31 August 2002

Nigeria: Constitutional Breaches -- Senate Vows to Impeach Obasanjo

Abuja and Wale Olaleye in Lagos — House accuses president of illegally spending $1.5bn _ 'Atiku not behind impeachment moves'

The Senate yesterday gave its firm commitment to protect the nation's constitution from any breach, promising to impeach Presi-dent Olusegun Obasanjo if eventually found guilty of abusing the constitution which he swore to uphold and protect in the discharge of his responsibilities.

Speaking at the weekly Senate/media briefing yesterday, Senate Leader, Mohammed Tukur Liman said the current investigation of the constitutional breaches alle-ged to have been committed by the president would be pursued with all sense of responsibility by the senate and the relevant constitutional sanction meted out to him, if found guilty in the end.

Liman who sounded worried over the discoveries by the committee investigating the constitutional breaches which he chairs, said so far they have met with their colleagues in the House of Representatives where they compared notes on the extent of work.

He said the committees were on the verge of filing their report to the respective chambers by next week.

The senate leader who represents Katsina South senatorial district spoke just as a member of the seven-man committee compiling the constitutional breaches by the president has accused him of of illegally spending of $1.5 billion from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corpora-tion account.

Liman, who absolved Vice President Atiku Abubakar of any role in the impeachment move, assured that the committee will look into the issue with open heart, and work within the constitutional provisions to make sure that all its submissions and recommendations are done within the laws of the land.

The senate, he said, "have a firm belief that Christians and Muslims, besides the Holy Qur¡an and the Bible, don't have any other document that we respect and abide with than the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria."

Wondering why the President¡s supporters are shouting foul against the moves by the National Assembly to enforce the provisions of the constitution, Liman said "If the issues we raised against him, please correct us, but if the offences have been committed and are unconstitutional, please gentlemen of the press come to our aid, come to the aid of Nigeria, lets fully establish democracy by respecting the constitution no matter our interest personal or otherwise."

"We have to respect the constitution of the country. If there is any individual or body that is not respecting the laws of the land, then I cannot see how we can support that person or that institution. Accusing the National Assembly for doing its constitutional job, does not carry water at all", Liman, added.

Lending their weight to Liman's remarks against Obasanjo, Senators Jonathan Zwingina, Mamman Ali, Bala Adamu, Emmanuel Essien and JKN Waku all supported the senate moves to impeach the president if found liable at the investigation, vowing never to go back on their words.

Specifically, Essien who is the Deputy Senate Chief Whip said "It is one of our constitutional responsibilities to impeach the president if he breaches the constitution and if at the end of the exercise, he is found to have breached the constitution, the law will take its natural course. No one person is greater than the nation. We are no jokers, we will impeach him if he is found guilty."

On their part, former chairman senate Services Committee, Senator Bala Adamu said issues of impeachment should be seen within the context of the constitution and that if impeachment is good for leaders of the National Assembly it should also be good for the President who used it before.

Senator Ali traced the history of impeachment to Obasanjo who presided over the making of the 1999 constitution, which was used to impeach former Kaduna State Governor, Alhaji Abdulkadir Balarabe Musa in 1981, adding that organized protest would not help him out because they would do what the constitution demands of them.

Waku, also speaking at the briefing said both the President and the lawmakers took an oath of office to defend, protect and preserve the nation's constitution against any abuse, adding, "I did not take an oath to protect, defend and preserve President Olusegun Obasanjo. The constitution of Nigeria will take its course, this is not a tribal issue."

On the state of the compilation of the constitutional breaches, Liman said his committee had met with that of the Houyse of Representatives with a view to coming up with their final drafts for the consideration of the two chambers which would be ready by next week.

"We have met with the House committee compiling the constitutional breaches and we are going to meet again once or twice before finalizing our findings which we hope to lay before our respective chambers possibly by next week", the Senate leader stated.

Also yesterday the Senate leader rose to a stout defence of the allegations that Vice President, Atiku Abubakar was behind the moves by the two chambers of the National Assembly to impeach Obasanjo, Liman said "I am not surprised at all over such insinuations because they want to use it to intimidate us, but I want to assure Nigerians that no amount of insinuation or intimidation can deter us from ensuring compliance to provisions of the constitution. We will look at the issues constitutionally."

Also speaking on Atiku's alleged involvement in the impeachment plots, Zwingina who represents the Vice- president constituency in the upper chamber said in all his interactions since the commencement of the present dispensation both in PDP and the presidency, there is nobody whose loyalty to Obasanjo is total like Atiku.

"I am privy to be actively involved on the role played by the Vice President in drafting Obasanjo to contest the presidential elections in 1999 and amount of resources he mobilized for his election", Zwingina said, adding he is the last person any one can suspect for plotting against the president.

Senators Mamman Ali from Yobe state, Bala Adamu from Adamawa and Joseph Kennedy Waku from Benue all exonerated Atiku of any involvement in the impeachment plots against Obasanjo, saying his total failure and disregard for the constitution are responsible.

Meanwhile apart from other constitutional breaches compiled by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the House of Representatives against Pre-sident Olusegun Obasanjo, he has been further accused of diverting $1.5 billion being proceeds from the sale of crude oil between January and June this year.

This was disclosed to THISDAY by a member of the seven-man committee that compiled the constitutional charges against the President, stating that it was a conspiracy between the Presidency, NNPC, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Federal Ministry of Finance.

According to the member who pleaded anonymity "the most grievous of the charges against the President was that he was short changing the revenue accruable to the country. The declaration of funds to the Federation Allocation Account Committee (FAAC) is not correct. President Olusegun Obasanjo is being charged for constitutional breaches of diverting over $1.5 billion from the sale of crude oil."

The source explained "this diversion of funds from the sale of crude oil accounted for less money that goes to the Federation Account,Πstating there was a concrete evidence before the House on the diversion.

He said "this would would form part of the constitutional breaches that we will submit to the National Working Committee of PDP on Tuesday."

The source told THISDAY that it was from this diversion of over $1.5 billion that Central Bank of Nigeria granted the Presidency a $700 million loan recently. The source stated that the CBN has no capital base to grant such loan.

The other nine-point constitutional breaches against the President compiled by the seven-man committee headed by Hon. Obeten Obeten who is also the Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary reads thus:

_ Amendment of the Revenue Allocation Formula in favours of the Federal Government without the necessary constitutional authority.

_ Extra Budget Spending in the areas of the National Identity Card project. The National Assembly spent N4.5 billion in 2001 and N9.5 billion in 2002 without the necessary appropriation.

Over N60 billion was spent on the National Stadium without appropriation by the National Assembly.

_ Purchase of 61houses for members of the executive without appropriation by the National Assembly.

_ Abuse of section 217 of the 1999 constitution by the President in respect of the massacre of Nigerians in Odi in Bayelsa state and Zaki Biam in Benue state.

_ Non implementation of the 2000, 2001 and 2002 Budget, which led to the non-release of statutory funds to the Judiciary arm of government,

_ Release of N12 billion to Julius Berger Plc without due appropriation by the National Assembly.

_ Withdrawal of $187 million part proceeds of the sale of GSM on the orders of the Accountant General of the Federation without due appropriation by the National Assembly.

Leadership of the South-west Alliance for Democracy (AD) yesterday rose from a one-day meeting with a stern warning to all the stakeholders in the polity that any attempt to impeach President Olusegun Obasanjo will further aggravate the level of instability in the country, urging therefore that those at the forefront of the impeachment project should soft-pedal and allow Obasanjo complete his tenure.

At the meeting chaired by Senator Ayo Fasanmi, the AD also accused the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of being the architect of its own problems even as Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos who spoke extensively on the issue of impeachment dismissed any threat of military incursion in the polity saying, the people would defend democracy with the last drop of their blood should the military attempt a come back.

The meeting which held at the Lagos Airport Hotel had in attendance, Governors Bola Tinubu (Lagos), Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo (Ekiti), Chief Bisi Akande (Osun), Senators Tokunbo Afiku-yomi, Femi Okurounmu, Adeyemo Peters, Mojisoluwa Akinfenwa, Olabiyi Duroj-aiye and Laurence Ayo.

Others are Chief Rafiu Jafojo, National Publicity Secretary of the party, Dr. Olorunimbe Mamora, Speaker, Lagos Assembly, Reverend Tunji Adebiyi, Assistant Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Rasheed Shitta-Bey, Chief Frank kokori, Great Ogboru and all the states AD Chairmen amongst others.

Addressing the party members in his welcome speech, Tinubu who was late to the gathering following a security meeting held earlier in his office in Alausa, Ikeja noted that though, impeachment is a democratic tool allowed by the constitution, however he said, it was not appropriate in the system.

Poignantly, the governor said "I disagree with any act of impeachment at this stage of our democracy. The elections are also a few months away and we would have thought that our elected representatives of the House of Reps and the Senate would prefer to wait for reports of the people who we all claim to represent rather than cause unnecessary clash.

"A change of leadership now even where it is constitutional will obviously cause further instability in the country and portray us as a nation, as unserious to the international community. We say, we claim we need foreign investments in the country, why now embarking on this exercise. I have read in the newspapers part of the ground associated with constitutional breaches. These may be valid claims, but why not use them as campaign issues or use them as issues during the caucus meeting of the ruling party", he stated.

Tinubu therefore dismissed the PDP saying, "PDP as a party has shown itself as a party of destability in elections. They created the environment, they created the situation by trying to destabilise other parties where they were engaging elected people from our party, encouraging the breaches of the law by encouraging the violation of the law in the case of cross-carpeting, manipulating the process to destabilise other parties, ditto for them, they can have a taste of their soup".

Also speaking, Governor Akande noted that one of the problems the Yorubas have with Obasanjo is that they have a president who does not recognise where he hails from. He however said "we believe he (Obasanjo) should not be written off, he should be allowed to complete his term".

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