Senators on Thursday were divided along political lines following a motion for the impeachment of President Muhammdu Buhari.
Matthew Uroghide, Chairman Senate Committee on Public Accounts, moved the motion for the impeachment of Mr Buhari over his approval and withdrawal of $496 million from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) without the lawmakers’ consent.
In a letter to the senators on Wednesday, Mr Buhari explained that he gave an anticipatory approval to purchase of Super Tocano aircraft from the U.S government because of time constraint and a hope that the lawmakers will raise no objection.
Mr Uroghide had stood to condemn the act of the president on Wednesday but was asked to present his grouse as a substantive motion on another legislative day.
Coming under Order 15, 42 and 52 on Thursday, Mr Uroghide said the approval without National Assembly’s input was a violation of the Constitution and should be punished with impeachment.
He added that the objective of the expenditure is ”very well established but the procedure of approval was wrong”.
“This matter yesterday 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
“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.”
Seconding the motion, Chukwuka Utazi, (Enugu-PDP) played down the justification that the President gave that he is only asking that the money should be considered as supplementary budget as the process of approving the main budget is still ongoing.
He said Mr Buhari should be punished for the ‘impeachable offence’ he committed.
“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 a 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.”
Shehu Sani (Kaduna-APC) disagreed with the impeachment call.
“We may have a President that is a man of integrity today and Nigerians so much love. If we allow these things to happen today, we have no reason to challenge it in the future when we have a President that is not Muhammadu Buhari. When you set a dangerous precedent, you are simply laying the foundation for the desecration of the institution of democracy.
“You cannot appropriate what has been spent. You cannot deposit the money that you have spent in the bank. What has happened today is a gross violation of the Constitution of Nigeria. But we must understand that inasmuch as we are very sensitive, the credibility and usefulness of this government are being constantly tested.
“I believe that the monies that are spent on security is worth it. But, we should be calling for the refund of that money and for due process to be followed. We have seen so much bloodshed but there is the need for us not to circumvent the laws of the land. I believe that we should not impeach the president but ask that the money is returned and due process is followed.”
Abu Ibrahim (Katsina-APC), accused senators of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) of conspiring to impeach Mr Buhari.
He justified the president’s decision to make the withdrawal on precedence.
“He took action based on national interest, that’s why he authorised this payment. As far as I’m concerened, this is the first time that money drawn from excess crude oil account is being brought to the National Assembly. Since they begin to operate this account, I have never seen any expenditure that was brought here for approval.
“N17.7 billion was drawn by (ex-President) Obasanjo to pay the Paris Club without National Assembly approval. Obasanjo left N9.3 billion in excess crude account but former President Goodluck Jonathan …the money with no recourse to the National Assembly. The account was increased to over N20 billion in 2008 and decreased to less than N4 billion by Jonathan in 2010. It never came to National Assembly for approval.
“N2 billion was used by the 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 (ex-President 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 has 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.”
Raising a point of order, Mr Akpabio denied moving a motion for release of funds when he was a governor.
“I don’t remember moving any motion for funds to be spent from the federation accounts in the national economic council meeting,” he said.
Sam Anyanwu (Imo-PDP) also said the only option to treat the ‘infraction’ is to invoke section 143 of the constitution.
“Yes, when you say the truth, you become a target but you don’t fear to become a target by saying the truth, the truth must be said. What do we do in the case of this issue on the breach of constitution? I think it is important that we look at the issue. I raised this motion and the prayer of this motion and it is for the appropriation committee to look into the matter. Now, there is infraction what do we do? We have no other thing to do than to follow the Constitution which my colleague has spotted, section 143 of the constitution,” he said.
Senate Deputy Majority Leader, Ibn Na’ Allah pleaded with the lawmakers exercise caution in making the next move.
He proposed that the issue be referred to the Committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters to advise on the best approach.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said the U.S Congress had briefed him and some other senators about the purchase when they visited last year.
He however noted that the Executive had enough time to communicate to seek approval before spending the funds.
“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 arguments 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 advise if the Constitution has been breached, the circumstances surrounding the breach of the Constitution and the justification. What do we do going forward in trying to even appropriate because the funds have already been spent, do we go under what the leader has come under or we start the whole process of appropriating?
“I don’t think this exercise is worth it because we endorsed it to the U.S Congress. It was after we agreed in September that the U.S government now went back to give approval to the Executive to pay to their own government so they can go ahead and sell this equipment to Nigeria.
“If we all agree, I will put it to vote and refer the matter to the judiciary and give them a short period of time, that by Wednesday next week, they submit it.”
The committee was mandated to revert on Wednesday May, 2nd.