* Senators demand emergency rule in Benue, others
* PDP senator moves motion for President’s impeachment
* Reps defer debate on approval for purchase of $496m Tucano
The Senate on Thursday aligned with the House of Representatives and resolved to invite President Muhammadu Buhari to address a joint session where he would address the federal lawmakers over the endless killings across the states of the federation with escalation of the situation in Benue State.
This followed an earlier move by the House to invite the President to brief the federal lawmakers on same subject matter.
The Senate said it has become imperative for the number one citizen to address the lawmakers on the worsening security situation in the country.
The resolution by the Senate inviting the President was sequel to a motion, “Continued killings in Benue State”, sponsored by Senator George Akume (APC, Benue North-West) during plenary.
The Red Chamber , however, urged its ad-hoc committee on Security Architecture to expedite action on the recommendations of the security summit recently organised by it.
The Senate further advised the executive arm of government to holistically evaluate the entire security architecture of the country and ensure immediate return of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes and establish a relief fund for them.
Similarly, it urged security agencies to immediately identify, apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators of the heinous act, which it vehemently condemned.
Senator Akume while leading debate on his motion, said the continued killings, maiming and wanton destruction of lives and property in Benue State, particularly Benue North-West senatorial district comprising seven local government areas as well as Logo and Kwande local government areas in Benue North-East; Agatu and Okpokwu local government areas in Benue South, respectively.
Akume said the latest of such killings were the ones carried out on some Christian faithful, including Rev. Fr. Joseph Gor and Rev. Fr. Felix Tyolaha, a Catechist, John Ibor and 17 others were on Tuesday, April 24, at St. Ignatius Catholic Church in Ayar town in Gwer East local government area during their routine morning mass and burial ceremony.
According to him, “the killings have continued unabated since January 2018”, adding that these have made the government, through the Nigerian Army, to embark on a military exercise code named Ayem A’Kpatuma or cat race.
He said said though the exercise was intended to curb and curtail the killings and destructions in Benue, Nasarawa, Taraba and Kogi states, he lamented that “despite the military presence, there has been no end to the wanton killings”.
According to him, the latest attack on worship centre, which is unprecedented, has very grave implications for the security and unity of the country.
Senator Sam Anyanwu (PDP, Imo) in his contribution, called for the declaration of a state of emergency in Benue State and other parts of the country with a view to putting an end to the incessant killings.
Also, Senator Gbolahan Dada (APC, Ogun West) lamented that over 3, 000 people have been killed since the carnage started, wondering whether Nigeria is in a state of war.
Senator Barau Jibrin (APC, Kano South) advised the security agencies that the best way to stop the killings is to prevent the importation of arms and ammunition into the country through the porous borders of Nigeria.
On his own, Senator Victor Umeh (APGA, Anambra Central) noted that the recent killing of Christian worshippers inside the church calls for caution, and wondered why the police is yet to arrest any suspect in connection with the carnage since Tuesday.
The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, expressed worry that the spate of killings in the country was taking a dangerous dimension, stressing: “We must stop it in order to protect our democracy”.
“We can’t continue to say we are leaders and not taking decisive action to end the carnage in the land. This is failure. No arrest of any of the killers over the years.
“Something drastic, something result must be done as we await the President to brief us in a joint session”.
But the echo of plan to impeach Buhari on alleged violation of some sections of the1999 Constitution (as amended) which started from the House of Representatives, reverberated in the Senate on Thursday, following a motion to that effect by Senator Mathew Urhoghide (PDP, Edo)
A communication from the president requesting the Senate to include the said $496, 374,470million amounting to N151,394,494,335 for the purchase of Tucano Aircraft from the United States government in the 2018 appropriation bill kindled the anger in some senators against the President, leading to Uhroghide’s motion.
But Urhoghide’s motion did not sail through as the Senate exercised restraint in invoking Section 143 of the 1999 Constitution to kick-start a process to impeach the President.
The Senate asked its committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters to consider whether the president’s action has constituted an infraction or not for spending a sum of $496, 374,470 million, (N151, 394,494,335) for the purchase of Tucano Aircraft from the United States government.
Saraki had earlier announced the receipt of a letter tagged ‘ Executive Communication dated April 13 from the president.
The letter reads in part: “It would be recalled that for a number of years, Nigeria had been in discussions with the US government for the purchase of Super Tucano aircraft under a direct government-to-government arrangement.
“Recently, approval was finally granted by the US government, but with a deadline within which part payment must be made otherwise the contract would lapse.
“In the expectation that the National Assembly would have no objection to the purchase of this highly specialised aircraft, which is critical to national security, l granted anticipatory approval for the release of $496,374,470. 00. This was paid directly to the treasury of the US government.
“I am therefore writing, seeking approval of the Senate for the sum of $496,374,470. 00 (equivalent to N151, 394,421,335.00) to be included in the 2018 Appropriation Bill.
“The balance of the requirements for critical operational equipment is still being collated from the different security services and will be presented in the form of a supplementary appropriation bill, in due course.
“The Minister of Defence and other appropriate officers will be available to provide further details as may be required”.
Reacting to the letter, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Sen. Uroghide, said: “This matter was raised by me to say that this request that was sought by Mr 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 on this is that we call on you, Mr. President, 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.
“I want this Senate to resolve that what the president 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 Mr. President”.
Sen .Chukwuka Utasi (PDP, Enugu North) said in accordance with the provisions of section 81 of the constitution, withdrawal of $496 million is extra- budgetary spending.
He 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 this is an impeachment offence. It’s an impeachable offence and we cannot allow that. We cannot stay here and this assembly will be taken for granted.”
He berated President Buhari for his disregard for the legislature while he referred to a number of appointments such as those of service chiefs and that of the chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) made by the president without parliamentary approval.
But defending the President’s action, Sen. Abu Ibrahim (APC) said Buhari took the action based on national interest, saying, ” that’s why he authorised this payment.”
He said, “As far as I’m concerned, this is the first time that money drawn from excess crude oil account is being brought to the National Assembly. Since they began to operate this account, I have never seen any expenditure that was brought here for approval.
“N1.77 billion was drawn by Obasanjo to pay the Paris Club without National Assembly approval. Obasanjo left N9.3 billion in excess crude account but former President Goodluck Jonathan spent the money with no recourse to the National Assembly. The account was increased to over N20 billion in 2008 and decreased less than N4 billion by Jonathan in 2010. It never came to National Assembly for approval.
“N2 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. N5 billion was taken for power generation, funding was also sourced for Niger Delta, the same process was not taken by the late President Umaru 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 oil 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.
But Senator Anyanwu said the action by the president amounted to pure breach of the constitution which he said should be viewed beyond partisanship.
Anyanwu said: “I wanted to invoke order 53 (6) of our standing rule which states no senator shall input improper motives from any other senator. What Senator Abu Ibrahim was saying is out of context on the issue of PDP”.
In his contribution, the Senate President 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 justify the breach of constitution. This issue has some of you realise, 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 need 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 of 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 these 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 send it to judiciary to advice if the constitution has been breached, the circumstances surrounding the breach of the constitution and the justification”.
IGP snubs Senate’s invitation
Meanwhile, the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, on Thursday, snubbed the Senate by refusing to appear in plenary without a formal excuse.
IGP Idris was on Wednesday invited by the upper chamber to brief the house on the involvement of the police in the arrest and attempted evacuation of Senator Dino Melaye to Lokoja on Tuesday as well as the unfortunate killing of over 100 persons in the country in the last one week.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Legislative Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, was said to have disclosed that the Inspector General might be on President Buhari’s entourage to Bauchi State.
In the alternative, the Senate was informed of the presence of the Deputy Inspector General of Police (Operations), Havila Jozak, detailed to represent the IGP.
Speaking the mind of the Senate, its leader, Senator Ibn Na’Allah, said, ” The resolution of the Senate is clear and unambiguous and it is not right to go against the resolution. It is the person of the IGP that is needed and not a representative.
‘We represent 180 million Nigerians. The way we see this institution being treated I am not comfortable with it. I am against the suggestion by Senator Abu Ibrahim that the DIG should be allowed into this chamber.
“I am very uncomfortable that the IG knowing the seriousness failed to honour our invitation’.
Senator Mao Ohuambuwa (PDP, Abia North) suggested that the IGP be given another chance and if he should fail to come, it will be affront on the institution of the Senate.
Senator Emmanuel Bwacha (PDP, Taraba South) said the parliament has suffered enough humiliation as a result of the system the nation operates.
He cautioned that “the parliament should not be treated as an appendage of the executive.
Saraki then ruled that IGP Idris should unfailingly appear before the Senate at plenary by 11am on Wednesday, May 2, 2018.
In a related development, the House of Representatives on Thursday deferred debate on President Buhari’s request for retrospective approval of his administration’s $496 million (about N151.4 billion) payment made to the United States government for the purchase of 12 Super Tucano military aircraft.
The Speaker of the House, Hon Yakubu Dogara, stopped further debate on the controversial request when it became apparent that opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) House members were spoiling for war, accusing the president of undermining the legislature and breaching the constitution.
In his ruling ending debate on the request for the approval of the $496 million expenditure, Dogara referred the letter to the House Committee on Rules and Business for advice on the procedure to adopt for the consideration of the request, since there is no precedence to fall back on.
Dogara said, “By the House’s rules, specifically under Order 1, Rule 2, the House can by resolution, regulate itself where there are no specific precedences, or provisions on the subject matter, but that as a matter of law, there are no straightforward answers to this problem presented by the letter, or what it is asking us to do.
“People are watching us to see what we are about to do; whether we will stand with the truth.
“We will have to therefore refer this matter to the Committee on Rules and Business for them to check the archives, whether there are any precedences that we can anchor this communication on. That is my ruling”.
Before the speaker’s ruling abruptly ending debate on the president’s request, House Majority Leader, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila had in a motion moved on his behalf by his deputy, Hon Mohammed Tahir Monguno, had in reintroducing the request, which generated furore on Tuesday, prayed for a resolution to “invite the ministers of defence, finance and other appropriate officers to brief the House on the need to include the $496 million expenditure in the 2018 Appropriation Bill.
But Hon Nicholas Ossai raised a point of order and citing Section 80 (2) of the 1999 Constitution, declared that President Buhari breached the requirement for such expenditure which should be carried out only on the authorisation of the National Assembly.
“Except we don’t know our rights, this motion should be thrown away”, he stated
But the Chief Whip of the House, Hon Alhassan Doguwa, called for calm, appealing that the motion should be taken, while members can raise issues pertinent to the expenditure during debate.
Another member of the House, Hon Fred Agbede, pointed out that anything relating to the approval of funds has to come to the House by way of a bill.
He added that “Mr. Speaker, you know the procedure”, just as he warned the House against doing anything that would set a wrong precedence.
After considering contributions from other members, either condemning the procedure adopted by the President, or appealing for understanding to let the motion pass for debate, Dogara in his ruling, deferred further action on the request.