The Minister of Employment Labour and Productivity, Senate Chris Ngige, on Tuesday, apologized to the National Assembly over the recent altercation between the Minister of State for Labour, Mr. Festus Keyamo SAN, and a joint committee of the National Assembly over-sighting the ministry.
Keyamo had disagreed with the joint committee on the processes and modalities for implementing the Special Public Works programme of the Federal Government meant to hire 774,000 youths across Nigeria.
The beneficiaries are expected to be paid N20,000.00 per month for three months beginning from October to December 2020.
Ngige tendered the apology when he paid a courtesy call on the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, in Abuja.
Keyamo and other top officials of the Ministry were part of the minister’s entourage.
Ngige said that the position canvassed by Keyamo in his widely circulated letter on Monday is not sacrosanct.
However, in a dramatic twist, Keyamo told reporters that he is not bound by the Director of the National Assembly, saying he will approach the President for final directives on the matter.
He added that the matter will also go to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami for interpretation.
Ngige said: “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 will come in full force and give you the necessary information that you will need so that we can fast-track this programme.
“Today in the 9th Senate we are enjoying a good and robust relationship with the legislature and we do not want some of us who have passed through this institution will do everything that is possible to maintain that relationship.
“Therefore, Mr. Senate President, I apologize on behalf of the Ministry for what took place at 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 am aware and I know that a committee is a representative of the whole.
“The Committee room is an extension of our hallowed chambers over there like the plenary chambers. I therefore request that we forgive and forget.
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“Let us turn a new page and start off on this programme which the National Assembly has indicated that it is suspended because we can’t suspend forever programme that affects our people…
“My Minister of State has put out a position paper, that position paper, nothing is sacrosanct there. We can still discuss and agree to agree after disagreeing.
Lawan in his remarks insisted that all previous actions already taken on the programme by Keyamo are “null and void.”
He said that the process of recruiting the 774,000 Nigerians for the programme must start afresh while stressing the right of the National Assembly to demand and know the processes and modalities for implementing the programme.
He added that the programme is strict to be implemented by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) and vowed that the National Assembly would resist any attempt for the Ministry to hijack it.
Lawan said: “For me, this is an opportunity to say the home truth…our committees were right to request for an explanation of the modalities. We stand by our committees and we are in support of the suspension of the programme.
“In fact, any action taken before now is null and void. You are now going to start it all over. You said there is a need for a fresh start. This is going to be fresh air.
“From today once you engage and the explanations are accepted then NDE will start to put the structure (in place) because they would have explained how the 20-man selection Committee will be realized…
“I want to assure you Honourable Minister that we are going to support you all the way to ensure that the programme is successful but you don’t have our support if the Ministry ventures into it. We will continue to insist that the Ministry should have no role more than supervision of this programme.
“If the Ministry goes ahead that means the ministry is breaking the law because the budget is law.
“So we are on the same page and I want to thank you for your intervention. A harmonious relationship bet ween the standing committees of the National Assembly and our MDAs is the responsibility of both sides.”
However, Keyamo kicked against the position of the National Assembly on the matter and lamented that attempt was being made to bypass him in the execution of the programme.
He said he will approach the President to heat his final say on the matter.
He insisted that the directives by the National Assembly as to the execution of a project is not binding on him as the matter will have to be sent to the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami for interpretation.
Keyamo said: “First of all, may I say that this Distinguished National Assembly, I believe that they are the lawmakers and they desire to comply strictly with the provisions of the law.
“Now, it is important that all of you read the National Directorate of Employment Act. 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 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 buck 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 is not binding on me. This is an issue that will go to the Attorney-General at the end of the day for interpretation.”