The National Assembly, on Wednesday, said it had suspended the Federal Government’s planned recruitment of 774, 000 Nigerians under the Special Public Works programme.
The spokesperson for the Senate, Dr Ajibola Basiru, and his counterpart for the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, who announced the suspension, said the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), could challenge the decision in court.
Basiru, at a press conference he addressed in the National Assembly, Abuja read a statement they jointly issued.
In the statement, the spokesperson said the federal parliament took the decision following the disagreement between it and the Minister of State for Employment, Labour and Productivity, Mr Festus Keyamo, on Tuesday.
The lawmakers also hinged their decision on the fact that the programme did not exclusively belong to the President.
They said it was jointly conceived by the executive and the legislature. They argued that they could not be kept in the dark over its implementation.
But Keyamo, in an interview with The PUNCH, said the recruitment would not be suspended as directed by the National Assembly. According to him, the legislature has no power to issue directives to the executive.
The President had, a few months ago, approved the employment of 774, 000 workers to cushion the effect of the economic hardship caused by COVID-19.
By the arrangement, 1, 000 Nigerians, who will earn N20, 000 each on a monthly basis for three months, are expected to be recruited in each of the 774 local government areas of the country.
The programme will start in October this year.
Keyamo was ordered out of the National Assembly on Tuesday following his refusal to apologise after the legislators accused him of raising his voice against them.
The National Assembly Joint Committee on Employment, Labour and Productivity, had summoned the minister and the Director General of the National Directorate of Employment, Mr Nasiru Argungu, to brief its members on the steps so far taken to recruit 774, 000 people.
Trouble started when the lawmakers criticised Keyamo for allegedly engaging in a lopsided recruitment without the active involvement of the NDE, the agency that got N52bn approval from the National Assembly to implement the programme.
The argument that ensued afterwards led to a shouting match between both parties which later forced the lawmakers to order Keyamo out of the meeting.
N’Assembly summons labour minister
At a press conference on Wednesday, the spokesperson for the Senate said the National Assembly had summoned the minister in charge of the ministry to appear before the legislature to explain the recruitment modalities.
He said, “In view of the foregoing, the implementation of the programme shall be put on hold pending proper briefing of the National Assembly by the minister of labour and productivity.
“The National Assembly is concerned about the proper and effective implementation of the engagement of 774,000 public works workers and wishes to restate its commitment to its success.
“Accordingly, the National Assembly reminds members of the public that the legislature was part of the conception of the programme, approved it and appropriated funds for its implementation as part of the COVID-19 response strategies.
“The National Assembly, in line with its constitutional oversight function, has mandated its committee on labour and productivity to immediately invite the Honourable Minister for Labour and Productivity and any other relevant official of the ministry to appear before the joint committee to brief it on the modalities for the implementation of the engagement of 774,000 persons for public works.
“In accordance with the constitutional imperative of oversight, the legislature being important stakeholders in the democratic process, and elected representatives of the people, should be briefed about the modalities for implementation for effective feedback to our constituents and in ensuring that our constituents optimally participate in and benefit from the process.
“The National Assembly will ensure transparency of the process just as it has done with the National Social Register by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.”
We have powers to suspend recruitment, lawmakers tell Buhari
Basiru said the National Assembly had the powers to suspend the recruitment exercise.
He, however, said Buhari could go to court to challenge the decision of the National Assembly to halt the exercise, if he was not satisfied.
He said, “If the President sees that his powers are being encroached on, he can approach the court of law. What we are saying is this, this project, the way you are looking at it, is as if it is an exclusively presidential project.
“The conception of the programme, its approval and its funding are with the consideration of the National Assembly because we believe it is going to be beneficial for the purpose of addressing the challenges of COVID-19.
It’s government programme, not President’s, we are part of govt – N’Assembly
“There is no exclusivity in terms of any programme that is to be implemented, except the National Assembly is not part of government.
“Government as defined by the 1999 Constitution has three components: legislative powers (are contained in) Section 4, executive powers (in) Section 5 and the judicial powers (in) Section 6.
“It is the totality that constitutes government; so when you are saying government is executing a programme, it is not President Muhammadu Buhari that is doing the programme, it is the government of the people.
“The implementation, appropriation and execution all rolled into one. There is no dichotomy as such as encroaching on the powers of the President. Assuming the National Assembly is opposed to the programme, we could have not approved it.
“When journalists also raised issues about the humanitarian social register and the National Assembly intervened, there is now more transparency in it.
“Our people will also ask questions, ‘These 1, 000 people, how were they employed?’ ‘Who set up the selection committee?’ ‘What are the modalities for recruitment?’ ‘What are the minimum requirements for recruitment?”
“It cannot be left to the whims of a person or a branch of government. It has to be the totality of the government.”
Senators describe Keyamo’s outbursts as executive rascality
Meanwhile, two senators, at separate press conferences on Wednesday, lambasted Keyamo over his outbursts at the investigative hearing organised by the National Assembly joint panel.
The senators – Messrs Ifeanyi Ubah and Gershom Basset – described Keyamo’s attitude as executive rascality.
Ubah said, “I can speak as a member of the Senate committee on the media that it is not a good thing for an appointee of the executive to behave the way he did.
“It is the duty of the legislature to check the executive. As a representative of my constituents, it is something worthwhile for me to request how the distribution of employment to Nigerians is handled by an appointee of the executive who is not even a substantive minister.
“I felt it is a very bad display of rascality. I don’t know what a senator will be doing with a job of N20,000 and N30,000, if not to make sure that it is given to people in his constituency.
Bassey noted with regret that Keyamo’s attitude was not only disgraceful but also unfortunate. “Such rascality should be highly condemned by Nigerians,” he said.
Keyamo shuns lawmakers, says exercise going ahead
But Keyamo told The PUNCH that the recruitment of 774,000 persons would not be suspended despite the National Assembly.
When asked if he would heed the National Assembly’s directive, the minister simply said, “No, I would not.I stand by what I said in my press statement of yesterday (Tuesday).”
You can only investigate, you can’t order executive, minister replies lawmakers
“I only insisted on the provision of the constitution. I insist that they have no powers under Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution. Their powers under Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution are only limited to investigations, but not to give any directive to the executive.”
Commenting on some senators’ stance that his conduct was rascally during the Tuesday meeting, Keyamo retorted, “Somebody, a lawmaker, threw a microphone at me, so the public should judge who is rascally.”
“The whole world saw a lawmaker throw a microphone at me, while I sat calmly. The only thing I insisted on yesterday was for them to obey the law of Nigeria. If they want to expose anything, exposure means to be done in public, not in private.”
The minister contended that he was tactful during his face-off with the senators, noting that the footage of the encounter could bear him out.
“I only insisted on the constitution to be obeyed, nothing more. Lastly, throughout my encounter, I never used any foul language, I kept referring to them as distinguished senators,” he stressed.
The crisis will be resolved within 24 hours – Gbajabiamila
Meanwhile, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, on Wednesday disclosed that leadership of the National Assembly had begun moves to resolve the crisis between lawmakers and Keyamo.
Gbajabiamila said the issue would be resolved within 24 hours.
The Speaker made this known in Abuja when he showed up at an investigative hearing organised by the House Committee on Public Accounts.
The committee, which is chaired by Mr Wole Oke, is currently investigating the National Home-Grown School Feeding Programme of the Federal Government.
The Speaker condemned what happened between the National Assembly committee and Keyamo.
He said, “It is unfortunate that the National Assembly is not allowed to operate as it should. However, I want to assure you that the matter would be resolved within 24 hours.”
Reject letters from officials seeking to influence recruitments, FG directs MDAs
In a related development, the President has directed agencies not to honour any letter from any appointee or other government official seeking to influence recruitments.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who conveyed Buhari’s position in a statement in Abuja on Wednesday, said vacant positions were for all Nigerians.
According to the minister, the President is of the view that using one’s positions to get favour is “antithetical to the character of the administration.”
Mohammed stated, “The President’s repeated warning followed persistent reports of fraudsters using the business cards and purported referral letters from presidential aides and other government officials to solicit employment, contracts and other favours.”
Mohammed told ministries, departments and agencies to “disregard any purported request from government officials aiming to confer undue advantage on anyone seeking such favours.”
He said Buhari’s regime had put in place a systematic and disciplined approach to ensure smooth running of government for all Nigerians, whether in the area of employment or contract procurement.
“This system should be allowed to work for all Nigerians without interference,” the minister stated.