The legislative/executive face-off over modalities for recruitment of Nigerians into the proposed 774,000 public works across the 744 local government areas worsened Wednesday with the National Assembly ordering that it should be put on hold.
NASS joint committee on labour and Minister of State for Labour Festus Keyamo, SAN, Tuesday had a shouting match with the minister saying the lawmakers can’t direct the executive on how to go about the programme which he vowed not to compromise.
The incident generated a lot of tension so much that the lawmakers had to order Keyamo out of the hearing room.
But the minister, in a chat with journalists after the row, said the federal legislature can’t stop the programme.
To the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), the deepening row is embarrassing and shameful.
NASS gets tough
However, in a tough reaction, the National Assembly Wednesday declared that President Muhamnadu Buhari may approach the court if the executive feels slighted by their stoppage order on the programme.
Their position was contained in a joint statement by chairmen of media committee of both chambers,
This is even as Senator Ifeanyi Ubah (YPP Anambra South), angrily described Keyamo’s outburst as irritating rascality.
After hours of separate closed door sessions, the lawmakers came out smoking, declaring that the programme be put on hold since it was approved by them via appropriation of N52billion for it as clearly contained in the already passed N10.8trillion revised 2020 budget.
Specifically at the Senate wing , the spokesperson, Senator Ajibola Basiru (APC Osun Central), at a press briefing, said the National Assembly had the power to order or direct stoppage of implementation of the programme as contained in paragraph five of the jointly signed statement .
The federal lawmakers declared in the paragraph: “In view of the foregoing, the implementation of the programme shall be on hold pending proper briefing of the National Assembly by the Minister of Labour and Employment.”
When asked whether such a directive does not constitute encroachment on the powers of President Buhari, the Senate spokesman said: “If the president sees that his powers are being encroached they can approach the court of law.
“What we are saying is this, this project the way you are looking at it, is as if it is an exclusively presidential project which is not, because conception of the programme, its approval and its funding came through the consideration and approval of the National Assembly on the basis of believing that is going to be beneficial for the purpose of addressing the challenges of COVID-19.
“So, there is no exclusivity in terms of any programme that is to be implemented except that the National Assembly is not part of the government.
“Government, as defined by the 1999 Constitution, has three components; legislative powers; section 4, executive powers; section 5, and the judicial power section 6. It is the totality of these that constitute government. So, when you are saying the government is doing a programme, it is not President Muhammadu Buhari that is doing the programme, it is the government of the people.
“Implementation, appropriation and execution of such programmes all rolled into one; there is no dichotomy as such as encroaching on the powers of the president.
“Assuming the National Assembly is opposed to the programme, we could have not approved it in the first place through appropriation. We are in support of the programme by appropriating N52billion for it and we want to be sure that names don’t just fly.”
“When journalists also raised issues about the humanitarian social register and the National Assembly intervened, there was more transparency to it.
“Our people will also ask questions, this 1000 people per local government, how were they generated, who set up the selection committee, what are the modalities for recruitment, what are the minimum requirements for recruitment?
“It cannot be left to the whims of a person or a branch of a government, it has to be a totality of the government which are the executive and the legislative arms,” he further said.
In the joint statement signed by Senator Basiru and his House counterpart,
Hon Benjamin Kalu, the lawmakers said: “The National Assembly is concerned about the proper and effective implementation of the engagement of 774,000 Public Works Workers and wishes to restate its commitment to its success.
“Accordingly, the National Assembly reminds members of the public that the Legislature was part of the conception of the programme, approved it and appropriated funds for its implementation as part of the COVID 19 response strategy.
“The National Assembly, in line with its constitutional oversight function, has mandated its Committees on Labour and Productivity to immediately invite the Hon. Minister for Labour and Productivity and any other relevant officials of the Ministry to appear before the joint committee to brief it on the modality for the implementation of the engagement of 774,000 persons for public works.
“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.
“The National Assembly will ensure transparency of the process just as done with the National Social Register by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.”
Meanwhile, the CSOs have called on both warring arms of government to sheathe their sword and work together in the interest of the people who elected them.
In his own view, Executive Director Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) Auwal Musa (Rafsanjani) said it is important that both the legislature and the executive have respect for one another to avoid frosty relationships.
Musa who spoke to Blueprint on the telephone Wednesday night said all the warring parties were placing their interest above the general interest.
He said: “The attack is not constructive from both sides, they should remember that they are supposed to be working for Nigerians, and each arm of government must provide necessary information to avoid allegation, suspicion and also wrong perception on the recruitment exercise.
“It is a shame that the recruitment that should be done transparently has become something else. It is also important that the executive arm of government provides the necessary information to convince the legislature that it has carried out this exercise transparently in a manner that can be verified by the legislature.
“The legislature too should carry out their necessary investigation not on the basis of rumour, allegations or blackmails.”
Also, Executive Director YIAGA Africa Samson Itodo expressed dismay, describing it as “not just embarrassing but shameful. The verbal exchange is unacceptable and least expected of public leaders who should exhibit a high sense of maturity.”
Rather than halting the scheme, Itodo said the grey areas should be ironed out and things amicably resolved in the interest of the teeming unemployed Nigerian youth.
While describing the programme as “a very good one,” the YIAGA boss advised that it should be handled in a very transparent manner.
In yet another view, Executive Director Global Right Organisation, Abiodun Baiyewu said there were many issues involved in the spat and “I think we should look at each complication carefully. The first issue in my opinion is the need for separation of powers between the executive and the parliament.”
She said the parliamentary oversight of Executive functions should not however become direct interference, even as the activist said it was not out of place for the lawmakers to ask how the programme is to be implemented.
She further said “their interference to the point of choosing the persons who would undertake the recruitment smirks of parliamentary rascality and undue influence from their vantage point. In plain words, corruption.”
“The second issue in my opinion was the non- transparency of the process. If there was nothing to hide, why were they insistent on the media leaving? It was a matter of public interest and as our representatives, we deserve to know what their deliberations and choices were.
“The third is the idea of employing 774,000 persons in the first place. To do what exactly? Are we certain they will be productive and boost the economy, or will they simply be an extra burden added to the cost of governance and a means of political horse trading as we are seeing it play out,” she said.
Also, the Executive Director of the Young People’s Initiative for Credible Leadership (YPICL) Comrade Abdulawahab Ekekhide Abdulkadir said COVID -19 had increased the unemployment rate and the government was struggling to pay salaries.
He said it is a commendable development by the Buhari-led administration if the process was not compromised.