Why Senate, House of Reps want Buhari Impeached
For long, some Senators and members of the House of Representatives have been looking for the opportunity to hit at President Muhammadu Buhari. This is no thanks to the frosty relationship existing between the parliament and the executive, especially the Senate. The relationship between the two arms has slowed down the pace of implementation of programs and policies of this administration.
The payment of $496m to the government of the United States by the President for the purchase of Super Tucano aircraft without the approval of the National Assembly presented an opportunity to the parliament to hit at him.
Like a pre-planned plot, the issue was raised at both Senate and House on April 17, this year by two opposition lawmakers. At the Senate, Senator Sam Anyanwu (PDP, Imo) brought the issue to the front burner while Rep Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu) did same at the House of Reps while contributing to the debate on a motion on Chibok girls.
It was gathered the issue was raised following the leak of the President’s letter to the opposition lawmakers. Buhari had in the letter said he granted anticipatory approval that the said amount be wired to the US government. However, the letter dated April 13, 2018 which was received at the National Assembly on April 17 this year, was not read until Tuesday and Wednesday at the House and Senate, respectively.
The drama peaked at the Senate when the president’s letter was read on Wednesday but the Senate President, Bukola Saraki pushed the move till Thursday. Specifically, Saraki told Mathew Uroghide, the mover of the plot, to tarry a while.
In the last few weeks, the bad blood between the Senators and the executive peaked, with the arrest of Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi) and Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP, Delta) over allegations of gun-running and financial crimes.
Aside Melaye and Nwaoboshi, there were reports that 10 others have been pencilled down by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for arrest. Unlike the duo, Senator Jonah Jang (PDP, Plateau) was lucky as he was only grilled for hours at the EFCC’s headquarters on Monday over allegation of financial crimes.
Also, a Senator from one of the oil rich states in the South-South is said to be on the run. There was reports that the lawmaker wasn’t at the National Assembly throughout this week. Thus, when the issue came up on Thursday, the Senators pounced on the President, calling for his head. The tone was set by Uroghide, who advocated for the invocation of section 143 of the 1999 constitution which talked about the impeachment of the president.
Section 143 lists steps to be followed including that there must be a notice of any allegation in writing signed by not less than one-third of the members of the National Assembly. Secondly, the Notice of Impeachment requires the signature(s) of at least one-third (1/3) of all the members of the National Assembly. Thirdly, the notice of misconduct would be presented to the president by the senate president, among others.
Although attempts were made during Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan’s respective terms, no president has been impeached in the country.
Uroghide’s prayer was supported by senators Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu) and Sam Anyanwu (PDP, Imo) as they said the impeachment process should be commenced.
But Senator Shehu Sani (APC, Kaduna) opposed the impeachment of the president, saying “In my own opinion, I do not believe we should impeach the President but the money should be returned.” Supporting Sani’s position, Senator Abu Ibrahim (APC, Katsina) said the President took the action based on national interest.
The air was cleared when the Senate leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah suggested that the matter be referred to the Senate committee Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters. It was at this point that Saraki told his colleagues that the matter be referred to the committee and they voted in its supported.
“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 we should send it to the judiciary to advise if the constitution has been breached, the circumstances surrounding the breach of the constitution, and the justification, is sound. 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 done, or do we start the whole process of appropriating?” he asked.
The committee, chaired by Senator David Umaru (APC, Niger) is expected to report back on the matter on Wednesday.
The plot in the House
At the House on Tuesday, lawmakers, mainly of the opposition PDP, expressed anger with the president for giving an anticipatory approval of $496 million for the purchase of Super Tucano Aircraft without recourse to the National Assembly. Buhari’s letter informing the House about the anticipatory approval he gave was read at plenary that day by Speaker Yakubu Dogara.
Soon after that, a PDP member from Rivers State, Rep Kingsley Chinda raised a point of order, saying there is no constitutional provision for “anticipatory approval.” He said the National Assembly should not be treated as a rubber stamp of the presidency, noting that the breach was an impeachable offence. “I want to move that this House begin an impeachment process on the president,” he said.
However, the chairman of the Rules and Business Committee, Emmanuel Orker-Jev (APC, Benue) said based on the provisions of the House rules, the president’s letter was in form of a bill, and that it should be allowed to come for second reading before a debate could be done.
But his colleagues protested by shouting him down, demanding that the letter should be treated there and then.
In countering Orker-Jev, an APC member from Kano State, Aliyu Sani Madaki, said the rules of the House could not be applied on the matter as Section 1 of the constitution provides that the constitution shall be binding on everybody, and that any other law inconsistent with it is null and void.
In his intervention, Mohammed Tahir Monguno (APC, Borno) said: “I concur with the submissions of the Chairman of the Rules and Business Committee. It is the same constitution that gives us the right to come up with our rules.”
Disagreeing with the position
Deputy Minority Leader, Chukwuka Onyeama (PDP, Anambra) noted that “it has been established that there’s a breach of the constitution. What we should be talking about now is to reply the Executive.”
Several other lawmakers such as Tajuddeen Yusuf (PDP, Kogi), Sergius Ogun (PDP, Edo), Samson Okwu (PDP, Benue), Shehu Garba (PDP, Kaduna), among others all said the president has breached the constitution, which should ordinarily lead to an impeachment process.
After long debate on the matter, Dogara ruled that Buhari’s proposal should be presented for second reading and that members have the right to express whatever views when the time comes. A lawmaker told Daily Trust that they were angry that the president could approve such an amount without their approval and did not even deem it fit to inform the leaders of the National Assembly.
The matter then came up on Thursday via a motion sponsored by House Leader Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) and read by Mohammed Tahir Monguno (APC, Borno) due to the House Leader’s absence.
The motion sought for the inclusion of the $496m in the 2018 budget proposal, but Monguno barely moved the motion when Ossai Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta) raised a point of order, saying the matter has been rested by the president’s assertion that the money had been spent.
But Rep Munir Babba Dan-Agundi (APC, Kano) argued that Buhari did not breach any constitutional provision, while Deputy Speaker Yussuff Suleimon Lasun (APC, Osun) noted that the procedure to bring a substantive bill was belated, hence the president’s communication.
Also, Rep Aminu Shehu Shagari (APC, Sokoto) pleaded with his colleagues to grant the president’s request in view of the sensitivity of the security situation in the country.
Rep Simon Arabo (PDP, Kaduna) observed that Buhari should have forwarded an addendum to the 2018 Appropriation Bill instead of such letter.
From the direction of the debate, it was apparent that the PDP lawmakers are hell-bent on an impeachment process against the president. But in the end, Speaker Yakubu Dogara referred the motion to the Rules and Business Committee to look into, and advise the House on what to do.