Amid the raging debate on the N5bn presidential yacht to be procured by the federal government, as captured in the 2023 supplementary budget submitted to the National Assembly, the Nigerian Navy yesterday affirmed that it had taken delivery of the yacht.
The Director of Information, Nigerian Navy, Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan, in an interview with one of our correspondents yesterday, stated that the yacht had been in the country since June, 2023. He explained that the service made a “long overdue request” for the replacement of the defunct presidential yacht during the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari. He stressed that the yacht was for training, reports Saturday PUNCH.
Meanwhile, indications have emerged that the payment for the yacht may suffer delay, given the opposition by the two chambers of the National Assembly, in which case the federal lawmakers refused to approve the payment for the yacht. Thus, while the yacht has been delivered to the country, how the government would raise money for it remains to be seen in the coming days and months.
Earlier yesterday, the Senate Chief Whip, Ali Ndume, who represents Borno South, clarified during an interview on Arise TV that the presidential yacht had been signed and delivered before the public outcry, even though it had not been paid for. “The deal for the yacht has been agreed, signed, and delivered but not paid for,” he noted.
Ndume noted that the Senate queried the amount budgeted for the yacht, but that it was signed for a dollar rate, and that the new rate was no longer favourable. He pointed out that the budget was predicated on N435, but that the rate was now over N800/dollar.
He said the navy also clarified that it was not a new budget, and that even the House of Representatives moved the budgeted sum to the Student Loan.
Ndume explained that the N5bn earmarked for the yacht was included in the supplementary budget because it had yet to be paid for. “When we saw that amount, we queried it. When we asked those questions, the navy explained that this was not a new item. I know the President is not a luxurious person, he won’t go for that.”
Navy justifies purchase
As many Nigerians hoped that the procurement would be halted on account of widespread criticism, owing to the current economic situation, the revelation yesterday that it had been delivered to the country introduced a new twist to the issue.
About N5bn had been allocated to the yacht in the N2.1trn supplementary budget transmitted by President Bola Tinubu to the National Assembly after the Federal Executive Council meeting on Monday.
But speaking on the issue in the interview with our correspondent yesterday, the naval spokesperson said, “It was delivered in June 2023. We have not used it yet.”
When asked if the inability to pay for the yacht was responsible for the delay in using it, he stated, “Correct. It’s tied to the non-payment.”
This implies that until the payment is made, the navy may not be able to use it for its operational activities.
Amid heavy criticisms that had greeted the procurement, the Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, had said the yacht was not for Tinubu’s personal use.
He had stated, “What was named as Presidential Yacht in the budget is an operational naval boat with specialised security gadgets suitable for high-profile operational inspection and not for the use of the President.”
The navy during an interview with our correspondent on Thursday also confirmed the statement by the presidency, stressing that the Navy, and not Tinubu requested for the yacht. He had said, “Under the immediate past administration, a long overdue request was made for a Presidential yacht to replace MV AMARIA, the defunct Presidential yacht. It was also to be used for the Presidential Fleet Review 2023 that was held in May this year.”
Senate clarifies position
Meanwhile, there are fresh concerns that payment for the yacht may suffer delay given the opposition to the payment by the two chambers of the National Assembly. By constitutional provisions, the procurement of items by the government is subject to legislative approval.
Therefore, as the federal lawmakers have expunged the payment for the yacht from the supplementary budget, it might create a crisis for the payment of the yacht and when it can be put to use.
Against widespread reports that the Senate approved the payment while the House of Representatives on the other hand expunged the item and added it to the money budgeted for the student loan, indications emerged on Friday that the Senate also did not approve the payment.
The Senate said it aligned with the House of Representatives on the reallocation of the N5.095bn appropriated for the presidential yacht to be added to the student loan.
The National Assembly had on Thursday approved the supplementary budget.
While the Senate was silent on the N5bn proposed for the yacht in the budget, the House of Representatives cancelled the allocation and added it to the student loan.
Clarifying the position of the Red Chamber, the Senate Spokesperson, Yemi Adaramodu, noted that the report was co-signed by both the chairmen of appropriation for both Senate and House of Representatives.
He noted that both the Chairman, Senate committee on Appropriation, Senator Solomon Adeola, and the chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Abubakar Bichi, had agreed on moving the yacht allocation to the students’ loan laid before the lawmakers.
Adaramodu stated, “It was an agreement that was signed by both chambers. The fact that the Senate didn’t expressly mention it doesn’t mean that we were not on the same page.
“One chamber cannot singlehandedly sign a supplementary budget, the paper presented at the Senate was the same presented at the House. Both chairmen consolidated their reports and presented it at the plenary.
“As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, I can tell you that we didn’t approve any money for the presidential yacht.”
Adaramodu added. “Our job as lawmakers is to appropriate and have oversight of government activities.”
Meanwhile, the Senate has summoned an emergency sitting.
The meeting which was communicated last night was initially scheduled for Saturday morning but was shifted to Monday.
According to Adaramodu, the meeting was fixed to adopt the Votes and Proceedings of Thursday plenary.
He said, “The plenary has been shifted to Monday. We had initially fixed Saturday but we discovered that many senators had gone to be with their constituents. The session is just to adopt the votes and proceedings of Thursday Plenary.
“We were behind time on Thursday based on various committee meetings, so we couldn’t adopt the votes and proceedings. That’s what we want to do on Monday. If we don’t adopt the votes and proceedings, all that we did cannot be filed and documented.”
The House of Representatives has reacted to the continued debate on the yacht, saying there cannot be procurement without legislative approval. It noted that if it was done, it would amount to nullity.
The House spokesman and Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Akin Rotimi, said the House scrapped it and moved the N5bn allocated for it to fund the proposed student loan scheme.
He said Ndume missed the point while speaking on the issue.
He stated in an interview with our correspondent yesterday, “The concept of anticipatory approval is unknown to Nigeria’s constitutional jurisprudence. Sections 80 to 83 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) is clear about the fact that the only authorising entity for government expenditure is the National Assembly.
“Any procurement made without legislative authorisation is unconstitutional, null and void, and goes against the spirit and letter of our constitution.”
He added that Ndume’s claim was unknown to the House as the Committee Chairman on Navy who headed the same Committee in the ninth Assembly was not aware of the procurement alluded to by Ndume.
He added, “I can confirm that the chairman of the House Committee on Navy, who held the same position in the previous Assembly, is not aware of this alleged procurement, and has promised to look into it.”