Chukwu David and Regina Otokpa There was drama at the National Assembly yesterday as members of the Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives on Labour, Employment and Productivity clashed with the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo, over the distribution of job slots designed to reduce the high rate of unemployment in the country.
The lawmakers had invited Keyamo to furnish them with details of the Special Public Works Programme, 2020, in which 774,000 people would be recruited by the Federal Government under the National Directorate of Employment (NDE).
However, the meeting, which held at the Senate wing of the National Assembly complex, turned rowdy as Keyamo resisted what he described as an attempt by the lawmakers to hijack the process. Trouble began when members of the Joint Committee demanded to know the method of selection of a 20-man committee from each state for the programme.
This request triggered a heated argument between members of the committee and Keyamo, as the parliamentarians insinuated that the minister’s handling of the programme was shrouded in secrecy. Soon afterwards, the altercation degenerated into a shouting match, forcing a member of the committee to suggest that the media should be asked to vacate the venue, to enable them resolve their differences in a closed session. Not willing to discuss the matter behind the cameras, the minister insisted that he would not speak to them without the presence of journalists, threatening that he would rather leave the meeting than discuss the issue behind closed doors. Keyamo, who was visibly angry at the position of the lawmakers, had to hit the microphone on the table at a point, shaking his head in disappointment.
Some members of the committee also lost their patience and urged the minister to leave if he would not respect their decision to have the issue sorted out off camera. The lawmakers, who considered Keyamo’s disposition as unruly, demanded apology from him or he should walk out of the meeting.
But Keyamo refused to apologise, insisting that he did not insult the National Assembly members to warrant the apology. In the midst of the stalemate, he eventually staged a walkout. Speaking to journalists outside the meeting venue, Keyamo said that the Ministry of Labour and Employment had the mandate of President Muhammadu Buhari to supervise the recruitment programme and would not surrender it to the lawmakers.
He accused the lawmakers of attempting to hijack the programme from his ministry, claiming the politicians were allotted between 10 and 15 per cent slots of the programme. He also alleged that some days ago, the committee started mounting pressure on him to bring a list of those to form the 1,000 for recruitment in each of the 774 local governments.
He said: “The chairman insisted that I must come to him privately for him to give me instructions about how the programme should be run all over the country. But I said no, that I am only answerable to the president and I can only be answerable for what I have done by virtue of the provision of the constitution.
“What they are getting wrong is that they said I am questioning their power to investigate me. They wanted the cameras to be out before I talk, that is, going into an executive session, but I declined that everything must be done in the open with all the cameras, so as to expose any kind of corruption.
The Nigerian people must know what is going on. “We have said it before in our press conferences.
There is about 10 to 15 per cent reserved for them. I have said it openly. What do they need more than that? They want to control the programme and I said no, except the president says I should leave it, then I will leave it, but they cannot control the programme. “They can investigate the programme; I can be coming here everyday to explain, but they cannot control it. I did not apologise because I did not say anything derogatory, I only insisted that the cameras must be there.
There is nothing to apologise for, because the constitution says expose corruption you cannot expose corruption behind the public.
” Earlier, Keyamo had also expressed displeasure when the Director-General of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Mr. Nasiru Ladan, could not defend the N52 billion budgeted for the recruitment of 774,000 Nigerians under the NDE. Meanwhile, Chairman of the joint committee, Senator Godiya Akwashiki, who addressed journalists at the end of the botched meeting, accused the minister of attempting to manipulate the process of the meeting, because he had lots of skeletons in his cupboard.
Akwashiki said that the minister totally contradicted himself while briefing them on the activities of the ministry, especially with regards to the 20-man committee set up in each state for the recruitment exercise.
Akwasiki said that while Keyamo said that 20 persons were recruited for the exercise, the DG of NDE said that he was only aware of eight people out of the committee set up by the minister. “The DG NDE said he only knows about eight people, but how the minister came about the remaining 12 people is best known to him. We want him to explain to us how they secause lected 20 people from each state. He has skeleton in his cupboard, that why he’s trying to bring confusion.
“We want him to tell us about the 12 people because the DG said that he is aware of only eight people. He is trying to confuse us,” the lawmaker said. Meanwhile, another controversy has arisen following the purported suspension of the recruitment exercise by the Joint Committee of the National Assembly after the meeting ended in a deadlock.
Keyamo, who responded to the development after leaving the National Assembly, said the lawmakers lacked the constitutional right to suspend the selection exercise and threatened to tender his resignation rather than allow the process marred by corruption. He therefore directed all state selection committees to proceed with their assignments unhindered. ”
…After I left, I understand that the Joint Committees purportedly suspended the work of the Selection Committees nationwide until they decide how the programme should be run and who should be in those committees. My opinion is that it is tantamount to challenging the powers of Mr. President. “I regret to say that their powers under section 88 of the 1999 Constitution is only limited to investigations, but not to give any directive to the executive.
“All my life, I have fought for good governance and constitutional democracy. I will not come into government and be intimidated to abandon those principles. I will rather leave this assignment if Mr. President so directs than compromise the jobs meant for ordinary Nigerians who have no godfathers or who are not affiliated to any political party
. “I, therefore, respectfully further direct all the committees set up nationwide made up of CAN, NSCIA, NURTW, market women, CSOs, youth organisations, respected traditional rulers, etc. to proceed with their work unhindered. Only Mr. President