Nigerian Lawmakers in both chambers of the National Assembly are set to take on the Executive over the withdrawal of $496 million (N151.4 billion) from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for the procurement of 12 Super Tucano aircraft from the United States government without appropriation by the federal legislature.
Citing the need to meet the deadline given by the U.S. government for the aircraft order, President Muhammadu Buhari had given anticipatory approval for the withdrawal of the said sum from the ECA and transferred it to the U.S. Treasury in February 2018 without recourse to the National Assembly.
In a report by THISDAY on Monday, Buhari had written to the leadership of the legislature on April 13 and by his own admission stated that he had given anticipatory approval for the withdrawal of the $496 million for the 12 Embraer manufactured fighter aircraft.
Buhari had said he was seeking the inclusion of the amount in the 2018 Appropriation Bill that the National Assembly was finalising, further explaining that the U.S. government had given a payment deadline for the aircraft purchase, otherwise, the contract would lapse.
The President had written: “It would be recalled that, for a number of years, Nigeria had been in discussions with the United States Government for the purchase of Super Tucano Aircraft under a direct Government-to-Government arrangement. Recently, approval was finally granted by the United States Government, but with a deadline within which part payment must be made otherwise, the contract would lapse.
“In the expectation that the National Assembly would have no objection to the purchase of this highly specialised aircraft, which is critical to national security, I granted anticipatory approval for the release of US$496,374,470.00. This was paid directly to the treasury of the United States Government.
“I am therefore writing, seeking approval of this House for the sum of US$496,374,470.00 (equivalent to N151,394,421,335.00) to be included in the 2018 Appropriation Bill, which the National Assembly is currently finalising. The balance of the requirements for critical operational equipment is still being collated from the different security services and will be presented in the form of a Supplementary Appropriation Bill, in due course.”
The president’s letter helped to expose the lie propagated by the presidency, which had insisted a few weeks ago that Buhari had not ordered the withdrawal of $1 billion from the ECA for the procurement of arms to fight the insurgency in the North-east and would not do so until he had obtained the approval of the National Assembly.
Our source gathered that the clear constitutional breach would be discussed in both chambers Tuesday or during the week.
Already, both chambers of the National Assembly had summoned the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, her defence ministry counterpart, Brigadier-General Mansur Dan Ali (rtd.), the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, and the Accountant General of the Federation, Mr. Ahmed Idris, on the issue.
They are expected to appear before the Committees on Appropriation later this week.
Also, a joint meeting of the leadership of the National Assembly was scheduled to hold Monday night where the matter was likely to top the agenda.
According to a highly placed source in the legislature, close aides of the president were worried Monday that the constitutional breach and attempt by the presidency to misinform the public was now in the public domain, particularly the admission in writing by Buhari that he had given anticipatory approval for the withdrawal of the $496 million from the ECA without legislative backing.
The source disclosed that the president’s aides had started to reach out to the National Assembly leadership to see how to minimise the damage to Buhari.
“He was supposed to have stayed back in London (where he had gone to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), and head to the U.S. to meet Trump (U.S. President Donald Trump). Remember there was no date released to Nigerians on when he would return from London.
“But this issue has forced Mr. President to come back to see how the situation can be managed,” the source explained.
But even as some lawmakers on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) were of the view that an unlawful act had been committed, they stopped short of calling for the president to be sanctioned.
On the other hand, lawmakers of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were determined to tackle the president on the matter on the grounds that the un-appropriated expenditure was an impeachable offence.
PDP members in both legislative chambers were of the opinion that the administration, which claims to uphold the rule of law, had perpetrated a major illegality.