TucanoGate: President Buhari has broken the law. It is the worst case yet

If we are a nation of laws, then we do not equivocate when even the highest authority in the nation breaks them. By granting “anticipatory approval” for the withdrawal of $1bn from the Excess Crude Account without the consent of the National Assembly as expressly stipulated in Section 80 (3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution and Sections 4 and 5 of the 2017 Appropriation Act, President Muhammadu Buhari has broken the law to the letter.

Section 80(3) states that “No moneys shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the Federation, other than the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, unless the issue of those monies has been authorised by an Act of the National Assembly” and 80(4) states that “No monies shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund of the Federation, except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.”

President Buhari sent a letter to the National Assembly on the 13th of April explaining that he has gone ahead to pay a sum of $469 million for the purchase of 12 Tucano Super aircrafts from the United States. He says he approved the payment because there was a February 20, 2018, deadline to beat for Nigeria to conclude the deal. Hence, due to urgency, he imagined that the National Assembly would have no issues with his decision to go ahead with withdrawing the $1bn before their consent.

That is illegal. It was wrong and it might be grounds for preliminary action towards impeachment.

President Buhari’s going around the law in the name of urgency or national security is a Pandora’s box that ultimately undermines the development of Nigeria as a democracy. President Buhari or any other cannot act unilaterally in matters where he must rely on the approval of the legislature, regardless of his perception of the urgency of the matter. It is a subtle throwback to militarism and authoritarianism. The National Assembly is composed of a majority belonging to his party but it does not give him the privilege to assume their agreement with him. On the contrary, there have been more than a few examples over the last three years that have shown the Executive and Legislature at odds with each other on policy and in politics.

While the withdrawal of $1bn was approved by state governors last year for the fight against insurgency, the 1999 Constitution could not be much clearer on the processes to be followed in legitimately withdrawing the money. Urgency or not, the President has neglected this procedure, showing either an awful disregard for the law or a profound case of laziness; from the 27th of December 2017, when the Federal Government  received the letter of offer stipulating the February 20 deadline – there were fifty-five days within which to appeal to and hurry the National Assembly.

Mr Buhari’s team did not do this.

Instead, they defend the President’s decision by holding on to the deadline excuse. It is symptomatic of an Aso Rock which has made disorganisation and lack of futuristic planning a sport. The ‘deadline defence’ is coming from the same set of people who saw no shame or alarm in justifying the invasion of the president’s office by rats in September 2017, hence making the president work from another office on his return from a three-month medical leave. There were no constitutional implications for that but there should be some with this present case.

Nigeria cannot be a stable giant on the continent when it is run with a mix of poisons and the seeming big stick of a supposed tyrant. There was an urgency to meet a deadline with a foreign democracy while undermining our own democracy? That does not sound like a good foundation on which to combat insecurity; when the president fails to follow the legal process in dealing with the constituted authority, it becomes, in itself, a cause for analysing internal security. No wonder there have been observations in the past couple of days concerning the arbitrary ‘arrest’ of Senators Peter Nwaoboshi and Dino Melaye, both seen as outspoken against the president. Then there is the Draconian treatment of members of the Bring Back Our Girls group by the Nigeria Police, the latter believed to be acting in defence (or at the directives) of the president.

But none of these compare to the president’s actions with regards to the ECA and the Tucano aircrafts. It is President Buhari’s highest point of disorder yet, one which could land him a historic honour yet to be bestowed on any president in Nigeria’s democracy if the National Assembly deems it necessary.

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