As controversies rage in the House of Representatives over alleged manipulation of the 2016 Budget, stakeholders in the polity are interested in an independent investigation into the allegations. ADEBIYI ADEDAPO and EMAMEH GABRIEL write.
The unfolding revelations about the 2016 budget and allegations of budget padding by principal officers in the House of Representatives, is yet another ugly development threatening the efficacy of the much anticipated ‘Change’ promised by All Progressives Congress (APC) government.
At the center of this controversy is the erstwhile chairman of the House of Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumini Jibrin.
Jibrin, shortly after he was ousted as the committee chair, accused the Speaker of the House Yakubu Dogara; the Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun; House Whip; Alhassan Ado Doguwa, and the Minority Leader; Leo Ogor, of padding the 2016 budget.
He alleged that the House leadership removed him from the committee over his refusal to admit into the National Budget of 2016, the sum of about N30 billion at the behest of the above named principal officers and also his refusal to cover up Dogora’s decision to distribute to himself and others N40 billion out of the N100 billion allocated to the entire National Assembly, in addition to wasteful projects of over N20 billion to their various constituencies. He was replaced by Mustapha Bala, APC-Kano, who was before then chairman of House Committee on Housing.
Expectedly, Dogora swiftly refuted the allegations, stating that the real reason behind Abdulmumini’s removal as chairman of the strategic committee, was because he singlehandedly padded the budget by N4billion.
According to Dogora, the padding was responsible for the delay of presidential assent to the budget.
The controversial padding and re-padding of the 2016 budget was mainly responsible for the delay of the passage of the 2016 appropriation Bill into law. The process of passage decelerated at the eve of discovering that some fictitious items were allegedly smuggled into the budget by Jubrin.
President Muhammadu Buhari had to, as a result of this development, withhold assent to the budget for several weeks despite pressure and criticisms mounted on him from various quarters after the passage of the budget.
Currently, the former Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation is not only reeling to safe his face from further embarrassment, he is also putting frantic effort to serve Mr. Dogara with same bitter pill of embarrassment.
Mr. Jubrin had aligned with Femi Gbajabiamila for the election of the Speaker in the House of representative.
But in a surprise twist, he dumped the Gbajabiamila’s camp and sided with the Dogara. It was alleged that Jubril left when he was promised a scrumptious committee to be headed, the same position that has been taken from his grasp.
The embattled former chairman on House Appropriation has however denied having anything to do with budget padding as alleged by the Speaker and some of his colleagues, saying that he was not guilty of padding the budget. He said the allegation was brought up because the Speaker and his foot soldiers became afraid after announcing his intention to resign on grounds of pressure, citing their perceived worries over his desire to expose their illegal activities on the controversial 2016 budget.
“The appropriation committee did not write the budget for the National Assembly. If there is anybody who has evidence against me, let them come up with it or submit to the appropriate institution. But as I am talking to you now, nobody has come up with anything against me,” said the former committee chairman. He said his sack was unconnected with his refusal to inject another N30 billion into the budget for the speaker.
Also in another press statement issued to journalists, Mr. Jibrin made a startling revelations about the activities of Speaker Dogara and other presiding officers in the House of Representatives, accusing them of illegally inserting and allocating projects worth over N20 billion to their constituencies in the 2016 budget.
The former chairman of the House on Appropriation had also demanded that the Speaker Yakubu Dogara, his deputy, Yusuf Lasun, minority leader, Leo Ogor and Chief Whip, Ado Doguwa, to resign for alleged budget padding.
His lawyers had also written to warn against suspected moves by Dogara and his men to intimidate or arrest their client in connection with the allegations he has made against the Speaker. He vowed to release documented evidence to back his claims that Mr. Dogara and other principal officers actually attempted to tinker with the original budget, part of which he has published.
He said ‘‘Speaker Dogara has carefully designed a scheme to scam Honourable members through deduction from their salaries certain amount of money for a so-called mortgage arrangement to build houses for members. He is applying every under hands tactics to ensure members agree to the deal”.
Jubrin had also warned Buhari to be weary of Dogara and his ‘cabal’. ‘‘Speaker Yakubu dogara and his senior cabal namely, Deputy Speaker Lasun, Whip Doguwa and minority leader, Ogor have promoted corruption so badly in the house that if president Muhammad Buhari with his disdain for corruption and corrupt people has the slightest idea, he will ban the quartet permanently from the villa before they eventually allow for the proper and unbiased investigation by the house’’.
Dogara ‘‘runs the financial management of the house like a cult aided and abated by the Chairman House services Hon, Babanlle Lia. It is no longer news that all over the House, Hon. Members are aware of the monumental fraud perpetrated by speaker Yakubu dogara in this regard.
Jubrin who has called on the EFCC to swing into action to investigate the avalanche of accusations on Dogara said the anti-graft agency should as a matter of urgency also investigate the activities of Dogara from his time as chairman house service both in the 6th and 7th assembly and begged on his colleagues and Nigerians to prevail on the speaker and his cohorts.
Meanwhile as Nigerians are becoming suspicious of the Speaker’s continues silence over the breathtaking accusations made against him by Jubrin, Dogara on Wednesday reacted in a different fashion giving Jubrin seven-day notice to retract and apologize for his recent public scandal against him.
Mr. Dogara who wrote through his lawyer, described Mr. Jibrin’s serial publications as “libellous” and act carried out of frustration on “bad faith” and had caused “disaffection” between Nigerians and the House.
Part of the letter reads: “Take notice that in the event of your failure/refusal to comply with the above-mentioned demands within seven (7) days of your receipt of this letter, we have further instructions to institute a suit against you in a court of law.”
‘‘Consequently, we consider your publication on the matter as not only libelous but made in bad faith; an act of vendetta owing to your recent removal as the Chairman of House Committee on Appropriation”.
Adamantly, Jubrin is still holding feistily to his allegations against the Speaker and those he described as the House ‘cabal’, saying he owns no apology to the Speaker. The embattled former chairman of House Committee on Appropriation had also dismissed the threat of legal action made by Yakubu Dogara, against him, describing the Speaker’s action as a ploy to escapee justice, insisting that all those he had earlier mention in his allegations have questions to answer in the EFCC.
“I know he will rush to court in order to invoke the house rules that matter in court cannot be heard on the floor,” said Mr. Jibrin. “He failed to realize that the law is not intended to protect corrupt people. It is such a shame.
“I have responded to their allegations rather than respond to mine, he is rushing to court. I stand by my allegations and will not withdraw them! I am happy to announce that my lawyers have officially approached the EFCC and the ICPC towards working out a date for me to personally submit my petition against Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Deputy Speaker, Lasun Yusuf, Whip, Alhassan Doguwa and Minority Leader, Leo Ogor.”
Although for now no one is certain about the authenticity or otherwise of the various allegations and counter allegations raised both by the Speaker and those made against him by the Jubril, the concern now should be on how will Nigerians react to this public fight between two key actors of the APC vis-a-vis the on-going anti-corruption war by the President Muhammedu Buhari APC led-government, a party which both are members of.
But on the contrary, Nigerians have also questioned the morality of the Speaker for concealing sensitive secretes of such nature even at the expense of Mr. President’s image.
It could be recalled that during the controversy leading to the passage of the 2016 Appropriation Bill, President Buhari was tongue lashed by Nigerians, after discovering that some items in the Bill were tinkered with, particularly those from the opposition.
The development led to the deployment of 22 officials in the budget office by President Buhari and subsequently fired the then Director-General of the Budget Office, Yahaya Gusau, and immediately replaced him with Tijjani Abdullahi. Mr. Gusau was sacked February 15, following the widespread irregularities detected in the 2016 budget.
Though, Jubrin has come out to apologize to Nigerians for the role he played in the controversial budget. He alleged that he had no knowledge of the kind of person Dogara was, and couldn’t have knew that he was digging his own grave while playing the devil’s advocate for Dogara.
Jubrin had alleged that while the controversy surrounding the budget was heating up, he was in the front taking all the bullets for his colleagues. If really all he had alleged is anything to take with a pinch of salt, how is he going to atone for putting wool on the face of Nigerians?
Still, an important inference to draw from the allegations and counter allegations is the word padding as a common factor.
Budget padding under the guise constituency projects and inflated rate of the value of specific projects, is certainly not new phenomenon in the National Assembly.
If the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences (ICPC) feigned ignorance of this reality, they simply need to be proactive in their intelligence gathering.
The permutation and combination of the 2016 budget were perfected among the principal officers and Jubrin without rancour, to the extent that those who were not as favoured in the budget could not even complain openly.
Why then did our dear ‘patriotic’ honourable member waited to be removed as chairman of the very juicy committee before he remembered his patriotic ‘regalia’?
Irrespective of this, Nigerians have decided to rather ignore the messenger, but take the message very seriously; several individuals and groups are calling for an independent investigation and eventual persecution of culprits if any.
The alleged padding of the 2016 appropriation act, if established, is obviously criminal in nature, and it should be treated as such.
If the immediate past Inspector General of police, Solomon Arase and the Attorney General of the federation Abubakar Malami, wasted no time in investigating and prosecuting allegations of forgery against the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekwerenmadu, former Clerk of the National Assembly, Salisu Maikasuwa and the Acting Clerk, Benedict Efeturi, it is expected that the same treatment will apply.
More so that Jubrin’s legal team declared thatrepresentations were made to the IG.
The ‘Transparency Group’ in the House of Representatives and many civil society organisations have also demanded immediate investigation into the matter just as some aggrieved senators petitioned the IG over the alleged forgery of senate standing rules 2015.
The Transparency Group on Wednesday insisted that Dogara and other principal officers mentioned in the alleged budget padding saga, including Jubrin, should be investigated by relevant externalgovernment agencies.
Although, members of the group believe that the budget was padded, they have spared no efforts in explaining that they are neither supporting the erstwhile chairman of the appropriation committee nor the leadership of the House.
Rather they are calling for an independent investigation to determine whether or not the alleged crime was committed and who committed the crime.
“We call for an external investigation into the matter, to enable us know if our principal officers are guilty or not. For this group, we say the budget was padded and as such, the budget being a document that belongs to all Nigerians, it is no longer an internal affair,” the group stated.
Interestingly, Jubrin might have been part of the conspiracy to defraud Nigerians by manipulating the 2016 budget; he is obviously not standing alone in the call for an independent investigation of the House leadership over the alleged criminal conduct.
Similarly, the Transparency Group which lay claim to over 100 members in the House are as well not comfortable with handling the allegations by theinternal mechanism of the House.
According to the group; “We urge the leadership of the House of Representatives to stop presenting the 2016 budget padding allegations as the problem of the entire House. Let those at the center of the controversy answer to all the allegations made against them individually and collectively in line with legal practice and our criminal justice system.”
Following several calls for an independent investigation into the matter, it is obvious that Hon. Abdulmumini is not alone in the quest to expose the shady deals.
Concerned Nigerians, civil society groups, and teeming Nigerians have joined the cause championed by the Kano state born Lawmaker, even as he is also on the spotlight.