insisted that he will still superintend over the recruitment of the 774,000 personnel for special public works programme which was the source of the disagreement between him and the legislators .
Ngige, who was a Senator in the Seventh Senate, tendered the unreserved apology during a visit to the leadership of the Senate and members of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Labour.
He told the President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, and the federal lawmakers to discountenance whatever position earlier taken by Keyamo on the implementation of the special public works project.
According to him, the position of Keyamo on modalities for implementation of the project , written or verbal , is not sacrosanct as the National Assembly has the power of approval on any proposal made by the executive.
“We deeply regret the incident that happened at the last visit, the altercations that followed it between my Minister of State and members of the joint committees.
“Therefore, we decided that as a team, we will come in force and give you the necessary information that you will need so that we can fasttrack this programme.
“My minister of state has put out a position paper, that position paper – nothing is sacrosanct there. We can still discuss and agree after disagreeing.
“We must work hand-in-hand without acrimony or even drawing a very rigid line of who has this power and who doesn’t. That is the only way the programmes of government can be made sustainable and executed for the benefit of our people.
“In the Seventh Senate, the National Assembly didn’t have a rancorous relationship with the Executive of Dr. Ebele Jonathan, even though some of us were in the opposition parties.
“We came to the Eighth National Assembly, we had a very terrible experience for the legislature and executive, because when you go into such wars, wars are fought with bullets and you do not know who these bullets will touch.
“Many people became casualties to the extent that even the head of the legislature at the time had to be taken to the Code of Conduct for criminal charges and trial.
“Today, in the Ninth Senate, we are enjoying a robust relationship with the legislature. Some of us who have passed through this institution, will do everything possible to maintain that relationship.
“Therefore, Mr. Senate President, I apologise on behalf of the ministry for what took place the last time. And I hope that this apology will be taken by the members of the committee and the entire National Assembly, because I’m aware and I know that a committee is a representative of the whole. I, therefore request that we forgive and forget. “Let us turn a new page and start off on this programme.”
Responding, Lawan, said though the apology was welcomed as the Ninth National Assembly in line with its legislative agenda, wants harmonious working relationship with the Executive arm of government in the general interest of Nigerians but the truth must be told.
According to him, the truth is that the project is appropriated and approved for National Directorate of Employment (NDE) to implement and not the Ministry of Labour .
He declared that all actions taken by the Ministry so far on the projects in terms of modalities for implementation or otherwise are null and void as such actions are expected from the NDE.
“For me this is an opportunity to say the home truth – our committees were right to request for explanation on the modalities. We stand by our committees and we are in support of the suspension of the programme.
“In fact, any action taken before now is null and void. You are now going to start it all over. You said there is need for a fresh start. This is going to be a fresh air.
“From today once you engage and the explanations are accepted then NDE will start to put the structure (in place) because they would have explained how the 20-man selection Committee will be realised”, he said.
But Keyamo, who spoke to reporters after attending another consultative meeting with the National Assembly joint committee after it was adjourned to next Monday, declared that he was standing by his earlier position and that he would pursue it to the last including seeking legal interpretations from the Attorney General of the Federation.
He said: “This distinguished National Assembly I believe that they are the lawmakers and they desire to comply strictly with the provisions of the law. Now it is important that all of you and all Nigerians should go back and read the National Directorate of Employment Act, you can see that the whole struggle today is how to bypass me in the execution of this programme.
“With the provision of the law, I don’t know how they are going to go about that. I have to go back to my principal the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to give directives.
“By provision of section 2 (3) of the NDE Act I am the Chairman of the board of the NDE. The Minister is the Chairman of the board of NDE. So when you say NDE should go back and bring their plan, it will come back to me because I am still the Chairman of the NDE.
“This is a great constitutional issue that will go to the Attorney General at the end of the day for interpretation.
“Just like I said if the Presidency did not say I should step aside and allow them hijack the process because the game as you have seen today is simply that they are conniving with certain functionaries of government to design the programme, hijack the programme against the wishes of Nigerians and that is what I have been against and I will continue to stand by that.
“The Senate cannot give directive to the executive and the President will give directive, there is only one President in Nigeria there are no two presidents”, Keyamo explained.