By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
After been asked out of a Joint Committee meeting session of the National Assembly for refusing to buckle under pressure from federal lawmakers to tinker with the recruitment procedure of 774,000 Nigerians nationwide, the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Mr. Festus Keyamo SAN, has come out to countermand the Joint Committee on its directive that the States and Federal Committees responsible for recruitment and operations should suspend their work.
Keyamo says the National Assembly committee overstepped its bounds under the constitution.
Drama ensued on Tuesday at the National Assembly complex sequel to a sharp disagreement between the minister and members of the panel from both the Senate and House of Representatives which led to a shouting match from both sides over the modalities to be adopted on the planned 774, 000 unskilled jobs for Nigerians.
Kayamo was invited by the joint committee to brief the lawmakers on the federal government’s Special Public Works, SPW programme designed to employ 1,000 persons from each of the 774 local government areas of the country.
The federal government has said that it will recruit 1,000 itinerant and unskilled workers in each of the 774 local government areas in the country from October to December for road rehabilitation, construction, and sanitation, among others.
The programme, which is expected to gulp N52B, was already appropriated for in the revised 2020 budget.
Keyamo is the supervisor of the public works 20-man selection committee chaired by the Director General of the National Directorate of Employment, NDE, Malam Nasir Ladan Argungu.
Trouble started when Keyamo was invited by the joint committee to explain how the States’ Selection Committees for the Extended Special Public Works Programme was done.
The lawmakers also wanted to know the modality of recruitment of workers, the selection of state committees and to explain his statement that politicians are out to hijack the jobs meant for the vulnerable citizens.
These developments made Keyamo, who said his ministry was asked to supervise the recruitments by the President Muhammadu Buhari, to exchange hot words with the lawmakers, who had disagreed with him on some modalities.
The shouting match between the lawmakers and the minister almost degenerated into unpleasant situations.
Keyamo disclosed that the lawmakers have been given 15 per cent slots of the programme and still wanted to have a total control over the programme, which, he said, is not possible. He disclosed that a couple of days ago, the committee started mounting pressure on him to bring a list of those to bring the one thousand each from the 774 local councils.
The minister noted that the intention of the lawmakers is to direct him on what to do from state to state.
He said: “The chairman insisted that I must come to him privately for him to give me instructions about how the programme should be run all over the country.
“But I said no, that I am only answerable to the President and I can only be answerable for what I have done by virtue of the provision of the constitution.
“What they are getting wrong is that they said I am questioning their power to investigate me. They wanted the cameras to be out before I talk, that is, going into an executive session but I declined that everything must be done in the open with all the cameras so as to expose any kind of corruption. The Nigerian people must know what is going on.”
The minister also said that the committee cannot accuse him of lopsidedness in the allocation and turn back to clean him up in an executive session.
Keyamo, who was visibly angry when the Director-General of the National Directorate of Employment, NDE, Mr. Nasiru Ladan Argungu, could not defend the N52B budgeted for the recruitment of 774,000 Nigerians under the NDE, said that his ministry was asked to supervise the recruitments by President Muhammadu Buhari, but the lawmakers disagreed with him.
Reacting to Keyamo’s allegation while addressing newsmen, the lawmakers said that the minister thought he could manipulate them in their decision because he has lots of skeletons in his cupboard.
They further accused the minister of trying to guide their sitting by his attempt to disorganise it.
Co-chairman of the joint committee, Senator Godiya Akwashiki, said that the minister totally contradicted himself when asked to brief them on the activities of the ministry especially with the lopsided nature of the 20-man committee set up in each state for the recruitment exercise.
Senator Akwasiki said that while Keyamo said that 20 people were recruited for the exercise, the DG of NDE is only aware of 8 people out of the committee set up by the minister.
“The DG NDE said he only knows about eight people, but how the Minister came about the remaining 12 people is best known to him. We want him to explain to us how they select 20 people from each state. He has a skeleton in his cupboard; he’s trying to bring confusion.
“We want him to tell us about the 12 people because the DG said he is aware of only eight people. He is trying to confuse us,” the lawmaker said.
The lawmakers clarified that they were not there to witch hunt anybody but to carry out their duties of checking the activities of the executive.
Keyamo had explained that the workers, who would be paid a total of N60, 000 each, that is, N20, 000 per month, are to carry out public works that are peculiar to each Local Government Area.
He had said: “They would be engaged in roads rehabilitation and social housing construction, urban and rural sanitation, health extension and other critical services.”
Keyamo’s full statement after the stormy session, titled, PURPORTED SUSPENSION OF SELECTION PROCESS OF 774,000 JOBS BY NATIONAL ASSEMBLY COMMITTEES:
ALL STATES’ SELECTION COMMITTEES SHOULD PROCEEED WITH THEIR WORK UNHINDERED, reads:
Today, in obedience to their invitation, I appeared before the Joint Committees on Labour of both the Senate and the House. The Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members sought to be briefed on the implementation of the Special Public Works Programme so far.
However, there was a misunderstanding between us when they questioned why I did not privately submit the program to them for vetting before taking certain steps. They suggested that they ought to have an input on how the programme should be implemented. In other words, they sought to control the programme as to who gets what, where and how.
However, I insisted that I could not surrender the programme to their control since their powers under the constitution does not extend to that. They insisted on a closed door session.
At this point, I remarked that it was only fair for me to respond to their position before the press, since their own position was also made public. In any case, I remarked that the Nigerian people deserve to know the details of the execution of this all-important programme.
I was then asked to apologize for insisting on a public interaction and I said there was nothing to apologize about, because their powers to expose corruption provided for in section 88 of the Constitution cannot be exercised in private. As such, there was no need to apologize by insisting on a Constitutional provision. Even their Rules that may provide for private hearings on public matters cannot override the provisions of the Constitution. I was then permitted to leave. I took a bow and left. I NEVER walked out on the respected Committees as they may want to bend the narrative.
After I left, I understand that the Joint Committees purportedly suspended the work of the Selection Committees nationwide until they decide how the programme should be run and who should be in those Committees. My opinion is that it is tantamount to challenging the powers of Mr. President.
I regret to say that their powers under section 88 of the 1999 Constitution is only limited to investigations, but NOT TO GIVE ANY DIRECTIVE TO THE EXECUTIVE.
A Committee or Committees of both Houses do not even have powers to pass binding Resolutions. They can only make recommendations to Plenary. In this case, even Plenary CANNOT give DIRECTIVES to the Executive.
All my life, I have fought for good governance and constitutional democracy. I will not come into government and be intimidated to abandon those principles. I will rather leave this assignment, if Mr. President so directs than compromise the jobs meant for ordinary Nigerians who have no Godfathers or who are not affiliated to any political party.
I therefore, respectfully further direct all the Committees set up nationwide made up of CAN, NSCIA, NURTW, Market Women, CSOS, Youth Organisations, respected traditional rulers, etc to proceed with their work unhindered. Only Mr. President can stop their work.