By Shola Adewunmi
After a ruckus ensued earlier on Tuesday on the floor of the House of Representatives where Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo (SAN) was quizzed by the joint committee of the Senate and House of Representatives, the minister has come out to clear the air.
Keyamo was heard earlier shouting on top of his voice during a heated exchange with members of the committee who accused him of trying to take over the powers of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), in the 774,000 jobs to be given to Nigerians.
He was in the House alongside Nasiru Ladan, Director General of the NDE. Ladan was quizzed about the rationale behind the selection of the 20 members of the Selection committee for the 774,000 jobs, and he said he knows just 8 of the members of the committee.
The committee turned its attention to Keyamo before an argument led to the committee’s call for a close session which the Minister refused.
“How can you expose corruption without the cameras? How can, how can you expose it? I must respond to what he said. You cannot say something and I won’t respond. It is wrong,” he was heard as saying.
Some of the lawmakers afterwards asked him to get out as they asked the sergeant-in-arms to lead him.
He was subsequently ordered out of the hearing room.
Speaking with journalists outside the hearing room, Keyamo alleged that the lawmakers were trying to take control of the recruitment exercise which his ministry supervises.
In a statement to further paint a picture of the situation and to deny allegations that he walked out, he said;
“Today, in obedience to their invitation, I appeared before the Joint Committees on Labour of both the Senate and the House. The Distinguished Senators and Honourable Members sought to be briefed on the implementation of the Special Public Works Programme so far.
“However, there was a misunderstanding between us when they questioned why I did not privately submit the program to them for vetting before taking certain steps. They suggested that they ought to have an input on how the programme should be implemented. In other words, they sought to control the programme as to who gets what, where and how.
“However, I insisted that I could not surrender the programme to their control since their powers under the constitution does not extend to that. They insisted on a closed door session.
“At this point, I remarked that it was only fair for me to respond to their position before the press, since their own position was also made public. In any case, I remarked that the Nigerian people deserve to know the details of the execution of this all-important programme.
“I was then asked to apologize for insisting on a public interaction and I said there was nothing to apologize about, because their powers to expose corruption provided for in section 88 of the Constitution cannot be exercised in private. As such, there was no need to apologize by insisting on a Constitutional provision. Even their Rules that may provide for private hearings on public matters cannot override the provisions of the Constitution. I was then permitted to leave. I took a bow and left. I NEVER walked out on the respected Committees as they may want to bend the narrative.
“After I left, I understand that the Joint Committees purportedly suspended the work of the Selection Committees nationwide until they decide how the programme should be run and who should be in those Committees. My opinion is that it is tantamount to challenging the powers of Mr. President.
“I regret to say that their powers under section 88 of the 1999 Constitution is only limited to investigations, but NOT TO GIVE ANY DIRECTIVE TO THE EXECUTIVE.
“A Committee or Committees of both Houses do not even have powers to pass binding Resolutions. They can only make recommendations to Plenary. In this case, even Plenary CANNOT give DIRECTIVES to the Executive.
“All my life, I have fought for good governance and constitutional democracy. I will not come into government and be intimidated to abandon those principles. I will rather leave this assignment, if Mr. President so directs than compromise the jobs meant for ordinary Nigerians who have no Godfathers or who are not affiliated to any political party.
“I therefore, respectfully further direct all the Committees set up nationwide made up of CAN, NSCIA, NURTW, Market Women, CSOS, Youth Organisations, respected traditional rulers, etc to proceed with their work unhindered. Only Mr. President can stop their work.”