The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, says those calling for his prosecution over his purported involvement in the fraudulent manipulation of the 2016 budget were doing so out of sheer ignorance, stressing that no lawmaker can be investigated or charged to court for performing their constitutional responsibility which includes tinkering of the budget.
Dogara, who spoke on Thursday during a dialogue session with civil society groups in Abuja, stated that the laws governing the National Assembly accorded all members of the parliament a great degree of immunity from prosecution on the basis of exercising their legislative functions.
He stated that the appropriation bill is just like any other bill, which must be subjected to normal legislative processes and scrutiny, adding that ignorance of legislative duties on the part of some citizens was to blame for the outrage against lawmakers’ role in the 2016 budget.
The Speaker disclosed that the 2016 budget had been controversial from the beginning, but it took dialogue, “compromise and consensus” to produce a workable document.
According to him, “I want this thing to sink so that we can understand it from here and perhaps it may change the ongoing discourse.
“If you say the National Assembly doesn’t have the powers to tinker with the budget; that we just pass it. When it is prepared and laid we turn it into a bill. If it is a bill, how do other bills make progression in the parliament in order to become law?
“If you contend that we cannot tinker with the appropriation bill, even though it is a money bill, it therefore goes without saying that we cannot tinker with any executive bill.
“Because if they (executive) bring a bill, they will not consult the public to say come and give us your input on this bill. It is the legislature that does that by the instrumentality of public hearing and when we aggregate your views is only our duty as representatives of the people including the media and CSOs to make sure that your voices are reflected so that by the time we hear from you we now turn it into a legislative bill and when it gets to the president and he signs they say ‘oooohhh some people have padded the bill’.
“It doesn’t even make sense, and they have forgotten about the legislative houses powers and privileges act sections 24 and 30 and others, which means most of the things we do in the national assembly are privileged.
“They cannot be grounds for any investigation on the procedure or proceedings to commence against a member of parliament either the speaker or the president of the senate once they are done in the exercise of their proper functions.”
The Speaker further defended the need for zonal intervention projects in the budget, citing the instance of the senator who has been elected thrice because he facilitated an airport in his constituency.
He stated that while there is no provision for a “N50 bore hole” for his constituency in the 2016 budget; directors in ministries have been able to attract many projects to their areas.
Dogara continued, “Are the people responsible to anyone or it is that we just find these projects littered in the budget? The answer is no, but some people sit down in the budget office.
“Now, as civil societies, I want to achieve us to one thing, just take the budget, for instance, of a particular ministry, just check where the directors come from, or some of the officials come for, I wouldn’t want to mention their names, and look at their allocations in that ministry. It is all over. If you do that exercise, you will be shocked. And that is why we are calling to question, the integrity of that process.
“The minister perhaps comes from a particular region and you will see up to 60, 70 percent of that ministry’s funds go to that place and in furtherance of our responsibility and duties as representatives of the people, you want to attract projects to those people.
“Even in the US, one of the requirements for reelection is for you to attract federal presence back to your constituency. A senator brought an airport to his district and just for that he has been elected over three times.
“But the truth is this, if you come from a constituency like mine for instance, let me give you an example of myself, right now, we don’t have a permanent secretary anywhere, we don’t have a director anywhere, so if you look at the 2016 budget, if you were to go as proposed by the executive, there is no single federal funded borehole, even if it is N50, there is no N50 meant for any project in my three local governments. Why? Because I don’t have anybody where they are preparing, sharing or making allocation.”