The Presidency has presented documents and a letter from the United States Government to the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters on why it decided to pay $496 million for 12 Super Tucano fighter jets in anticipation of approval by the National Assembly.
It said the US Government gave a February 20, 2018 deadline to effect the payment or wait for another two years to renegotiate.
The Presidency also gave a list of precedents by past governments which embarked on similar purchases or expenditures due to exigencies.
The Minister of Defence, Gen. Manir Dan Ali; the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN); the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun and all other ministers connected with the payment for the jets have either responded to enquiries from the committee or appeared before the Senate team.
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that the Presidency insisted that it acted in the national interest and that no cash was diverted or shared under the table.
It explained that there was no trace of scandal because it was “purely a government to government transaction.”
One of the documents was a letter from the United States Government, which indicated a February 20 deadline to pay for the Super Tucano jets.
A top source in the Presidency said: “The payment of the $496 million for the Super Tucano jets was not ill-motivated or scandalous as being painted.
“It was effected in the interest of the nation’s security and not an attempt to undermine the National Assembly in any form.
“If you go to Section 82 of the 1999 Constitution, it says the President may authorise withdrawal of money from the Consolidated Revenue of the Federation for the purpose of meeting expenditure necessary to carry on the services of the Government of the Federation for a period not exceeding six months until the coming into operation of the Appropriation Act.
“There were also past precedents by some ex-Presidents, including Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the late Mallam Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.”
The source gave insights into such expenditures on exigencies by past presidents as follows:
$17.7 billion withdrawn by Obasanjo from the excess crude account to pay the Paris Club and fund two projects without the National Assembly’s approval.
Excess Crude Account (ECA) depleted by the Yar’Adua-Jonathan administration from $20 billion in 2008 to less than $4 billion in 2010 without input by the National Assembly.
$5 billion taken from ECA by the administration of Yar’Adua for power generation
Over $2 billion withdrawn in 2014 by the Jonathan government for the purchase of equipment to fight Boko Haram. There is no evidence of consultation with the National Assembly.
The source added: “The Presidency has provided a list of similar expenditures by past Presidents to the Senate Committee to prove that there was no constitutional violation to warrant the so-called impeachment motion.”
Speaking with our correspondent on the latest development, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Sen. Ita Enang said: “The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Legal Matters looking into the payment of the $496 million to the US Government raised some questions for relevant ministers to answer.
“Some of these questions have been answered and are being answered to the satisfaction of the Legislature.
“We have provided many documents and a letter from the US Government which stated that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has until February 20 to pay for the jets.
“The letter said if this administration defaulted on the deadline, it would cancel the request for the purchase of the jets and Nigeria would have to wait for another two years to renegotiate.
“We have also laid in evidence President Donald Trump’s admission of the sale of the $496 million Super Tucano jets to the Federal Government and what he said on the integrity of President Buhari.”
Responding to a question, Enang said: “We are doing a lot of rapprochement with the National Assembly for an enhanced understanding and collaboration between the two arms of government.
“We are actually reaching out to the Senate and the House of Representatives.
“We are doing everything to stave off any issue relating to impeachment.”
Following the approval of $1 billion by the National Economic Council (NEC) to address security emergencies in the nation, the Federal Government had withdrawn $496 million out of the sum to pay for 12 Super Tucano Jets.
Buhari, in a letter to the National Assembly, said in part: “I wish to draw the attention of the Senate to the ongoing security emergencies in the nation.
“These challenges were discussed with the state governors and subsequently at the meeting of the National Economic Council on the 14th of December 2017 where a resolution was passed with the council approving that up to $1 billion may be released and utilised from the Excess Crude Account to address the situation.
“In the expectation that the National Assembly would have no objection to the purchase of this highly specialised aircraft, which is critical to national security, I granted anticipatory approval for the release of US$496,374,470.00.”
But the National Assembly faulted the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari for engaging in anticipatory withdrawal when the National Assembly was yet to approve the $1 billion request.
They accused the President of violating sections 80, 81 and 143 of the 1999 Constitution.
On Thursday, Sen. Matthew Uroghide, Edo State, said President Buhari’s move was a violation of the constitution.
While Uroghide urged the Senate to invoke Section 143 to start the President’s impeachment process, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, who seconded the motion, declared: “This is an impeachable offence.”
But President Buhari said he gave approval for the withdrawal of the fund because he believed the National Assembly would have no objection to his action.
In the House of Representatives, Hon, Kingsley Chinda (Rivers State) raised a constitutional point of order based on the provisions of sections 80 and 81 of the 1999 Constitution.
He said: “There is nowhere in our law that talks about anticipatory approval. We cannot sit down and allow this to take place. It is an impeachable offence.
“There is no infraction that is worse than this. Let us not continue to sleep. I propose that we commence the impeachment of Mr. President.”