Posted by DAYO BENSON, EMMA AZIKEN & EMMA UJAH on
THE $17.71 billion withdrawn by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo from the excess crude oil account to pay the Paris Club debt and fund two other projects without the National Assembly’s approval is raising fresh dust...
* He has penchant for law breaking — lawmakers
* We consulted all parties —Okonjo-Iweala
* It’s an impeachable offence — Gani, Falana
THE $17.71 billion withdrawn by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo from the excess crude oil account to pay the Paris Club debt and fund two other projects without the National Assembly’s approval is raising fresh dust. Senators weekend rejected the Federal Government’s explanation on the withdrawals, saying they only demonstrated President Obasanjo’s penchant for law breaking.
Lagos lawyers, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) and Mr. Femi Falana, also, joined the fray
“We should also know if the withdrawals were made to finance the third term project”, Gani said in reaction to the issue while Falana believed the situation presented enough grounds for the president to be impeached.
$27.488 billion had been saved in the excess crude oil account from 2004 to date, according to former finance minister (now external affairs minister), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, out of which $17.71 billion was spent by the Federal Government without recourse to the National Assembly.
The withdrawals were made as follows: Paris Club debt payment - $12.1 billion; Integrated power projects - $1.08 billion; National Population Census two-day extension - $17.33 million and disbursements to the three tiers of government - $4.25 billion.
Obasanjo had sent a letter to the Senate, penultimate week, to inform the upper house about the withdrawals and solicited approval.
The Federal Government’s action, which triggered uproar in the National Assembly, is now a subject of investigation by the parliament.
Only last Tuesday, Okonjo-Iweala, who is also the head of the Federal Government economic team, defended the withdrawals, saying, “all parties were consulted before they were made in the course of the emergency that warranted them”.
“We have been working along with the National Assembly and every process that needs to be documented as the National Assembly sees it will be done to make sure this follows due process”, the former finance minister said, pointing out, “But I want to repeat that all parties were consulted about this and in order to make sure the national priority was not delayed, we had embarked on this and we totally shared the information with all Nigerians. I think everybody knows about these power projects”
Justice minister and attorney-general of the federation, Chief Bayo Ojo, corroborated Okonjo-Iweala’s position, saying, however, that there was communication gap between the executive and the National Assembly that was being bridged.
“I want to assure that nobody would go and breach constitutional provision. We work together with the National Assembly and what I think happened was that there was communication gap which is now being corrected”, Ojo stated.
But some senators, weekend, faulted the unilateral withdrawals from the excess crude oil account by the executive.
The senators, mostly from the opposition All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), rationalised the executive’s defence within the context of Obasanjo’s penchant for law breaking.
ANPP senate leader, Senator Lawali Shuaibu, Senators Timothy Adudu (ANPP, Plateau North), Saidu Dansadau (ANPP, Zamfara Central) and Badamasi Maccido (ANPP, Sokoto North) were the only lawmakers willing to respond to the issue. A number of PDP senators shied away from commenting as some affirmed that the Senate had already constituted a panel to investigate the issue. The excuse of emergency put forward by the executive was rebuffed by all the opposition senators as they saw the withdrawals as consistent with the administration’s disinclination to the rule of law. “It is not a result of urgency, it is an attitudinal problem. It is a penchant for breaking rules, for breaking the laws,’’ Maccido told Sunday Vanguard. “When somebody continues to break rules, you don’’t bother asking questions again, that is the situation. If you see them honour any rule or law, it is by coincidence,’’ he added.
Speaking in the same vein, Dansadau said: “You yourself know that it was not right. Everybody knows it is wrong, the minister of finance knows it is wrong, Mr. President knows it is wrong, the CBN knows it is wrong. It is typical attitude of this administration of not respecting the rule of law, it is as simple as that.’’ In his own comment, Adudu saw the action as a violation of the Constitution. “It is a clear constitutional provision that there is no person and that includes the president that can withdraw any money without due consultation with the National Assembly as contained in the Constitution. It is not an unconstitutional act, it is a gross violation of the Constitution which I condemn. Should this go on, it means that there is no rule of law and it will spell doom and anarchy,’’ he warned. He said the Constitution did not make room for emergencies as a condition for violation of the law. “I wish the Constitution had made provisions for such emergencies. But so long as that is not there, you must obey the provisions of the Constitution. Anything short of that is doom and anarchy.
Emergency will not be a ticket to violate the law. If you have an emergency, you should accelerate the process”, he added. While supporting the views of his party members, Shuaibu said the admission of the illegal withdrawals was enough reason for the affected public officers to tender their resignations. “I think in civilised democracies, we don’’t need to tell them what to do. In civilised democracies, once something of that nature happens, the president of the country who gave the directive is seen to have committed a constitutional breach. The minister of finance, the governor of Central Bank who are so vocal about it should all resign because there is no need why they should continue to remain in office when this kind of thing happened”, the ANPP senate leader said. Also debunking the cover of emergency, Shuaibu said: “When you are talking about urgency, look at the Constitution, does the Constitution make provision for urgency? If the Constitution had made provision for urgency, particularly for that kind of urgency, then so be it. But there is no where in the Constitution. “Nobody can tell us that the president used his discretion, if that be the case, let the president use his discretion and push the budget aside and go ahead and spend money in the manner he feels. Nigerians cannot condone this kind of thing.’’
Echoing the senators position, Gani said the withdrawals from the excess crude oil account without the federal parliament’s approval was illegal.
The Lagos lawyer told Sunday Vanguard: “We must know how much was actually withdrawn and not rely on what the president said. That is why the auditor-general of the federation who is constitutionally empowered to look into the books of the president should be called upon to investigate this matter”.
According to him, the matter should be referred to the National Assembly after the auditor-general’s investigation for appropriate action.
“This is because the president cannot take a kobo from the excess crude oil account without the authorization of the National Assembly. The president has been behaving in a way that raises eyebrow. This is an offence that can ground impeachment”, he said.
Gani went on: “We should also know if the money was withdrawn to finance the third term project.
“The action deserves impeachment of the president if the withdrawals were made without approval despite the fact that the president has only about a year to go.
“Also government officials found to be involved should be dealt with. The matter should not be taken lightly.
“Such money should have been used to energize the economic activities and take us out of the darkness that the PHCN has subjected the nation”.
To Falana, who cited Section 59 of the Constitution, no withdrawal can be made from the Federation Account or Consolidated Revenue Fund without the approval of the National Assembly.
The Lagos lawyer said there was a Supreme Court decision on that, pointing out that Obasanjo had engaged in all manners of illegal spendings from the Federation Account since 1999, “when he withdrew N12 billion and gave it to Julius Berger”.
“He (Obasanjo) has no respect for the constitution”, he said, adding: “What the president has done as far as recent withdrawals are concerned is an impeachable offence and it is left for the National Assembly which is already investigating it to decide.
“We will know the extent of the withdrawals after the investigation.”
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