…summons Labour Minister
Senate dares Buhari to go to court
The face-off between the legislative and executive arms of government over recruitment of 774,000 persons into the public works programme, took another dimension yesterday, as the National Assembly summarily ordered the suspension of the programme.
The parliament has also summoned the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, to appear before the Joint Committee on Labour and Employment to brief it on the modalities for the implementation of the programme.
It dared the Presidency to go to court if it felt the legislature had no powers to suspend the programme.
The programme ran into a storm on Tuesday after a meeting between the Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo and members of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Labour, Employment and Productivity, ended in a shouting match.
The meeting, which held at the Senate Wing of the National Assembly, was convened to enable both parties reach a common ground, but they could not as emotions overtook the discourse due to irreconcilable differences.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Ajibola Basiru, who disclosed the position of the parliament yesterday, said that the decision to suspend the programme was borne out of the need to ensure that Nigerians benefitted from the programme.
Basiru observed that while the National Assembly remained committed to the ideals of the programme, it must be put on hold until the modalities for its implementation were fully explained to parliamentarians.
The spokesman for the Senate, who read a joint statement endorsed by the two chambers of the National Assembly, reminded members of the public that the legislature was not only part and parcel of the programme from the conception stage, but approved it and appropriated funds for its implementation as part of the COVID-19 response strategy.
When reminded that the legislature may be encroaching on the powers of the executive and challenging the authority of President Muhammadu Buhari who conceived the programme, Basiru declared that the legislature was on the right path and not encroaching on anybody’s powers.
He said: “If the President (Buhari) sees that his powers are being encroached, he can approach the court of law. What we are saying is that, this project you are looking at, it is as if it is an exclusively presidential project.
“The conception of the programme, its approval and its funding was with the consultation with the National Assembly because we believe it is going to be beneficial for the purpose of addressing the challenges of COVID-19. So your perspective on encroachment on the powers of the President does not arise.”
Basiru argued that there was no exclusivity in terms of any programme that is to be implemented by government except if the executive believed that the National Assembly was no longer part of the government.
“Government, as defined by the 1999 Constitution, has three components; Legislative Powers as contained in Section 4; Executive Powers in Section 5 and the Judicial Power in Section 6.
“It is the totality of these that constitute government. So, when you are saying government is doing a programme, it is not President Buhari that is doing the programme, it is the government of the people. Implementation, appropriation and execution all rolled into one. There is no dichotomy as such to warrant an encroachment on the powers of the President.
“Assuming the National Assembly is opposed to the programme, we could not have approved it and appropriated fund for it. But we want to be sure that names don’t just fly. When journalists also raised issues about the National Social Register, the National Assembly intervened and there is more transparency on it now.
“Our people will also ask questions: this 1,000 people per local government area, how were they generated? Who set up the selection committee? What are the modalities for the recruitment? What are the minimum requirements for recruitment? It cannot be left to the whims and caprices of a person or a branch of a government. It has to be a totality of the government which is the executive and the legislative arm.
“In accordance with the constitutional imperative of oversight, the Legislature being important stakeholders in the democratic process, and elected representatives of the people, needed to be appraised of modalities for implementation for effective feedback to our constituents and in ensuring that our constituents optimally participate in and benefit from the process,” he said.
Basiru said that the National Assembly will ensure transparency of the process just as it did with the National Social Register when Nigerians raised concerns about its authenticity.