A verbal war Tuesday erupted between the National Assembly and the Executive over the 774,000 jobs planned to cushion the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Nigerians, particularly the vulnerable.
At a public hearing in Abuja, the two arms of government threw tantrums at each other with accusation and counter accusation by the concerned parties.
While the Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, Mr. Festus Keyamo (SAN), accused the lawmakers of wanting to own the process, the lawmakers in turn alleged that the minister was trying to use the scheme to build political structures across the 774 local government areas at 1,000 per local government.
The scenarios played out at the public hearing organised by the National Assembly’s joint committee on labour on modalities for recruitment of the 774, 000 Nigerians into the special public works in the rural areas.
The hot verbal war which lasted about 30 minutes, culminated in the committee members walking the minister out at the interactive session for refusing to tender an apology as demanded.
And after storming out of the session, the minister accused the lawmakers of trying to hijack the programme.
Trouble started between members of the committee led by Senator Godiya Akwashiki (APC Nasarawa North) and the minister, when after Keyamo’s making presentations on modalities of recruitments for the programme, it was noticed that the federal lawmakers were not in any way factored in.
In his submissions, Keyamo said 1,000 youths would be recruited from each of the 744 local government areas in the country, with Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (SCIA) , National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), market women association, traditional rulers, youth organisations and civil society organisations as pressure groups to be used as channels of recruitment at the grassroots.
But one of the lawmakers, Senator Betty Apiafi (PDP Rivers South), pointedly, asked the minister to explain to the committee on how performance indicators would be determined since they, as representatives of the people, were excluded from the recruitment process.
And in his response, the minister said since the programme would take off October this year, all the channels of recruitment to be decided upon by the 20-man committee put in place for each state, would serve as a mechanism for the performance indicators.
Angered by the response, the committee Chairman, Senator Akwashiki picked holes in the minister’s submission and that of Director General National Directorate of Employment (NDE) Nasir Ladan Argungun.
He said, while the minister mentioned 20 groups to be used as channels for the recruitment, the NDE boss said he was only aware of eight, meaning that your ministry was hijacking the N52billion programme from NDE, originally saddled with it, going by the appropriation made in the 2020 budget.
The committee thereafter directed that the session go into closed doors, a move strongly rejected by the minister who said: “I came here for an open session and not a closed session.”
When told he cannot dictate to them how the session would be run, Kayamo banged the table, shouting he won’t go into a closed door session with anybody and that accusation cannot be levelled against him in the open and thereafter, come and make explanations secretly.
He sought the lawmakers’ permission to make the clarification on their allegations publicly.
Irked by the minister’s outburst, a committee member, Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe moved the motion that the minister should apologise for tackling the committee over rule of proceedings.
Oloriegbe’s motion which was adopted by the committee however worsened the situation when he was asked to tender an apology by the committee chairman.
But insisting he had done no wrong, the minister said he was not going to apologise as he had not made any derogatory statement against.
At that point, tension became heightened as almost every member of the committee stood up, shouting, go! go! go !, to the minister if he cannot apologise .
Pointedly , the committee Chairman, Senator Akwashiki, by way of resolution, told the minister that based on a decision taken by the committee, if he cannot apologise , he should leave, and Keyamo promptly responded by taking his leave of the lawmakers.
Speaking to journalists after his exit, Keyamo said: “What they did not allow me to say inside I will stay outside. Today’s invitation to come here was for an interactive session I came here.
“The inter-ministerial committee recommended a 20-man committee and we approved it. Meanwhile, they are comfortable with the eight which are clearly stated like Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Jammatu Nasir Islam (JNI) and others.
“The others are youth organisations and we cannot list youth organisations because from state to state there are different youths organisations, depending on the peculiarity of the state.
“The background to this was that a couple of days ago. They started mounting pressure on me that I must bring the list of those to select the 1000 persons from all the local governments for them to direct me as to what to do from state to state.
“The chairman insisted I must come to them privately for them to hand over to me certain instructions as to how this programme will be across the country.
“I said no that would be sharing the powers of the president and that I can only be answerable for what I have done by virtue of the provisions of the Constitution. They can only investigate the programme that cannot direct it.”
Notwithstanding the face-off, the minister inaugurated and directed all the state selection committees on the implementation of the scheme to go about their work unhindered.
At the virtual inauguration of the committees, Keyamo told the committee members how some he resisted attempts by some political leaders to hijack the recruitment process.
A statement issued Tuesday by the ministry in Abuja quoted the minister as saying only President Muhammadu Buhari could stop him from going ahead with the work and not the lawmakers.
The supervising minister for NDE said the lawmakers’ powers under section 88 of the 1999 Constitution is only limited to investigations, and not directive to the executive.
He said “Today, in obedience to their invitation, I appeared before the Joint Committees on Labour of both the Senate and the House. The Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members sought to be briefed on the implementation of the Special Public Works Programme so far.
“However, there was a misunderstanding between us when they questioned why I did not privately submit the programme to them for vetting before taking certain steps. They suggested that they ought to have an input on how the programme should be implemented. In other words, they sought to control the programme as to who gets what, where and how.
“However, I insisted that I could not surrender the programme to their control since their powers under the constitution does not extend to that. They insisted on a closed door session.
“At this point, I remarked that it was only fair for me to respond to their position before the press, since their own position was also made public. In any case, I remarked that the Nigerian people deserve to know the details of the execution of this all-important programme.
“I was then asked to apologize for insisting on a public interaction and I said there was nothing to apologize about, because their powers to expose corruption provided for in section 88 of the Constitution cannot be exercised in private. As such, there was no need to apologize by insisting on a Constitutional provision.
“Even their Rules that may provide for private hearings on public matters cannot override the provisions of the Constitution. I was then permitted to leave. I took a bow and left. I never walked out on the respected Committees as they may want to bend the narrative.
“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.
“A Committee or Committees of both Houses do not even have powers to pass binding Resolutions. They can only make recommendations to the Plenary. In this case, even Plenary CANNOT give DIRECTIVES 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 compromises 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 can stop their work.”
However, the federal lawmakers refuted the allegation levelled against them by the minister. In what looks like a damage-control speech, Senator Akwashiki said: “As a National Assembly, our main duty is to check the executive arm of the government body. The Appropriation Act that allows for spending federation accounts has said that this money should be spent by the National Directorate of Employment under the ministry.
“After all that has been said, we asked him to apologise to the committee because we have the rules of proceeding here and that we are all in agreement that if he does not apologise to us, he can excuse himself or we suspend this programme of the federal government upon which he left.
“We invited the two ministers – the senior minister and the junior minister – the Director General of the National Directorate of Employment and the Permanent Secretary, Ministry for Labour and Employment to come and brief us – a joint committee of the Senate and House of Representatives – on what is happening regarding to the Special Works under NDE.
“Before we started, we asked the Director General NDE and the minister to brief us on the pilot selected states which is about eight that the president selected, because it is because that programme succeeded that gave Mr President interest or attention to say that the entire country – that is 1000 per the 774 Local Governments should be recruited.
“Come back to the N52 billion approved under NDE, we now asked the Minister of State because the senior minister is not here, that he should explain to us how far they have gone because we read on the pages of newspapers this morning that a 20-man Selection Committee from each state was inaugurated yesterday and that they have chairmen and vice chairmen and that the State Coordinator of the NDE is the Secretary. We only read that on the pages of newspapers this morning.
“We asked him to brief us on how he came about that Committee. He now said it was a tripartite Committee set up by Mr. President that comprised eight Ministries, but we disagreed with him on that because we are lawmakers and we try to always work within the ambit of the law for the implementation of whatever we have for the Nigerian people.
“We said that this money (N52billion) has been approved under NDE. It is even in the budget. So for him to say it is eight ministries that are involved in this we disagreed with him.
“Thank God that the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health is here. There is money under COVID-19 intervention that has been channelled to the Ministry for Health.
“So we said that is not the issue. How did he come about the 20-man selection Committee? Because if you did not get it right with the selection committee, I want to tell you that this programme is going to be a failure. Nobody is requesting for any slot from him and he cannot blackmail us. “