Between Festus Keyamo And The 469 Federal Legislators

In a bid to politicise job creation, promote the culture of ‘man knows man’ and enhance godfatherism, our distinguished senators and representatives sought to hijack the laudable 774,000 jobs creation programme of the federal government of Nigeria.

At a public hearing last Tuesday, the joint committee of the senate and House of Representatives engaged the young senior advocate and Hon minister of state labour and productivity Festus Keyamo in a shouting match all in a bid to take over the programme meant to create 774,000 unskilled jobs for the teeming unemployed youths in our dear country. This is despite the fact that 15% of the slots in the recruitment exercise were allocated to the lawmakers.

Despite the palpable tension during the fracas, Festus Keyamo who deservedly earned the title of a HERO after the public hearing, refused to be intimidated, gagged, coerced or subdued. He stood his ground that these jobs should go to all qualified Nigerians whether they are ‘connected’ or not.

The latest fallout from the Hon minister Keyamo’s altercation with our federal legislators is that the National Assembly has vowed to ‘suspend’ both the recruitment exercise and the vibrant senior advocate for what they called ‘huge embarrassment’ the minister caused the National Assembly as an institution. Our senators and representatives were bewildered as to how Mr Keyamo will have the liver to not only challenge them but also stand his ground against all odds. Even the last minute attempt by the lawmakers to get Mr Keyamo to apologise was rebuffed by the senior lawyer who rightly sees nothing to apologise about. A private secret session was proposed by the lawmakers as a means to ‘negotiate’ with Mr Keyamo and again, the popular lawyer remained undaunted. He refused a secret session saying that the cameras should be present because the good people of Nigeria have a right to know what is happening regarding their 774,000 jobs. He insisted on a public hearing where everyone will see what is going on.

The popular viral video of the Hon minister’s altercation with the lawmakers showed a senator from Katsina state who clearly was prominent in the video pointing the index finger severally at Mr Keyamo. The senator from Katsina seem to have a very serious personal problem with Mr Keyamo as he (the senator) couldn’t sit down for a greater part of the altercation, repeatedly shouting and vowing to walk out Mr Keyamo. ‘We will walk you out’
‘Are you better than the other ministers who came here’ he shouted at Mr Keyamo.
The distinguished senator was visibly angry and looks ready to throw the first punch if not for divine intervention. Almost simultaneously, the lady among them, a senator from Rivers state jumped at what she called ‘key performance indicators (KPI)’ ‘what are your key performance indicators? She quizzed the Honourable minister. She didn’t allow Mr Keyamo to respond to her question.
While the drama lasted, a younger lawmaker who appeared from nowhere and standing behind the panel, started pointing his index finger at Mr Keyamo, threatening fire and brimstone. As the drama continued, the committees chairmen seem to have been relegated to the background as they couldn’t match the high-pitch shouts. Another senator abruptly picked the microphone and in a move to douse tension chipped in ‘The minister should apologise to this hallowed chamber. Of course everyone knows Mr Keyamo who fought military juntas and survived, was not one to be forced into an apology. He didn’t apologise because as he rightly put it, there is nothing to apologise about.

All these were attempts to gag and intimidate Mr Keyamo but they fell flat because the Honourable lawmaker stood his ground for what he believed in.

It is pertinent to note that Mr Keyamo didn’t insult anybody and displayed the highest degree of discipline all through the hearing.

Mr Keyamo is indeed a trailblazer. The young man is 50 years old and became a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) at 47 years. Mr Keyamo was the director, strategic communications of the victorious campaign machine of President Muhammadu Buhari which sailed to another remarkable victory in the 2019 Presidential elections. Mr Keyamo as the spokesperson of President Buhari’s campaign, beat the PDP in its own game in the run-up to the 2019 Presidential elections.
The rest is history.

A product of the famous Gani Fawehinmi chambers, Mr Keyamo fought military dictatorship at a young age of 37 years when he formed the Youth against misguided youths network to fight extension of military rule. This man is properly groomed to withstand any pressures and he proved it. With his CV, it was not surprising that Festus Keyamo came out unscathed in the attempt to gag and intimidate him at the public hearing.

The seeming needless altercation between the honourable minister and the National Assembly raised questions just as it presents an opportunity to learn some lessons about Nigeria’s version of democracy. Does the National Assembly have the constitutional powers to suspend a minister in the executive arm of government? Has the National Assembly respected the principle of separation of powers as enshrined in sections 4, 5 and 6 of the 1999 constitution in its bid to take over the 774,000 jobs? Is the National Assembly right to attempt to suspend a job creation programme which will empower 774,000 Nigerians who really need it?

Clearly, the nation called NIGERIA is averse to change. Sadly, the overriding motive in our dear country is usually personal interest not national interest. This is what drags our nation backwards and stagnates any efforts at nation building. Our dear country seems fixated with the status quo that anyone who attempts to change it will be swimming against the tide and attracting trouble.

The Keyamo V National Assembly once again echoes the widely held belief that no one gets a job in Nigeria unless he/she is ‘connected’
Clearly, what the joint committee was trying to do was to take over the 774,000 jobs and pass them on to their constituents. There is nothing wrong with that. However, we must remember that there are several unemployed Nigerians in their millions who are ‘not connected’. These innocent unemployed Nigerians in continuous search for non-existent jobs do not know any senator or member of House of Representatives. They have no link whatsoever to their legislators. How then will they be accommodated in the scheme? Is it right that one must know somebody to get a job in Nigeria?

Another downside in the event that the 774,000 jobs are taken over by the senate and HoR is the fact that merit will no longer be the watchword as political affiliation and often times bribery will be the order of the day. Of course there are insinuations that most times, such jobs taken over by politicians are shared amongst political affiliates and hobnobbers who end up ‘selling’ such slots to unsuspecting applicants overwhelmed by the desperation to secure a job. These jobs which are temporary for three months at N20,000 monthly pay, if handed over to politicians will mean some people will turn millionaires overnight as cash is certain to change hands. Everything will be on quid pro quo basis.

The purported move by our lawmakers to suspend both the recruitment exercise and Festus Keyamo is alien to the constitution. There is no place in the constitution of the federal republic of NIGERIA where the National Assembly is empowered to suspend a minister and member of the federal executive council. The 1999 constitution has given details about the composition and powers of the National Assembly in sections 47 – 89 and nowhere within these sections or elsewhere the National Assembly was empowered to suspend a member of the federal executive council. How could anybody suspend someone they didn’t appoint in the first place?
Any attempts by the National Assembly to ‘suspend’ the Hon minister is unconstitutional, null, void and of no effect whatsoever.
Only Mr President who appointed Mr Keyamo has the powers to take such actions. …. and he will not because Mr President is a man of integrity and abides by the constitution to the letter.

The constitution empowers the National Assembly to expose corruption but didn’t empower it to suspend the 774,000 jobs recruitment exercise.

The distinguished and honourable lawmakers based their action to summon Mr Keyamo on their oversight functions and what they call ‘powers to check corruption.
In sections 88 1(a)(b) and 2(a)(b), the 1999 constitution (as altered) has conferred powers on the National Assembly to inter alia in section 88 2(b), expose corruption, inefficiency and waste. This relevant section is unambiguous that:

‘The powers conferred on the National Assembly under the provisions of this section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to –
(b) expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it’

To this extent, the National Assembly was spot-on to summon Mr Keyamo to explain the details of the recruitment exercise. What raised dust however was the fact that the distinguished and honourable members were asking for a secret closed door private session away from the cameras instead of a public session. For God’s sake, how could anyone check corruption in SECRET? If indeed the honourable committee has nothing to hide or are not planning any hidden agenda, they should say everything during the public hearing and not to ask Mr Keyamo for a PRIVATE secret session. The erudite lawyer once again displayed his respect for the rule of law and due process when he blatantly refused to go for a secret session. He stood his ground that it has to be a public session and the cameras have to be present because the good people of Nigeria have a right to know what is going on.
One is tempted to ask ‘if the person under investigation (Mr Keyamo) is not afraid of a public hearing, why should the investigator (National Assembly) be afraid of it?

The 1999 constitution (as altered) also bestows oversight powers on the National Assembly as captured in section 88 (1)(b) (I) (I) which explicitly states that:

‘Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in its journal or in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation to direct or cause to be directed investigation into –
(b) the conduct of affairs of any person, authority, ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for –
(i) executing or administering laws enacted by National Assembly, and
(ii) disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly.

From this provision, the constitution has empowered our distinguished senators and honourable members, the powers to carry out oversight functions and/or checks and balances on ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). Indeed the National Assembly was right, hunky-dory and decent to invite Mr Keyamo to a public hearing for a better understanding of the recruitment exercise. However, the way and manner the public hearing was conducted leaves much to be desired. The legislators who ought to know better did not display the professionalism expected of them.
The stage for the public hearing appears to have been set to intimidate, gag, harass, overawe and subdue Festus Keyamo. It is this tendency that prompted another trailblazer, former minister of the FCT and current executive Governor of Kaduna state, the ever-vibrant excellency Mal Nasir ElRufai to make the famous remark about the Nigerian senate in August 2004 ‘Silence is the best answer for a fool’

As the senior lawyer Festus Keyamo said in his address to the press after the public hearing, there were attempts to talk him into submission over the telephone but he refused hence the invitation to the public hearing.
Perhaps it needs emphasising that public hearings are not avenues for confrontations but opportunities to facilitate better understanding of the subject matter. It is a ground for both the public, the executive and legislative arms of government to rub minds and work for a common objective related to national development. If lawmakers will summon a public officer and minister using their ‘powers’ for the purpose of forcing the minister to do their bidding, then it is no longer a public hearing but something else. Such actions are unconventional, archaic and negate the principle of separation of powers as enshrined in sections 4,5 and 6 of the 1999 constitution (as altered). It should be noted that the principle of separation of powers is not a blank cheque for the 3 arms of government (the executive, legislature and the judiciary) to work at cross-purposes and/or intimidate one another. Rather it is a maxim for the 3 arms to work together towards a common purpose of national (not personal) development.
For Nigeria to maximise the benefits of its democracy and achieve its objectives of delivering democratic dividends to the people, the 3 arms should work together as partners in progress. Indeed, one takeaway from the Keyamo V National Assembly fracas is the need for the creation of a MINISTRY FOR JOB CREATION AND SKILLS ACQUISITION to harmonise the activities of all governmental agencies responsible for job creation such as NDE, SMEDAN, ITF etc.
An agency to deal with labour and minimum wage matters should be formed to replace the ministry of labour and productivity under the proposed ministry for job creation and skills acquisition.

The Keyamo V National Assembly altercation yet again reverberates the call for the young generation to take over the leadership of this great country and bring in new ideas into governance. The feat achieved by hero Keyamo has further cemented the place of Nigerian youths as the true agents of change in the current efforts to create the NEW NIGERIA of our dreams. Clearly, the current system of conventional politics in Nigeria since 1999 and recycling of old politicians with no clear agenda of their own has proven beyond any iota of doubt that you cannot do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result as stated by the great physicist Albert Einstein.
In the 2023 elections, our dear country must take its destiny in its own hands and vote young, committed individuals into public office for a break from our past to usher in a new Nigerian order of strategic economic development and political reforms that will set the foundation for Nigeria that can take its rightful place in the comity of Nations.
2023 is the moment.
Indeed It is time!

By Dr Abubakar Alkali


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