The House of Representatives on Thursday passed a vote of no confidence in the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, and the Minister of State for Mines and Steel Development, Mr. Abubakar Bawa-Bwari.
The two ministers were absent at a sectoral debate on the steel sector scheduled by the House primarily to find solutions to the troubled Ajaokuta Steel Plant.
As Thursday’s plenary began, the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, informed members on how he personally wrote Fayemi a letter on February 16, inviting him to address lawmakers on the state of affairs in the steel sector and on Ajaokuta in particular.
But, he said the minister replied on February 27, just two days to the debate, to say that he would be unavailable, while Bawa-Bwari too had other official engagements.
The minister’s reply was written on his behalf by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Dr. Abdulkadir Muazu.
The Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, was scheduled to appear alongside with Fayemi on Thursday.
However, Dogara said while Adeosun called to explain that she was in Kaduna and would arrive in Abuja by 4pm to address the House, Fayemi merely said he was unavailable, but wished the House well.
The Speaker said he was amazed by the minister’s conduct, which appeared to give credence to the allegation that “some powerful interests” in the ministry had concluded arrangements to concession the steel complex.
He asked how a nation would toy with a plant that had consumed $5.1bn and was so critical to the survival of its economy.
“Could it be national sabotage? Or have we been bewitched by some sorcerers?
“The result of Ajaokuta today is a result of our inept attitude as a government. All government needs to complete the plant is leadership. We want end this national embarrassment.”
As the Speaker made to say that the debate would continue with or without Fayemi, lawmakers interrupted him. They sought to first register their displeasure over the conduct of Fayemi.
The Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, who was the first to speak, said the minister’s conduct amounted to contempt of the parliament.
Gbajabiamila added, “I consider this, and I believe we should call it exactly what it is – contempt of this House. You (Speaker) personally signed the letter to them; unfortunately, none of the ministers could sign their reply. Rather, they asked the permanent secretary to respond to you, two weeks after. The invitation that hasn’t been honoured is a serious contempt.
“This presentation gives an ample opportunity for fair hearing. There are allegations. I believe we should take this matter seriously. Whatever we should do here today should be moved to a powerful investigative hearing. Steel is probably more than the oil.
“I will personally take it as an assault to the common sense of this country for the two ministers to ignore, pooh-pooh and scorn an invitation of this chamber.”
The Chief Whip of the House, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, supported Gbajabiamila’s position.
“The absence of the ministers simply confirms that there is something suspicious about Ajaokuta,” he stated.
The House Minority Whip, Mr. Yakubu Barde, also said he was in shock that the “All Progressives Congress’ ministers will shun the invitation of their APC leadership in the National Assembly.”
Other members, including Mr. Mohammed Bago, Mr. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta and Mr. Zakari Mohammed, also condemned the conduct of Fayemi and Bawa-Bwari.
The Speaker later asked Gbajabiamila to move a proper motion on what action should be taken against the ministers.
Gbajabiamila initially moved a motion that the House should set up an ad hoc committee to conduct an investigative hearing on the steel sector and to give Fayemi and Bawa-Bwari a second chance to address the House.
But members protested calling on Gbajabiamila to re-phrase the motion by prescribing penalties for the ministers.
The House leader, in re-phrasing the motion, stated that additional information just received by the House indicated that the ministers also “instructed” the Sole Administrator of Ajaokuta Steel Company, Mr. Samaila Abdul’Akaba, not to attend the sectoral debate.
He summarised by moving a “motion of vote of no confidence in the two ministers (Fayemi and Bawa-Bwari).”
The motion was seconded by an APC member from Osun State, Mrs. Ayo Omidiran, following which it was passed in a unanimous voice vote.
Experts in the steel sector and activists, including the Chairman, African Iron and Steel Producing Countries, Mr. Sanusi Mohammed, and Mrs. Hadiza Nathasha-Apoti, addressed the session.
However, Fayemi and Bwari have described as draconian the vote of no confidence passed in them in by the House of Representatives.
In a statement by Fayemi’s Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Olayinka Oyebode, the ministers said that they had informed the House in two separate letters that they would not be able to attend the meeting.
The statement read, “…One then wonders why the House members took such a draconian stance against the two ministers who have very cordial relationship with the National Assembly.
“It is rather unfair for the House members to categorise the ministers’ absence as boycott when they were adequately notified.
“Tolerance and moderation are essential ingredients in public service engagement. In this particular case, they appear to be in short supply and the ministry believes that there is more than meets the eye on this matter.
“After all, the ministers are always willing to engage the honourable House and its leadership at all times. It is on record that Minister Fayemi was the first minister to address the sectoral debate in 2016 and the Ajaokuta Steel Complex was extensively addressed on that occasion.
“Subsequently, the House Committees on Privatisation and Public Petitions held special sessions on Ajaokuta and the Minister of State, Bwari, addressed the members on those two occasions.
“Given this past record, today’s action is most unwarranted and unfortunate.”