By Sufuyan Ojeifo
Mankind has conferred a sort of notoriety of repetition on history. That is the reason for the history-repeats-itself cliché that has become part and parcel of human legends. But, in reality, the assertion is not always absolute.
The instant episode might present in the form of a similar one in recent or distant past, but the context and the dramatis personae could be different as they have always been, except in rare back-to-back disasters that have befallen a tragic hero or heroine that is doomed.
Significantly, the tragic theme of conflict or accident of history is the failure by mankind to learn from it, even when chapters of historical monument are writ-large available for guidance and instructions along the lines of proper conduct and moral rectitude.
Eighteen years ago, former Senate President, the late Dr. Chuba Okadigbo lost his position in the fourth Senate on account of the anticipatory approval that he gave in the award of a N55 million street-light contract on the National Assembly premises.
The ad-hoc probe panel, headed by the late Senator Idris Kuta, indicted him on that ground and foreclosed his attempt to regain his presiding officer’s seat after stepping down for a senate president pro-tempore, Senator Azuta Mbata, for the purpose of deliberating on the panel’s report.
That incident was not too far flung in the constructions of our political history. Political elite, private sector leadership and watchers of the nation’s governance development were aware of the essential sin of anticipatory approval that Okadigbo unwittingly committed. He circumvented the approval of the body of principal officers in the process.
President Muhammadu Buhari cannot claim ignorance of the Okadigbo debacle. Buhari, whose unique selling point (USP) is his acclaimed integrity, chose Okadigbo as his running mate in the 2003 presidential election on the platform of the All Nigeria People’s Party (ANPP). He was quite aware of the circumstances that led to Okadigbo’s ouster as senate president.
Does it mean that Buhari has forgotten that it was the indiscretion of granting anticipatory approval that cost Okadigbo his senate presidency on August 8, 2000? Why did the president choose to look due process straight in the eyes and scorned it with executive arrogance and impudence?
How could one describe the president’s decision to effect the payment to the United States Government of $496.3 million out of the $1 billion for Boko Haram and security funding in the Northeast zone from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for the purchase of 12 units of A-29 Tucano aircraft without approval by the National Assembly?
Although, the National Economic Council (NEC) had approved the withdrawal of the $1 billion from ECA, the approval by the National Assembly in accordance with Section 80 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended 2011), is constitutionally obligatory. By making the deposit payment for the aircraft that would not be ready until 2020 in anticipation of legislative approval, the president had breached due process.
The president’s treatment, with askance, of the National Assembly’s capacity or lack of it to bark and bite, is certainly a measure of the respect he has for the arm of government. He had acted in a way that underscored the executive’s penchant to subjugate the legislative arm of government.
That historical penchant led to the hounding of the late Okadigbo by the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency. The prospects of the legislature genuflecting before the executive for its legal entitlements suffered implacable rebuff under the chair of Okadigbo. Interestingly, the nation witnessed the tricky dynamics that dominated legislature-executive relationship in the heyday of Okadigbo’s chairmanship of the National Assembly.
That Buhari’s presidency would slide into the arena of impunity and disdain for legislative due process in financial matters that are constitutionally circumscribed was antithetical to its vaunted anti-corruption policy and pro-due process posture. The president must, therefore, be sanctioned.
That was the direction an opposition senator and Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Matthew Urhoghide (PDP, Edo South) was goading the Senate last Thursday when he presented a report of his committee wherein he faulted Buhari’s withdraw of money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation without the approval of the National Assembly, thus violating Section 80 of the Constitution.
Urhoghide had subsequently moved a motion calling on the Senate to activate Section 143 of the Constitution to commence impeachment process against the president without any further investigation since the fact of the president’s breach of the Constitutional provision was evident.
Buhari had, wittingly or unwittingly, provided the casus belli for the Senate to fight back. On the same day that the Senate bared its fangs, the House of Representatives confronted the issue of how to consider the president’s request to approve his anticipatory expenditure. Speaker Yakubu Dogara had to refer the request to the Committee on Rules and Business for clarification on the status of the request-whether to be treated as a bill or motion.
But what remains remarkable in the entire episode was the audacious impeachment motion by Urhoghide. Senate President, Bukola Saraki, guided the senate to direct its Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters to investigate the alleged breach by the president, determine the extent of the breach and advise the Senate on the steps to take subsequently.
As Nigerians wait with bated breath for the Senate’s next line of action, the president has continued to suffer unremitting bashing from the opposition elements and parties in the country. Understandably, the APC is fighting back even though the ground on which it is fighting back is slippery.
Buhari’s action was ill-advised and could not be justified. The contention by the senate president is that there was nothing too urgent about the purchase of the 12 Tucano aircraft that approval for release of funds to make down payment for them could not have waited for the legislature’s constitutional imprimatur.
After all, by the administration’s admission, Boko Harm insurgents, for whom the aircraft were to be purchased, had been technically degraded and defeated. Why then was the hurry to circumvent the critical legislative approval? Since pecuniary interests appear to have been ruled out, did the president just decide to dare the National Assembly in service of some political ends, especially within the confines of APC’s 2019 re-election tickets.
It is clear that APC’s leaders and members who are inexorably supportive of Buhari are not happy about the impeachment motion broached by Urhoghide; and, to show disapproval, the Edo state chapter of the APC mobilized thugs last Friday at the Benin airport to harass him on his trip to his constituency.
Urhoghide’s position is unassailable: he is the chair of the Public Accounts committee, constitutionally reserved for the opposition in the National Assembly. If he is not the chair, another PDP senator would have been, and would have done the same thing in the same circumstance. The breach of the constitutional provision by Buhari was very clear.
While Urhoghide has continued to justify his action, his revulsion remains that, while the Edo State Police Commissioner ensured that he was not molested by the APC thugs, the State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, came and asked him that they should go out of the VIP lounge together. In the process, one of the boys removed the senator’s cap and hit him on the head.
I watched the whatsapp clip of an ITV reporter, Best Mbiere, who covered the incident last Friday wherein the governor looked away while the senator was being hit on the head, walked to his black Jeep and pumped the air with his fist amid shouts that were seemingly approbative of the humiliation of Urhoghide.
That was immature politics by Obaseki. The governor lost a golden opportunity to be an exemplar in politics of accommodation. He drew Uroghide out and left him for the APC thugs to savage. Too bad!
Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja.