Illegality and authoritarianism have one thing in common: disregard for laws that require involving other people in decision making. The latter is more easily identified as the more repugnant when mentioned but in a nation of laws, the former, when condoned, presents a stumbling block to true progress.
President Muhammadu Buhari has paid $469 million to the US Government for the purchase of 12 Tucano aircrafts, to be delivered in 2020. Where did he get the money? From the Excess Crude Account (ECA) based on last year’s approval by State governors that $1 billion be withdrawn for purchase of military equipment to prosecute the war against insurgents. But did he withdraw the money with the consent of the National Assembly as stipulated in Section 80 (3) and (4) of the 1999 Constitution as well as Sections 4 and 5 of the 2017 Appropriation Act?
No, he did not.
Instead, he wrote the House of Representatives on the 13th of April, explaining that he had gone ahead to debit the account and pay the US based on “anticipatory approval”, a term coined to convey his impression that the National Assembly would have no qualms approving anyway. There was, according to the president, a deadline of February 20 to beat for the purchase not to be cancelled, hence the payment. Of course he prefaced these explanations by beginning the letter with remarks stressing the central issue of national security.
Well played, but only if Nigeria is not to be a nation of laws. The president comfortably explaining away an illegality such as this on the basis of national security is a recipe for insecurity.
As with many other actions of other arms of government, the Executive’s subversion of the Constitution is deeply uncomfortable. The traditions from where we borrow the separation of powers were deeply suspicious of what a President could do with his powers, hence intended to keep him or her checked by a body representing the people as lawmakers. If Nigeria has taken this for granted before, President Buhari’s unilateral action in contravention of the Constitution should be a moment of instruction. If he is allowed to explain it away as due to a deadline – a deadline that could have been better handled if he had made best use of the 55 days between the day the FG received notification on December 17, 2017 – it could become the basis for such actions in future from this and subsequent governments.
There are urgings for the process of impeachment to begin it won’t be a surprise if that dies off as another sensational item is created to take over the news. It is doubtful that the Senate and House, both controlled by the president’s party, will throw him under the bus. Prof Itse Sagay will probably be put to task to provide legal twists to justify the president’s decision.
But it will still be illegal, an undermining of democracy, and, more that they will be willing to admit, a concern for national security.
By Alexander O. Onukwue | Follow @inquizimedia on Facebook and Twitter