Leke Baiyewu, Abuja
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, at the plenary on Wednesday, read a letter from President Muhammadu Buhari seeking the approval of the legislature for the withdrawal of $496m from the Excess Crude Account for the purchase of military aircraft.
Buhari, in the letter, however, disclosed that the money had been withdrawn and paid to the United States for the 12 Super Tucano aircraft, ahead of legislative approval.
This, he said, was done to beat the deadline for the arms deal.
The planes will be delivered in 2020.
The President said, “Recently, approval was granted by the United States of America Government but with a deadline, within which down payment must be made otherwise the contract relapses. In the expectation that the National Assembly will have no objection to the purchase of these highly specialised aircraft, which are critical to national security, I granted anticipatory approval for the release of $496,374,470. This was paid directly into the treasury of the United States Government.
“I am therefore writing seeking approval of the Senate for the sum of $496,374,470 (equivalent to N151,394, 421,035) to be included in the 2018 Appropriation Bill which the National Assembly is currently finalising. The balance of the requirement 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.”
Buhari recalled that due to the “security emergencies” in the country, which was discussed with state governors, the National Economic Council on December 14, 2017, approved that up to $1bn be released and utilised from the Excess Crude Account to address the situation.
Senator Mathew Uroghide (PDP, Edo-South), however, raised a point of order to declare Buhari’s action illegal.
Uroghide said, “I heard very clearly when you read the letter that came from Mr President over the payment that was made for the Tucano aircraft. I was completely taken aback because I represent a people.
“This letter that you just read to us now, with due respect to the office and the status of Mr President, I want to say that what he just said, which you just read to us, is a violation of some of the provisions of the constitution. I stand on it with every vehemence and I want to read Section 80 (1),(2),(3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution.”
The lawmaker read the sections of the constitution he made reference to.
He added, “What you have just read to us violates these provisions. Mr President couldn’t have ever, and no Nigerian citizen that is up and active under the provisions of the constitution, is allowed to make any disbursement or any approval coming from any quarter, whether it is by the Council of State of the Federation or the committee of the governors or anybody in the Presidency, without approval or appropriation from this Assembly.
“I think it is important that we remind ourselves because if we sit down here, posterity will judge us.”
Saraki interrupted Uroghide, noting that the matter would be taken at another time. He, however, admitted that the lawmaker had raised a valid point.
The Senate President also hinted that the matter might be raised at the next legislative day (Thursday) based on its importance and urgency.
He said, “You raised a very valid point. You came under privileges and you are making a point on the subject matter. Fine, but the point is that this has come now as a communication. What we are going to do is that you will have your day in being able to express your views. This has come as a communication now; we will have to deter it.” (Punch)