The disagreement between the Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, and the National Assembly members took a downward turn yesterday, Tuesday, as the lawmakers directed him to take a backseat from the implementation of the Special Public Works Programme which seeks to recruit a total of 774,000 Nigerians across the country.
Keyamo rejected the directed of the lawmakers despite being part of a delegation led by the Minister of Labour, Chris Ngige, who apologised for the bitter exchange while paying a courtesy visit to the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, on Tuesday, July 7, 2020.
The minister was last week involved in a war of words with a Joint Committee on Labour and Employment when he appeared before the lawmakers who questioned his influence on the project, including the alleged exclusion of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) expected to implement recruitment for the programme for which N52 billion has been budgeted.
During the meeting, Lawan declared all previous actions taken by Keyamo as ‘null and void’ and told Ngige to work with lawmakers to start afresh.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Keyamo said the Joint Committee also directed him to remove himself from the preparation and execution of the programme.
The committee also directed the DG of the NDE, Nasiru Ladan, to report his plans directly to the National Assembly next week for scrutiny and approval.
However, the minister argued that the lawmakers’ directives were illegal as they contradict the provisions of the NDE Act that empowers him as chairperson of the agency’s board, as supervising minister.
He said the agency’s board is mandated by law to comply with directives from him, and not the National Assembly, and that only he has the sole prerogative to constitute committees for the agency.
He added that President Muhammadu Buhari has already issued public directives that he’s the one charged with overseeing all the activities of the NDE, as well as the supervision of the preparation and execution of the programme.
Keyamo accused the National Assembly of trying to sidestep provisions of the laws it made, as well as presidential directives, in an attempt to get him out of the way for the lawmakers to take over.
He said, “I regret to say I am not bound by such a patently illegal and unconstitutional resolution by the National Assembly and I am only bound by the provisions of the law and the Constitution that all public officers swore on oath to uphold.”
Speaking with journalists after meeting with NASS members, Keyamo said:
“You can see that the whole struggle today has been how to bypass me in the execution of this programme and I’m sure that you all saw that.
“Now with the provisions of the law, how they are going to do that, I don’t know, I have to go back to my principal which is the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to give directives.
“By section 3 of the NDE act, I am the chairman of the board. The minister is the chairman of the board of the NDE. When you say go back and bring a plan, you are still coming back to me. Secondly, if you look at section 15 of the NDE act, it said the minister may give directives of a general nature to the NDE. In other words, you cannot have a work plan without coming back to the minister.
“The third point is that by virtue of my appointment as a minister, the president gave a directive in October last year saying that I should go and supervise generally the activity of the NDE. I don’t see how you will supervise an agency and they go ahead without approval, the bulk must stop at a table.
“The fourth one, beyond the general mandate the president gave, the president also specifically instructed me by memo in May this year for me to go and supervise the execution of this project. How can you supervise a project without your final approval. That approval lies on my table.
“Section 16(1) of the NDE act, by instruction of the president, an inter-ministerial committee has already been proposed – which we accepted – that the committee must drive the selection process. Section 16(1) said the minister shall constitute committees for the NDE. The director-general of the NDE has no such powers to constitute committees under the law.
“So when you say go back and bring a plan, are you asking the DG to go and break the law? Are you saying the DG should disobey the president? Are you saying the DG should disobey his immediate boss which is his minister?
“I will go back to the president for directives. The directives as to execution of a project is not binding on me. The directives of the national assembly are not binding on me.”
The minister said at the end of the day, Abubakar Malami, attorney-general of federation (AGF), would have to interpret the relevant laws under contention.
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Last week, Keyamo alleged that politicians were trying to hijack the recruitment process by trying to roll over him.
His back-and-forth with the legislature has cast a cloud over the States’ Selection Committees he inaugurated last week.
The committees are responsible for identifying the public works to be executed in each LGA, and will also identify and recruit those to be engaged under the programme.
Keyamo told them last week to complete the selection processes within three weeks.
Beneficiaries of the programme, expected to run for three months between October and December, will be paid N20,000 per month.
They will be expected to perform tasks in roads rehabilitation, social housing construction, urban and rural sanitation, and other critical services.