The Minister of Labour, Employment and Productivity, Senator Chris Ngige yesterday apologised over the altercations between Festus Keyamo (SAN) and members of National Assembly Joint Committee on Labour over the 774, 000 Special Public Works recruitment scheme of the Federal Government.
Hours after Ngige, as substantive labour minister tendered the apology, Keyamo who is at the centre of the crisis, kicked against it, he insisted that the constitution empowers his office to supervise the execution of the Special Public Works Programme of the Federal Government. Keyamo made the admission in an interview with newsmen after the Senate Committee on Labour called for a new proposal to implement the project.
Festus Keyamo is the The Minister of State for Labour, Employment and Productivity.
The Senate Committee on Labour had in a meeting with the president of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and Ministers of Labour declared that the earlier proposal on implementation of the project presented by Keyamo was null and void.
Ngige tendered the apology at a meeting with the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and members of the joint committee.
“We deeply regret the incident that happened at the last visit, the altercations that followed it between my minister of state and members of the joint committee.
“Therefore, we decided that as a team, we would come in force and give you the necessary information that you will need so that we can speed up this programme.
“My minister of state has put out a position paper, nothing is sacrosanct there. We can still discuss and agree after disagreeing. Therefore, Mr. Senate President, I apologise on behalf of the ministry for what took place the last time and I hope that this apology will be taken by the members of the committee and the entire National Assembly because I know that a committee is a representative of the whole.
“I, therefore, request that we forgive and forget. Let this turn a new page and start off on this programme.”
In his remarks, Lawan said the National Assembly had the mandate and jurisdiction to accept or reject the executive request.
“When Mr. President presented the request for the appropriation of N52 billion for the public works, the National Assembly committees scrutinised it and recommended to the plenary of the two chambers the passage. We did that, feeling convinced that this is one programme that is needed in this country, especially at this time.
“Our people need some kind of support especially the youth. So this is one programme we can even own in the National Assembly. How we wished we have more than N52 billion for this programme. But we are also conscious of one thing, who should implement the programme.”
Lawan said that the ministry should have no role more than supervising the programme.
“And if the ministry goes ahead, that means it will be breaking the law because the budget is a law. We are not going to allow the ministry headquarters to implement this programme at all. This National Assembly can support you very well but it can stand tough if its will is tested.
“We want our committees to work with your ministry to implement this programme. All previous actions are null and void. We don’t recognise them. You and our committee should engage and start afresh,” Lawan said.
The senate president insisted that the programme remained under the purview of National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and that the work of the labour ministry is only to supervise the implementation.
Senate at the meeting directed the director-generator of NDE, Dr Nasiru Mohammed, to present a new proposal for the implementation of the programme, insisting that NDE must implement the programme and not the ministry. Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige had also at the meeting apologised to the Senate on behalf of the ministry, noting that Keyamo’s position on the project was not sacrosanct.
Keyamo who is at the centre of the crisis, kicked against it, vowing to continue driving the implementation of the project as against the National Directorate of Employment’s (NDE) approved by the National Assembly.
Keyamo said: “This distinguished National Assembly, I believe that they are the lawmakers and they desire to comply strictly with the provisions of the law. “With the provision of the law, I don’t know how they are going to go about that.
“I have to go back to my principal, the President of The Federal Republic of Nigeria, who gives directives. “By the provision of Section 2(3) of the NDE Act, I am the chairman of the board of the NDE; so when you say NDE should go back and bring their plan. “It will come back to me because I am still the chairman of the NDE.
“Secondly, if you look at Section 15 of the NDE Act, the minister may give directive of a general nature to the NDE. In order words, you cannot even do a work plan without coming back to the minister. “The third point is that by the virtue of my appointment as minister, the president gave a directive in October 2019 that I should go and supervise generally the activities of the NDE.
“So, I have quoted the position of the law and the presidential mandate. The fourth one is that beyond the general mandate, the president specifically instructed me by memo in May for me to go and supervise the preparation and execution of this project.
“The last and the most important is that go back and read Section 16(1) of the NDE act, by the instruction of the Presidency, an inter-ministerial committee has already proposed that local committee must drive this selection process. “We cannot stay here in Abuja and select 1000 persons per each local Government.
“If you look at Section 15(1), it says the minister shall constitute committees for the NDE. “The director-general of NDE has no such powers to constitute committees by law. “That is where we are on this issue. So, I will go back to my employer, which is the president. The president will give directives.”
He said the directives by the National Assembly as to the execution of the project were not binding on him. “This is a great constitutional the issue that will go to the Attorney-General at the end of the day for interpretation. “Just like I said if the residency says I should step aside and allow them to hijack the process because the game as you have seen today is simply that they are conniving with a certain functionary of Government to design the program, hijack the programme against the wishes of Nigerians and that is what I have been against.
“And I will continue to stand by that, they are very distinguished members, the law is the law, our constitution is the constitution. ” The Director-General of NDE Dr Nasiru Ladan also in an interview with newsmen said: “as far as we are concerned, the jobs are the sole responsibility of the NDE, from the planning, process, to the execution. “The N52 billion appropriated by National Assembly is in NDE, and by powers given to us by the National Assembly, I, Dr Nasiru Mohammed director General of NDE owe a priority to the programme.”
He said the 20 man state selection committee earlier constituted to drive the selection of the 774,000 potential beneficiaries of the jobs stands null and void.
He said he would not allow the programme to be hijacked by the lawmakers.
Keyamo had last Tuesday, engaged in a shouting match with members of the joint committees over membership of the 20-man selection panel.
Consequently, the legislature asked the presidency to halt the programme pending when the National Assembly is properly briefed on implementation modalities.
On Monday, Lawan insisted that the programme remained suspended.
The initiative was billed to start October 1 when each beneficiary will be paid N20,000 monthly to carry out public works.