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Former federal legislators and senior lawyers have called for the investigation and prosecution of all culprits responsible for the padding of the 2016 budget at the House of Representatives, saying the feud generated by the alleged scandal should not divert attention from the need to bring the perpetrators to book.
The House has been enmeshed in scandal since Wednesday, following the sack of its chairman, Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, after accusing him of single-handedly allocating N4.3 billion to his Kiru/Bebeji Federal Constituency in the 2016.
The lawmaker opened a can of worms by accusing the speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, of attempting to add N30 billion into the budget, and called on the speaker as well as his deputy, Yusuf Sulaimon Lasun, Chief Whip Alhassan Doguwa and Minority Leader Leo Ogor, to resign.
He accused the principal officers of getting back at him for refusing “to cover up their unilateral decision to allocate to themselves N40 billion out of the N100 billion allocated to the entire National Assembly.”
Speaking to Daily Trust on Sunday yesterday, a former chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Umaru Tsauri, said the House should refer the case to its Committee on Ethics for thorough investigation.
The senator said if the allegations and counter-allegations were established to be true, an external body should take over and prosecute all those involved.
“The allegation by Jibrin should first be referred to the House Committee on Ethics, since for now it is an internal affair of the lower chamber. In the National Assembly, there is a channel for investigation and that is the Ethics Committee.
“The committee should verify the claims of Jibrin because budget padding is a serious issue. If it is true, then it should be externalised, and they should be prosecuted accordingly. Nobody should be spared in case they are found wanting. Nobody is above the law.
“If the Ethics Committee’s finding shows that Jibrin’s allegation is false, he should be sanctioned, but if it is true, the persons he mentioned should be prosecuted,” he said.
Also, a human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, called for a thorough probe into the allegations of budget padding, saying it is a very serious violation against the 1999 Constitution and the Public Procurement Act.
“Very clearly, these allegations must be investigated and the country must get to the root. Whoever is involved must be investigated and prosecuted. It is a very serious crime,” Falana said.
Adding his voice to the demands for sanction against the culprits, Abeny Mohammed, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), called for the punishment of all those involved in the scandal.
“My view is that not only the former chairman of the Committee on Appropriation but also all those involved should be exposed and punished.
“It is only in Nigeria that lawmakers appropriate money for themselves for the so-called constituency projects, which are never executed. It is a corrupt practice which must be condemned and stopped,” he said.
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Yusuf Ali, said sufficient rules and guidelines should be introduced to regulate issues of misconduct among members of states and federal assemblies.
“Outside politics, I think rules should be put in place to determine what amounts to legislative misconduct,” he said.
Similarly, a former member of the House of Representatives, Dr Haruna Yerima, said the altercation was an unnecessary show of shame with no relevance to the 2016 budget.
He said the feud over the padding of the budget would add no value to the financial document because “President Buhari had discovered the fraud and tackled it once and for all.”
He said the issue of budget padding had been synonymous with the National Assembly since 1999. “Padding of budget has been a recurring decimal in the National Assembly due to corruption.
“Leadership of the two chambers of the federal legislature and chairpersons of their appropriation committees are always the major culprits of budget padding,” he said.
The former lawmaker from Borno State added, “It is unfortunate for the House of Representatives leaders to come out and wash their dirty linings in the public. The blame game is of no benefit to either the speaker or Jibrin. Rather, they are only succeeding in further subjecting the legislature to ridicule.”
Police lay siege on Jibrin’s house
Jibrin told Daily Trust on Sunday yesterday that policemen had laid siege on his residence in Abuja.
“I left Abuja since Thursday immediately after the House proceeded on recess. But policemen went to my house in Abuja and harassed people there. They have been going there since Thursday. When they went, they banged at my gate and harassed the security men; saying they were looking for me. They left this morning (yesterday) as a result of various media reports.
“This is what we’re talking about. They complained that the police were harassing some leaders of the National Assembly, but look at what they’re doing. It’s really unfortunate,” Jibrin said.
However, the spokesman of the House, Abdulrazak Namdas (APC, Adamawa), said all that Jibrin had been saying were not true, but they would not join issues with him.
“If Abdulmumin feels strongly about his allegations he should write a petition to the House, and the 360 members will look at it. He can also go to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) or the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) so they can investigate the matter. It is not proper for him to go to the pages of newspapers. Will the media arrest people or investigate the matter?
“All that he has been saying is false. Jibrin is only seeking relevance from the Nigerian people. But as a House we won’t join issues with him. We’ll look at his action when we reconvene in September. We have procedures of doing things.
“But I urge every member of the House to disregard him; nobody should respond to him in whatever way,” Namdas said.
How it all started
Jibrin was said to have been rewarded with the chairmanship of the Committee on Appropriation, which is termed as ‘juicy,’ for his role in the emergence of Dogara as speaker on June 9 last year.
He had nominated Dogara for the position, saying, “In spite of all personal consequences, I stand to nominate Yakubu Dogara for speaker.”
Few weeks earlier, Jibrin was also gunning for the speaker’s seat before he declared his support for the current House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, who wanted to be speaker. He hoped to become a deputy speaker.
When Gbajabiamila picked Mohammed Tahir Monguno (APC, Borno) to run with him as deputy, Jibrin quickly switched camp and joined Dogara, calling Gbajabiamila names.
Less than four months after his appointment as the chairman of the Appropriation Committee, Jibrin got enmeshed in the controversy that trailed the 2016 budget. He reportedly allocated projects worth N4.3 billion to his Kiru/Bebeji Federal Constituency of Kano State.
Consequently, his colleagues demanded his resignation, with some of them threatening a showdown with Dogara, who was seen to be shielding him.
He was, at the time, accused of tampering with the reports of the committees on the budget by reducing capital heads for all ministries, departments and agencies by at least 10 per cent without the knowledge of the chairmen.
A lawmaker told Daily Trust on Sunday that based on Jibrin’s outburst, there was no way he would not be probed and suspended.
The source, who is a ranking lawmaker of the House, said that by using unprintable words against the speaker, who remains the leader of the House, Jibrin had overstepped his boundary.
“There’s no way he won’t be suspended. I’ve not seen anywhere that someone would call his leader those unprintable names. In fact, we’ll make sure that we investigate him when the House reconvenes in September,” the source said.
Also, a member of the House and vice chairman of the Committee on Petroleum (downstream), Danlami Kurfi (APC, Katsina), said that if not for the ongoing recess the House has embarked on, they would have moved for Jibrin’s suspension.
“Why did it take him this long to tell Mr. President that the speaker dines with his enemies? If this had happened while we were in session, some of us would have moved for his suspension,” he said.
Chief Whip Doguwa also told Daily Trust on Sunday that, “Obviously, the House will take a decisive decision to bring Hon. Jibrin to order because what he did and is still doing are acts of parliamentary contempt and have contravened our rules as a respected democratic institution.
“The House as an institution and its leadership have not yet taken any official decision on the unfortunate claims made by the former chairman of Appropriation Committee.
“But for me as an individual, and having been mentioned in the sacked chairman’s claims, I would like to say with all sense of responsibility that his claims are frivolous and unfounded. And as a principal officer, I know that Hon Jibrin was only relieved of his appointment due to widespread outcry and disenchantment among members of his committee for gross anomalies and absolute non-inclusion of members in the discharge of his the duties.”
Doguwa said that Jibrin’s case was further worsened by sheer disrespect to the leadership and other members of the House.
“Also, other issues he raised on our attempt to “selfishly” allocate funds to ourselves in the 2016 budget are not true. His mischievous claims were borne out of his overzealous attempt to divert the public attention from the fact that he is the first in the history of the National Assembly to woefully fail as chairman of such an important committee,’’ he added.
Why Dogara, Jibrin fell out
Our reporter gathered that Jibrin finally fell out of favour with the speaker following his stiff opposition to the proposed immunity for the presiding officers of the National Assembly last Tuesday. He publicly displayed inscription that read “No to Immunity.”
At last Wednesday’s plenary, Dogara announced that Jibrin had decided to resign from his chairmanship position due to the pressure of the job. He immediately replaced him with Rep Mustapha Bala Dawaki (APC, Kano), who hitherto chaired the Committee on Housing.
But it later emerged that Dogara actually sacked Jibrin following pressures mounted by other lawmakers, especially the members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Sources told Daily Trust on Sunday that Dogara had to sack Jibrin for his own survival in the next three years, as some members had already concluded that Jibrin had the backing of the speaker in all he was doing as the appropriation chairman.
Jibrin later told journalists at a press conference on Wednesday that he resigned on his own volition and that he took responsibility for everything that took place during the budget controversy.
He said that despite the fact that he loved his job, he had to go in view of the happenings in the House.
2016 budget of controversy
In the history of Nigeria, at no time was a federal budget entangled in controversy as that of 2016 as presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to the joint session of the National Assembly.
Before the president finally signed the N6.08 trillion estimate into law on May 6, 2016, there were allegations of padding.
In fact, there were various versions of the budget, which prompted delay on the deliberation on the appropriation until the presidency submitted the “correct” budget in January, 2016.
But in the letter to the National Assembly that accompanied the “correct” budget, President Buhari said, “The draft bill remains the same; there are no changes in figures.”
At a point, the budget was said to be missing, which generated a lot of controversies, with the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang, accused of the development.
But after work on the budget was concluded and sent for assent, it was promptly returned by the presidency, further indicating areas of conflict.
The spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Abdurazaq Namdas, had told reporters that the presidency had identified grey areas that required adjustments.
However, it was gathered later that some key projects close to the presidency were omitted, especially the Lagos-Calabar rail project.
Later, there were accusations that the budget was generally “padded” to include items not originally in the estimate.
Vexed by the padding issues, President Buhari vowed to sack any civil servant involved in the matter. It was gathered that this led to the appointment of Tijjani Abdullahi as the new Director-General, Budget Office and Ben Akabueze as the Special Adviser on Planning to the Minister of Budget and National Planning.