There was tension in the House of Representatives on Tuesday as Hon. Kingsley Chinda, the member representing the Obio/Akpor federal constituency of Rivers State moved a motion for the impeachment of President Muhammadu Buhari over the withdrawal of $496 million from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for procurement of 12 Super Tucano aircraft, without seeking approval of the National Assembly on Tuesday.
This was after a letter from President Muhammadu Buhari requesting National Assembly’s approval for payment already made for procurement of the aircraft from the US government.
In the letter sent to the National Assembly, the president said the U.S. government had given a payment deadline for the aircraft purchase, hence, the need for the hasty approval and payment.
Nevertheless, the Rivers lawmakers said the action of the President constituted an impeachment offense, citing Section 80 of the 1999 constitution of Nigeria which deals with the withdrawal of funds from the consolidated revenue funds account.
“Section 80 particularly subsection 2 reads, ‘No moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation except to meet expenditure that is charged upon the fund by this Constitution or where the issue of those moneys has been authorized by an Appropriation Act, Supplementary Appropriation Act or an Act passed in pursuance of section 81 of this Constitution.’
“Mr Speaker, subsection 3 reads ‘No moneys shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the Federation, other than the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, unless the issue of those moneys has been authorized by an Act of the National Assembly,” the lawmaker said while pointing out that there is nothing like “Anticipatory Approval” in the constitution
He added that the president has committed an impeachable offense by spending funds from the national purse without approval from the National Assembly.
“Is this National Assembly a rubber stamp? Must we approve whatever comes from the executive arm of the government? Accepting without conceding that there is something like anticipatory approval, when the approval does not come and expenditure has already been incurred, what happens? We are supposed to be a watchdog over the properties of the Nigerian people which include the funds of this country but today, it is as if that watchdog can only bark but cannot bite.”
He then called for the impeachment of the president saying that it is a clear evidence of what has been happening in the system: “There is no misconduct that is more serious than this kind of infraction and there is no country where this can fly when you have a democracy. If we are talking about security issues, for the past three years, there is no day people are not being killed. I propose that we commenced the impeachment based on this very constitutional infraction that Mr. Speaker has mentioned to the house.
It was however reported that the motion did not make any headway, though it received the support of lawmakers across party lines.
According to the newspaper, 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.”