*Minister opts for written submission
*Accuses Rep c’ttee chair of plotting to dictate execution of programme
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
MINISTER of State for Labour and Employment, Mr Festus Keyamo, SAN, will appear before the National Assembly Joint Committee on Labour on Tuesday to defend the 774,000 job recruitment across the country.
The Minister is going on the invitation of the Joint Committee after the earlier meeting ended in shouting match.
But Mr Keyamo has made it clear to the lawmakers that he was sending a written submission on issues surrounding the programme ahead of his appearance to avoid a repetition of what happened during the last sitting.
He also expressed reservations that he might not get a fair hearing from the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Labour, alleging that the Committee Chairman was the one at the forefront of insisting on controlling and dictating the execution of the programme behind the scene.
He further claimed that the Committee Chairman made frantic efforts to stop the inauguration of the States’ Selection Committees through a series of phone calls to him.
The letter read: “Following our inconclusive interactive meeting on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, I have been informed again of another Interactive Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, July 7, 2020.
“I thank you for another opportunity to clarify all the issues regarding the execution of the Extended Special Public Works Programme which is very dear to the heart of Mr President and millions of Nigerians to whom we are all accountable.
“However, I have decided to make a written submission on issues surrounding the Programme to the Joint Committee ahead of my appearance this time for the following reasons:
“To properly lay before the Joint Committee and the Nigerian people in writing the modus operandi for executing this Programme as it is the responsibility of my office to supervise the preparation and execution of this Programme by the clear directives of Mr President conveyed on the 6th of May, 2020.
“To help the Distinguished Senators, Honourable Members and the Nigeria people to narrow down the issues at stake before the said interaction.
“To have the opportunity to fully express myself in advance as time and circumstances may not allow me to fully express myself before the Joint Committee. This is because, on Friday, July 3, 2020, in a programme called HARD COPY on Channels Television, the Chairman of the House Committee on Labour, Employment and Productivity, Honourable Muhammad Ali Wudil has already publicly accused me of flouting certain unknown rules in arriving at the States’ Selection Committees.
“Consequently, I may not be able to get a fair hearing from him, especially as he is the one that has been at the forefront of insisting on controlling and dictating the execution of this programme behind the scene. He also made frantic efforts to stop the inauguration of the States’ Selection Committees through a series of phone calls to me.
“It is also to avoid a situation where any attempt to fully express myself during the session or to call in aid provisions of the law and the Constitution as the basis of some of my actions so far may be misinterpreted as an affront to the Joint Committee.
“I would rather express those thoughts here and keep a dignified silence if some of those issues become points of contention again. This is because as a trained lawyer and a member of the Inner Bar (a Senior Advocate of Nigeria), and having sworn to uphold the Constitution as a public officer,
“I would be doing a great disservice to my primary constituency (the legal profession) and to my God-given conscience if I am made to concede issues that I know are constitutionally, legally and morally wrong just to let “things go on”.
“Finally, because the main purpose of your powers of investigation under section 88 of the 1999 Constitution is to “expose corruption, inefficiency and waste”, it is important we lay bare our plans for the Programme publicly. “Exposure”, to my mind, will require a public inquiry, not a private one if we must keep strictly to the provisions of the Constitution.
“Therefore, my writing in advance will absolve me of any accusation of impertinence as I most respectfully regret to say that I would be unable to say anything outside of these submissions in any closed-door session.”
The Minister made a detailed submission on the programme, the approval of Mr President for the extension of the programme to all 36 states and the FCT from October- December 2020 as a means of mitigating the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on the economy.
He said: “The Programme is also expected to provide modest stipends for itinerant workers to undertake roads rehabilitation and social housing construction, urban and rural sanitation, health extension and other critical services. Hence, the directive of Mr President for the NDE to collaborate with other Ministries with rural components in their mandates to work out the modalities for the execution of this Programme.
“The programme starts on the 1st of October, 2020. However, we are already running out of time because before October 1, 2020, we still have to select the 774,000 Nigerians, register them, open bank accounts for them and obtain their BVNs. Hence the urgency to proceed with preparations.”
On how much the programme is worth, Keyamo said, “The total sum of N52 billion has been appropriated for this programme. Out of this amount, the sum of N46.44 billion is for the actual payment of the stipends of those to be engaged. They will pay through BVN, hence eliminating the possibility of fraud in the payment scheme.
“The balance of N5.56 billion is for the purchase of tools and light equipment, the transportation, storage and security of this equipment in all the 774 LGAs in the country. That is approximately the sum of N7.183 million per LGA for the three-month period. The procurement of these items can only be done by the National Directorate of Employment, complying with strict procurement guidelines in the Public Procurement Act.
“At the end of the programme, we would have selected and engaged 774,000 Nigerians in a transparent process, adequately supervised and monitored them and paid N60,000.00 each for services rendered. Nigerians should also expect an improvement in the physical and environmental infrastructure nationwide.”
He said in his submission that the National Assembly lacks the power to circumscribe or question the discretion of the minister to establish the Committees.
Keyamo said, “Once a person who is given discretionary powers by law exercises that discretion in a particular way, it is impossible to question the exercise of that discretion if it is done within the confines of the law. An example is the power of the President to appoint at least one Minister from each State.
“As long as the President does not go outside a particular State to pick a Minister for that State, nobody can question his discretion in picking a particular person as Minister from that State. Therefore, even Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution cannot avail the Joint Committee the power to question the discretion of the Minister to constitute Committees for the NDE under Section 16(1) of the NDE Act.”
After an elaborate submission on the programme, which included bases for his supervision, member States Selection Committee, slot to political office holders, the Minister said he was ready to make any further clarification in public.
He said: “I hereby respectfully make these above submissions, whilst at the same time I am ready, willing and anxious to clarify any grey area in the work plan publicly when I appear before you. As this is not an investigative hearing.
“I assume that you would properly inform me if you want to do any of such and give me the full rights of fair hearing (including giving me the opportunity to confront any witness) as provided for in section 36 of the 1999 Constitution before reaching a decision that may affect my civil rights or obligations.
“It is only a full investigative hearing that can lead to your “exposing corruption, inefficiency or waste” in the execution of any government programme. An “Interactive Session” cannot lead to such since that is not within the contemplation of Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution.”