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2019: What if NASS Committees’ on $496m Aircraft purchase, say PMB erred in law?

…As Senate report on the matter is ready today

Though President Muhammadu Buhari may be having rosy deliberations and executive threat visiting London, taking part in CHOGM meeting and being hosted recently by President Donald Trump at the White House, indications are rife that his eyes are on happenstances at both the upper and lower chambers of the National Assembly over alleged constitutional breach in approving and withdrawing fund for purchase of US fighters without recourse to lawmakers.

This stemmed from the fact that both chambers seemed embarrassed on the letter written to them for what analysts viewed as ‘Anticipatory Approval’ for the payment made by the executive for the purchase of 12 Tucano fighter aircrafts without recourse to the lawmakers which runs contrary to the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution as amended.

Otherwise, just as the Senate has moved to determine whether President Muhammadu Buhari breached the constitution when he approved $469 million to buy 10 A-29 Super Tucano attack planes from the U.S. without consulting the National Assembly, the House of Representatives have followed similar steps during their plenary laced with rowdy session last week on the same matter.

As the Senate report will be presented today at plenary, there are indications that proceedings may be rowdy.

There are indications that based on the outcome of the investigation; the Senate would invite the president to appear before it to explain the rationale behind the decision to spend money outside appropriation. Answers to be given by Mr. President may determine a lot of things even as the political space is becoming over charged as 2019 election hots up.

Senate President Bukola Saraki gave the hint last week while addressing senators on a motion to debate the legality or otherwise of the president’s action.

Though moves by opposition lawmakers to invoke the article of impeachment (section 143 of the constitution) against the president failed to garner support, there are fears that the much needed support may emerge from the report to be turned in by the investigating committee either at the Senate or even the Reps.

Saraki, while subscribing to the position advanced by Deputy Majority Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, that the matter should be handled by the Senate Committee on Judiciary for proper advice, told colleagues that it was the outcome of the committee investigation that would determine whether the president should appear for explanations.

Saraki noted during plenary that “We’ve taken contributions from our colleagues, and I think the contribution of the leader addresses two issues and I think we should take note of that.

“The concerns we have one, that there are definitely security concerns in our country. And I think also we all agree, at the same time, that what has been presented to us, definitely, there’s a breach of the constitution.

“But what are the circumstances surrounding the breach of the constitution?

“And whether those circumstances justify the breach of the constitution.

“And I believe – because this issue, as most of you would realise, you all remember that it was in August/September, last year, 2017, we were on recess when I got a message from the US ambassador that the United States Congress wanted to visit us because they had got a request from President Trump to approve the sale of Tucano Fighter jets and he needed Congress approval, and Congress needed to come to Nigeria to speak to their counterparts and get our own position.

“And we all had to come back from our vacations and I led the team with the House of Reps members and members here, and we met with members of Congress on this issue,” Saraki.

Key argument of the lawmakers is that the length of time between the US congressional visit and the withdrawal of funds was enough for the executive to inform the legislature.

Saraki made it clear that “So definitely, we were aware of this issue. But between September and February, with all due respect, there were ample time for the executive to have carried us along on this issue”.

“We shouldn’t break it down to partisan issues, these are not partisan issues.

“So I’d recommend the suggestion of the leader to send it to judiciary committee for us to hear from those who are not laymen whether the constitution has been breached, and also whether the circumstances surrounding the breach can be justified, they will advise us. And then he will come before us.

At the lower House, Femi Gbajabiamila, House Majority Leader, had brought a motion to push that controversial request, conveyed by President Buhari’s communication on Tuesday, which caused uproar on the floor of the House, leading to calls for his impeachment, in view of the clear constitutional breach.

However, his motion could not be taken following a point of constitutional order raised by Ossai Nicholas Ossai, saying that the president’s communication was in breach of section 80, sub Section 2 of the 1999 constitution as amended, and as such, the motion should not be debated.

The legislators, especially those of the opposition, were infuriated by the motion which they said was faulty as appropriation bills don’t come in the form of motions.

In his efforts to intervene, Sulaimon Lasun, Deputy Speaker, pleaded that the House had already concluded public hearing on the 2018 budget and that since the president had written, his request should be considered, but he was shouted down.

In giving his ruling, Dogara confessed that what was before the House was a bit difficult to do, one way or the other, saying that as a matter of law he did not think that there was a straightforward answer to the question.