Minister of State for Labour and Employment, Festus Keyamo, told lawmakers off during a heated session on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, and was sent packing for his troubles.

The minister had appeared before a joint Senate and House committee on Labour to brief them on the Special Public Works Programme which seeks to recruit a total of 774,000 Nigerians across the country.

The programme will employ 1,000 Nigerians in each of the nation’s 774 local government areas, and is due to be implemented by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE).

Matters got to a head when the legislators queried Keyamo on how he has handled the project so far.

According to the minister, “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.”

Illustrative photo of a senate hearing session [Twitter/@DrAhmadLawan]
Illustrative photo of a senate hearing session [Twitter/@DrAhmadLawan]

Keyamo said the lawmakers were unhappy when he insisted that there was no need for a closed-door session and that everything should be discussed in the open.

“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.”

Keyamo has warned the lawmakers that by going against his assignment, they are going against the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“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," he said.

Keyamo says he is willing to abandon the assignment for the lawmakers if it came to that.

Festus Keyamo is Nigeria's Minister of State for Labour and Productivity (Instagram @Festuskeyamo70)
Festus Keyamo is Nigeria's Minister of State for Labour and Productivity (Instagram @Festuskeyamo70)

“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,” he added.

Blackmail

After the rowdy session, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Labour, Employment, and Productivity, Godiya Akwashiki, accused the minister of trying to use the programme to build a political structure for himself across the country.

Keyamo has however alleged that politicians are trying to hijack the recruitment process.

"There have been attempts at blackmailing me in this particular programme too to make us also yield to political leaders and we have said no, not while I am here," he said.

Beneficiaries of the programme, which will 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.

N52 billion has been budgeted for the recruitment exercise.