The present impasse started when the president sent a letter to the leadership of the National Assembly, stating that the 2009 budget could not be implemented as passed by the two chambers considering the declining fortunes of the country’s revenue.
Although the federal government claimed that the budget for the period under review cannot be fully implemented due to shortage of funds, the lower chamber is insisting that the president’s claim is flawed. The House in a joint report by its committees on appropriation and finance stated that, “there was no record of any short fall in the revenue for the period under review”, insisting that the president was only bent on implementing the budget selectively.
According to the joint committee report, instead of the short fall as claimed by the president, the country’s revenue was N27.98 billion higher than the budgeted amount during the first four months of the year 2009, while N119.12 billion was drawn from the excess crude account to augment the shortfall in the federation account. The committee further argued that for Yar’adua who preaches the rule of law has committed an impeachable offence for selectively implementing the budget.
Another line of argument capitalized upon by the legislators is the huge sums released to the nation’s foreign embassies and missions abroad. Members of the House are of the view that the monies released to such missions are more than the monies released to federal ministries, departments and agencies that have the sole responsibility of providing dividends of democracy to Nigerians. Some of the members who contributed to the debate like Ubale Jakada Kiru (ANPP, Kano), Halims Agoda (PDP, Delta), Mohammed Ali Ndume (ANPP, Borno) and Femi Gbajabiamila (AC, Lagos) said the joint committee report has shown that the government has indeed erred in budget implementation and by so doing, the president in particular had committed an impeachable offence. This according to them vindicates the stance of the House that the executive is selectively implementing the budget. They argued further that, the committee has given a true picture of the poor performance by the executive.
As was the case during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the current face-off is seen as more of an attempt to divert national discourse on issues that are of serious concern to Nigerians; such as the on-going strike by university teachers, health workers and the staff of federal agencies rather a serious attempt to embarrass or even impeach the president.
According to observers, at the centre of the impeachment move is the president’s insistence not to release funds budgeted for constituency projects as contained in the 2009 budget. House spokesman, Rep. Eseme Eyiboh in replying critics of the impeachment move not only denied such insinuations, but maintained that House members irrespective of party lines were in consensus with the impeachment plan.
Eyiboh reiterated the resolve of the House to sack President Yar’adua from office if he fails to fully implement the 2009 Appropriation Act. According to him, it was wrong for anybody to ascribe their decision to ‘primordial and party differences’ just as the PDP national secretariat did.
“We have said it clearly and severally that the present House of Representatives has been able to separate between politics and governance, that is why discussions on the issue of the Appropriation Act was not discussed within the context of primordial or party differences. In most issues of national importance, you will not know PDP, ANPP, PPA or AC and all that. We are always working together as members of the legislature.
“Therefore, if any party decides to intervene in the current impasse between the executive and legislative arms of government, it is only voicing out its personal opinion and not the position of its members,” he said.
Responding to Eyiboh’s statements, the president special adviser on National Assembly matters, Senator Abba Aji proposed a consultative meeting and lunch with the House leadership and members of the committee on budget, but the invitation was turned down by the members describing it as an attempt to lure them into a trap.
The opposition Action Congress (AC) in its reaction to the House move to sack Yar’adua from office described the planned impeachment as a project with no direct bearing on the lives of the Nigerians, saying that the attempt was only made because House members were unhappy that monies for their constituency projects were being withheld by the president.
The party’s national secretary, Dr Usman Bugaje while speaking to Sunday Trust on the impeachment threat, added that it is true that each arm of government must check the excesses of one other, but that this must be done without any ulterior motives.
“If our legislators truly feel the pulse of the masses they are supposed to represent, then they would know that constant power supply and potable drinking water rank high among the needs of the ordinary Nigerian. This being the case, they ought to ensure that the budgetary allocation they approve for these and all other sectors are used judiciously by the executive,” he said.
Similarly, in its reaction, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) said that House members were not serious about the impeachment move, arguing that the problem with Nigeria is not President Umar Yar’adua but the country’s collapsed electoral system.
The CNPP general secretary, Chief Willy Ezugwu said that, if the members of the House of Representatives were serious they should ensure that the attempt by the federal government to institute electoral reform is successful.
“What Nigerians are after is that they should ensure the full implementation of the electoral reform in this country. This is what we want. But regarding the impeachment, we are sure that they are not serious because they only initiate such moves when they ask something from government and they don’t get it,” he said.