It is indeed a serious one the ongoing crisis between federal lawmakers and Minister of State for Labour, Employment and Productivity, Festus Keyamo, over the National Directorate of Employment’s, NDE, planned employment of Nigerians in the Special Public Works Programme 2020, yesterday took a new twist as the National Assembly asked the Executive to immediately put the exercise on hold.
The suspension of the programme came against the backdrop of a shouting match between the lawmakers and the minister at an interaction in the National Assembly complex Tuesday.
According to the National Assembly, the Executive must not go ahead with the recruitment process until implementation modalities are explained to lawmakers.
Apparently referring to the minister, it also declared that the National Assembly is made up of mature people and not a students’ union.
Addressing journalists on decisions taken after an executive session that lasted from 11: 14am to 12.06 in Abuja yesterday, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru (APC, Osun Central), said implementation of the programme shall be on hold, pending proper briefing of the National Assembly by the Minister of Labour and Productivity.
Asked if the National Assembly has powers to stop implementation of the programme, Basiru said lawmakers have such powers, and added that if President Muhammadu Buhari and the Executive are aggrieved over the decision of the lawmakers, they are free to approach the courts to seek redress.
Senator Basiru said: “If the President sees that his powers are being encroached, he can approach the court of law. It is as if this programme is an exclusively Presidential project.
“The conception of the programme, its approval and its funding is 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.
“On encroaching on the powers of the President, there is no exclusivity in terms of any programme that is to be implemented except National Assembly is not part of government.
“Government as defined by the 1999 Constitution, has three components — Legislative powers, Section 4, Executive powers, Section 5 and Judicial powers, Section 6. It is the totality of these that constitute government, so when you are saying government is doing a programme, it is not President Muhammadu Buhari that is doing the programme, it is the government of the people, implementation, appropriation and execution all rolled into one.
“There is no dichotomy as such, and there is no encroaching on the powers of the President. Assuming the National Assembly is opposed to the programme, we could have not approved it, you cannot appropriate, but we want to be sure that names don’t just fly.
“When journalists also raised issues about the humanitarian social register and the National Assembly intervened, there is more transparency to it.
“Our people will also ask questions. These 1,000 people, how were they generated? 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 a totality of the government, which is the executive and the legislative arms.”
Speaking further, Senator Basiru vowed that National Assembly would ensure transparency of the process just as it was done with the National Social Register by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and social Development.
Recall that the Minister of State, Labour and Productivity, Festus Keyamo, had on Tuesday accused the lawmakers of trying to hijack and take control of the recruitment exercise, despite being granted 15% of the slot.
Prior to the question and answer session, yesterday, Senator Basiru had read a statement he jointly signed with the spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, titled, “FG Public Works Programme must benefit Nigerians.”
The joint statement read: “Implementation of the 774,000 Public Works to be put on hold until implementation modalities are explained to NASS. 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 strategy.
“The National Assembly, in line with its constitutional oversight function, has mandated its Committees on Labour and Productivity to immediately invite the Minister of Labour and Productivity and any other relevant officials of the Ministry to appear before the joint committee to brief it on the modality 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, needed to be apprised of modalities for implementation for effective feedback to our constituents and in ensuring that our constituents optimally participate in and benefit from the process.
“In view of the foregoing, the implementation of the programme shall be on hold, pending proper briefing of the National Assembly by the Minister of Labour and Productivity.
“The National Assembly will ensure transparency of the process just as done with the National Social Register by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and social Development.”
The President spoke against the backdrop of last Tuesday’s face-off between lawmakers in the National Assembly and Minister of State for Labour, Employment and Productivity, Festus Keyamo, over the 774,000 jobs to be created across the 774 local government areas of the country, with each LGA having 1,000 slots.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who disclosed this in a statement yesterday, quoted the President as saying the action was “antithetical to the character of the administration.”
Mohammed said 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, contract and other favours.
He said ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs, should disregard any purported request from government officials seeking to confer undue advantage on anyone seeking such favours.
He said the administration had put in place a systematic and disciplined approach to ensure that the government ran smoothly for all Nigerians, either in employment or contract procurement.
“This system should be allowed to work for all Nigerians without interference,” Mohammed quoted the President as saying.
In the past few days, there had been an uproar about the planned recruitment of 774,000 citizens into the public works programme by the Federal Government.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning had on April 6, announced that President Buhari approved the engagement of 774,000 Nigerians for the programme implemented by the National Directorate of Employment, NDE.
In May, Minister of State, Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, said 10 per cent slots of the beneficiaries of the programme in each state would be allotted to political office holders “like our distinguished senators, honourable members, ministers and governors”.
But Keyamo later alleged that some politicians were trying to blackmail him over the recruitment into the special public works programme.
During a meeting at the National Assembly on Tuesday, there was a heated exchange between Keyamo and some lawmakers who faulted the recruitment.
The lawmakers accused the minister of hijacking the programme from the NDE but Keyamo alleged that the lawmakers were trying to take over the project.
Reacting to the Senate’s action yesterday, Keyamo said: “From what I have read, they are merely advising the President. They know they cannot challenge the powers of the President in terms of execution of policies, programmes and projects.
“They cannot order the stoppage, continuation and suspension of any policy and programme properly appropriated for. The NASS, as distinguished as the members are, I’m sorry to say, there are clear limitations to their powers.