By: Eric Elezuo
Every new lexicon in Nigeria has always emanated from the politicians, and the newest happens to be ‘padding’. Then we ask, what is padding?
Recently, what the Yoruba tribe of Western Nigeria will call roforofo fight ensued in the lower chambers of the Nigeria House of Assembly when the former Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumuni Jibrin, leveled an allegation against the Speaker of the House, Dr. Yakubu Dogara, his deputy, Yussuff Lasun, Minority Leader, Leo Ogor and chief whip, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, asking them to resign their positions for alleged budget padding.
Dogara had announced that as part of measures to reposition the chambers budgeting process, the House leadership agreed to change the Chairman of the Appropriation Committee.
He added that “fortunately,” the appropriation committee chairman approached him same morning to inform him that he was resigning from the position.
However, Jibrin in a sharp reversal declared that his resignation was “circumstantial” and does not completely represent his innermost intentions.
“Of course, we are all aware of a lot of issues that took place during the process of the 2016 budget. I have always maintained one position that as chairman of appropriation, I did my very best,” he said.
He continued: “Until date, I have said if anybody has anything that I have done that amounts to an abuse of my office or amounts to an illegality that it should be brought forward.”
When prodded further, Jibrin dropped a mild bomb which got everyone wondering: “Of course, I will not shy away from the fact that there are a lot of issues in the House and as I have said, some of these issues I will be addressing them in due course”
The former chairman made good his promise, a promise which if Dogara had known would not have decided to remove him on July 20, prompting the eventual resignation. The allegation stated that the honourable speaker fraudulently ‘padded’ the 2016 Appropriation Bill to the tune of over N20 billion. Jibrin accused Dogara and the other principal officers of illegally inserting and allocating projects worth over N20 billion to their constituencies in 2016, while explaining that his refusal to inject another N30 billion into the budget for the speaker earned him the sack.
In his words: “These members of the body of principal officers were not comfortable with my independent disposition and my refusal to cover up their unilateral decision to allocate to themselves N40 billion out of the N100 billion allocated to the entire National Assembly. The four of them met and took that decision. In addition to billions of wasteful projects running over N20 billion they allocated to their constituencies. They must come out clean.
“My inability to admit into the budget almost N30 billion personal requests from Mr. Speaker and the three other principal officers also became an issue.
“I wish I could but where will I get such money in a tight budget year like this? I have every documented evidence to this effect,” he said.
But in apparent move to defend the House boss and his officers, the spokesman of the House, Hon. Abdulrazaq Namdas, exonerated the Speaker and the others of any complicity or wrong doing while holding Jibrin guilty. He said:
“The leadership of both Chambers, including the Appropriations and Finance Committees are normally and traditionally allocated certain percentages of these funds, for inclusion in the Appropriation Bill for projects. The remaining funds are distributed to members of the National Assembly for inclusion of their preferred projects in the budget.
This has also been the established tradition over the years. For the avoidance of doubt, the 8th House of Representatives under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has not deviated from established practices, precedents and traditions in this matter. The legislature is, therefore, constitutionally incapable of padding the budget.
“The removal, introduction of projects or the amendment of Mr. President’s estimates in the Appropriation Bill cannot and should never be construed as an act of corruption or impropriety because it is at the core of appropriation powers of the National Assembly as aptly enshrined in the 1999 Constitution.
“It is therefore, clear that no crime or wrong doing can be legitimately imputed on the actions or conduct of Mr. Speaker, the leadership or members of the House of Representatives before, during and after the passage of the 2016 Appropriation Bill.”
In a show of further exposition, Namdas stated reasons Jibrin decided to ‘resign’, saying that Jibrin was relieved of his position for “abuse of the budgetary process, lack of credibility, blackmail of colleagues and heads of MDAs, and corrupt antecedents capable of bringing the institution of the parliament to disrepute”.
He further stated that the complainant and his co-travellers had mismanaged their positions, prompting his supposed resignation, alleging that apart from the N4.1 billion he whimsically allocated to his constituency in the budget “Jibrin also inserted N3 billion in the budget for the establishment of film village in his constituency without the knowledge or consent of President Muhammadu Buhari”.
At this point, Jibrin knew the die was cast, and he made up his mind to come with indisputable evidence to prove that the speaker was guilty as charged, and he detailed allegations accusing Dogara of using 10 committee chairmen to perpetrate this alleged fraudulent dealings by introducing 2000 projects worth over N280 billion in the 2016 budget. He said:
“When the Appropriation Committee received all the budget reports from standing committees, an analysis was conducted. We discovered that about 10 only out of the 96 Standing Committees of the House introduced about 2,000 projects without the knowledge of their committee members amounting to about N284 billion. I was alarmed.
“So, is it Abdul that introduced 2,000 projects into budget worth N284billion? But I quietly bore the pain and abuses from all over the country and continued to defend the committee’s input as a show of loyalty to the institution I represent which I so much love and still have many great minds in there.
“During the budget period, when they discovered that I was not the kind of a person they could use to perpetrate their illegality, Mr. Speaker and the 3 other principal officers took away the entire Appropriation Committee Secretariat to a secret location where all sort of insertions were made into the budget”
“Mr. Speaker also directed me to create what I advised him will be a controversial line item under service wide vote to introduce about N20 billion project using the name of NASS. He directed me to see a highly placed PDP politician which I did and collected the documents.”
But Dogara described the allegation as an afterthought and debunked the claims by Jibrin that he was removed because he did not support the immunity proposal in the House for presiding officers of the National Assembly.
In a statement through Namdas, the Speaker wondered why the former Appropriations Committee Chairman had waited for too long to make the allegation.
The statement read in part: “Our attention has been drawn to media statements made by the former Chairman of House Appropriation Committee, Hon Abdulmumuni Jibrin wherein he made wild allegations against the House of Representatives and it’s leaders. “We wish to say that it is the prerogative of the Selection Committee of the House to appoint and remove Committee Chairmen.
That power has been so exercised in the case of Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin as chairman of Appropriation Committee. “Most of the allegations on the 2016 budget process and his opposition to immunity of Presiding officers are non issues and mere after thought manufactured simply because the House relieved him of his position.
In response, Jibrin said: “I advised him repeatedly against it but he kept pressuring me until I bluntly told him I will not!” Jibrin insisted the allegations are against the quartet of Dogara, Yusuf Lasun, Doguwa and Leo Ogor not the Honourable House as an institution nor other members of the body of principal officers.
However, in apparent disregard of Jibrin’s answer, Namdas statement continued: “In any case, he is entitled to his opinion as a Nigerian and as a legislator while acting within the laws of Nigeria and rules of the House. We must make it abundantly clear that he was not removed because of his support or otherwise on immunity bill. After all, he is not the only one who opposed the bill.
“The bill is still pending before committee on review of constitution and it has to be voted upon by each and every member of the House, get Senate concurrence, endorsed by two-third of the 36 State Houses of Assembly and be assented to by the President. It is a cheap blackmail on the part of Hon. Jibrin to even insinuate that he was removed because he opposed immunity bill.
More and more dirty fights have since continued to come out of the camps of the two gladiators, painting gory pictures of each party.
Recently, pictures of a guest house allegedly belonging to the speaker were used in the internet, supposedly to boost the corruption allegation leveled on the speaker.
The pictures were sent by lawmakers who asked not to be named according to Premium Times. They said the pictures, depicted Mr. Dogara’s guest house located at Vistula Close, along Panama Crescent, in the exquisite Maitama neighbourhood in Abuja.
But Jibrin said he had nothing to do with the release of the photographs.
“I don’t have a hand in the release of those photographs,” Mr. Jibrin said. “I’m dealing with serious issues and not about guest houses.”
Mr. Jibrin had repeatedly said in his allegations that Mr. Dogara allegedly looted funds meant for legislative duties to furnish his guest houses and other apartments being personally used by him.
The charges were part of the similar ones Mr. Jibrin had come up with in recent days, following his ouster from the Appropriation Committee’s leadership on allegations that he betrayed the House leadership and other members.
In denying all allegations, Jibrin said it was Mr. Dogara who had been sitting over massive misappropriation of public funds as Speaker.
“Mr. Speaker and Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun diverted millions of naira all in the name of paying for guest houses and official residence. The issue became so messy that the Deputy Speaker openly accused Hon Herma Hembe of short changing them of millions of naira in the deal to the shock of many honourable members,” Mr. Jibrin said.
Mr. Jibrin’s whistleblowing had seen the public inundated with House internal documents about how funds were allegedly allocated to lawmakers for ‘constituency’ projects, triggering sweeping investigation into the scandal.
Meanwhile, the Department of State Security (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) are warming up to undertake investigations, arrest and prosecutions, just as well meaning individuals and organizations are calling for the resignation of the principal officers depending the determination of the case.
But following the media statement titled: The Corrupt Speaker and His Three Man Cabal’ by Jibrin on July 25, Dogara issued a 7 days ultimate calling for a retraction or face legal action. Jibrin, who called the bluff even the expiration, had concluded arrangement with his lawyers to petition the EFCC and the ICPC.
According to political pundits, the battle has just begun, and is likely to claim a major head. However, another school of thought represented by a legal practitioner, Barr. Adeleke, the matter, like others will come and go, and nothing come out of it. He cited the case of Hon. Forouk Lawan, who was caught on tape intimidating and taking bribes even as a chairman of a committee in the lower chamber.
“I see all these as complete grandstanding, which will yield nothing in the end. Where is Honourable Farouk today? Is he not walking free? This people know what they are doing,” he said.