There seems to be no end to the regular speculation of the National Assembly’s plot to impeach President Muhammadu Buhari on one excuse or the other. The latest is the call for that showdown over the failure to obtain National Assembly’s approval for over $400 million spent by Aso Rock for the purchase of aircraft for Nigerian armed forces engaged in suppressing the Boko Haram insurgency, which, by the way, has been gulping our human and financial resources for almost 10 years. Even with the purchase of the military aircraft due for delivery in 2020, it will be star-gazing to put an exact time of ending the conflict.
Never in our political history has an administration been marked with intermitent and loose threat of impeaching the head of the executive by the legislative arm. It is all the more irritating that the country is so intimidated ever so often despite the fact that both arms are controlled by the same party, the All Progressive Congress (APC). Yet, if we face the truth, there is cause for worry on both sides. There is the executive (Aso Rock), which, for some unknown reasons, continues to render itself vulnerable to the avoidable politically murderous and arrogantly undisguised hostility of the National Assembly. Nowhere in the world does a democratically elected government contend with a stiffer opposition group as Nigeria’s legislative arm. And for the avoidance of doubt, as we say down south, a precipitated crash of the heavens is at everybody’s peril. National Assembly must, therefore, be dared to try its worst. The shock awaiting them is that Nigerians will not miss them. Worse still, it will emerge to them that, all along, National Assembly members have been serving themselves, priortising their immunity, pension, tens of millions of naira every month as unlawful allowances for every member and victimisation for any deviant. Political dislocation is surely unhelpful at this stage of Nigeria’s development. Any such idea among politicians must, therefore, reckon with unpalatable consequences. Nigerians are angry.
We must go to the starting point. The law is the law, even if inconvenient. There are purposes for laws, with consequences for non-compliance. There are no two ways or it would not be mandatory for in-coming public office holders to swear to oath of compliance with all existing laws. There is equally nothing strange in the Nigerian Constitution compelling approval of National Assembly for all expenditure, which may generate wrinkles in the future. Such law is neither peculiar to Nigeria, nor was it made by the current National Assembly. In fact, the law is there on the introduction of the Constitution in 1999. It is, therefore, clear how and why the law should not be breached. Are there any extenuating circumstances? Perhaps. Even then, such could only be to a limited extent. Otherwise, why should it take months to seek Assembly’s approval for an expenditure made in December 2017? There was more than adequate time to have complied with the Constitution between that time and now. After all, since President Buhari took office three years ago, he has been complying with the Constitution. What, therefore, happened this time?
Whichever was the case, there are people in positions paid to draw his attention to such possible oversight even if continuously and as many times as possible. They are either unable, unwilling or lacking the guts. Otherwise, why was nothing done towards that end until National Assembly members commenced grandstanding and sabre-rattling almost four months later? Would there have been any effort to comply with the Constitution if National Assembly members did not seize the cheap opportunity to put Aso Rock on the defensive? A by-product of such lapses is the inadvertent propping up of a largely or even completely discredited National Assembly. Only your friend can tell you the truth. Will Aso Rock ever repeat the expensive mistake of leaving out National Assembly in any future expenditure? Nothing could be more irritating than an avoidable lapse of playing into the hands of not just known but arrogant, desperate and chest-beating enemies.
This National Assembly? It would have been below their reputation if they did not seize the chance (of President Buhari’s failure to obtain approval for the hundreds of millions of dollars spent in purchasing military aircraft) as an opportunity to once again threaten to impeach him. Right from the inception of this administration three years ago, leadership and members of the National Assembly never hid their contempt for or determination to supplant Aso Rock. Nowhere in the world does such contempt exist within a ruling political party. Even currently in the United States, members of the Republican party in the Congress (National Assembly) ever steadily guard against the impeachment of a self-exaggerating, self-conceited and still combative President Donald Trump who regularly attracts public criticism for allegedly violating criminal laws capable of not only getting him impeached but also earning him prison terms. It is the contrary in Nigeria, and any opportunity is cashed on. In fact, circumstances of the emergence of the entire National Assembly leadership were such that ridiculed President Buhari. Since then, the ruling party in the Assembly has constituted itself into an opposition group either all alone or in conspiracy with opposition PDP for that purpose.
Again, Aso Rock should take the blame for dropping its guard against a dangerous enemy. The very idea of providing, in the Constitution, mandatory approval of National Assembly for any public expenditure is to prevent or at least minimise theft of public funds. In short, the provision is more of a deterrent rather than punitive measure, in which case, questions will arise even if any expenditure generates controversy, especially if impeachment should be on the cards. What warranted the expenditure? Buhari fully explained in his letter to the National Assmbly. Who okayed the expenditure? For all the criticisms and sometime personal abuses poured on him, as former President Olusegun Obasanjo would put it, not even a moron has ever questioned Buhari’s integrity on public funds since he assumed office three years ago.
What were the circumstances thar compelled the expenditure? Buhari, three years ago, as Commander-in-Chief, inherited a virtually derelict or at least poorly-equipped armed forces very much inferior to the insurgent Boko Haram, such that, despite claims to have tamed Boko Haram, the insurgents resurrected every time to inflict fresh agony on unarmed civilians and even members of the armed forces. What is more, since the days of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, public functionaries complained that Boko Haram insurgent were better equipped than Nigerian armed forces. The first to sound the disturbing alarm was the man who should know, Governor Shettima of Borno State, the unofficial captive of Boko Haram. The second alarm was similarly sounded by another man who really knew, Lt. Gen. Ihejirika, the then Chief of Army Staff, who publicly complained in his key paper at the Chief of Army Staff’s conference. There was, therefore, every reason for Buhari to buy the military aircraft at the time they were available.
Who were involved in the purchase of the contract, like the buyer and the supplier? Quite unusually, this was a government-to-government affair. This was not another Halliburton affair, which former President Jonathan, in his response to Obasanjo’s letter, cited that he (Jonathan) was investigating as proof of his war against corruption. If a previous Nigerian Senate approved the Halliburton contract, how did it come about that the same contract became the subject of criminal investigation and conviction of American private contractors but Nigerians who should face trial unashamedly moralise all over the place? And this Senate continues to threaten impeachment? Meanwhile, the EFCC must be regularly reminded of its claim to prosecute Nigerians involved in the Halliburton corruption scandal.
Any suspicion of padding in the cost of military aircraft President Buhari purchased from the American government? That is what the Senate should investigate, instead of threatening impeachment. What, anyway, is the record of the National Assembly in approving public expenditure? Time there was when the Senate blamed its lethargy in approving annual budget to late presentation. Aso Rock since fast-tracked the presentation. Six months after this year’s budget was presented to the Senate by Buhari, Senate is yet to finalise its scrutiny.
If, therefore, Buhari had sought Senate approval for the purchase of the military aircraft, Nigeria would have lost the aircraft to a rival interest.
Lately, Ita Enang, special assistant to the President, revealed that cost of purchasing the military aircraft was a supplementary budget. Even so, has rhe Senate passed the main budget? Senators have their reasons for their delay. But Nigeria at war against security challenges would not wait for the Senators. Neither would the American government, as other customer nations would always out-bid unserious countries like Nigeria.
On the surface, the showdown between the executive and the National Assembly may be avoidable. This is no more than mutual self-deceit. We cannot, week in, week out, live with threats of impeachment on every issue. Even the states, where, in the past, impeachment was reduced to mere routine, are now down to serious governance. Anywhere in the democtatic world, members of a ruling party, on the average, have an abiding obligation for smooth governance without necessarily rubber-stamping all government actions. There is no running away from this showdown. In one extreme case, Russia’s former President, Boris Yetsin, himself democratically elected, firmly in October 1993, neutralised the obstructionist tactics of parliamentarians by sending in troops to clear the place with tear gas. By the time they were allowed to return to parliament, they were all sober.
Demand from your senator, what happened to the 2018 budget?