The budget padding palaver in the House of Reps

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THE Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has been accused by the former chairman of the Appropriation Committee of the House of Representatives, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, of surreptitiously and illegally inserting into the 2016 Budget and allocating projects worth over N20 billion to his own constituency.

Other principal officers accused in the budget padding scandal include Dogara’s deputy, Yussuf Suleimon Lasun, Chief Whip, Alhassan Ado Doguwa and Minority Leader, Leo Ogor. Sen. Jibrin also alleged that the sum of N248 billion was introduced into the budget by 10 out of the 96 committee chairmen in the House without the knowledge of other members of the House.

If any person, however highly-placed, is found culpable, such a person must be brought to book and condign punishment meted out to him to serve as a deterrent to others of their ilk. Such punishment should include being made to vacate their seats in the National Assembly so that they do not remain in the house to continue to make “laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof.” This matter should not be treated like the celebrated Farouk Lawan and Femi Otedola case. A situation in which the Federal Legislature, comprising the House of Representatives, the Lower House, and the Senate, the Upper House, is enmeshed in leadership and budget controversies is most unacceptable. It bears re-emphasis to state that the National Assembly (NASS) is established to “make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Federation or any part thereof.” In section 11 (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), if the House of Assembly of any State finds it difficult to transact its business by reason of inter- and intra-party conflicts, the National Assembly is empowered to take over such a House of Assembly and make laws for the good governance of the whole State or any part thereof. Such are the great powers entrusted to the National Assembly by the Constitution that it can ill-afford to get itself embroiled in unnecessary conflicts, dirty conflicts, such as the accusations and counter-accusations of corruption and budget padding.

Padding the Budget, if the allegations are true, makes the budget messy and unrealistic. If the Budget, the source of funds for all the projects for the fiscal year, becomes messy and unreliable, its implementation becomes difficult. Padding the Budget implies a furtive manipulation by a handful of officers of the National Assembly of the Appropriation Bill. If the allegation by Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin that some top officers in the House of Representatives unilaterally and illegitimately awarded projects for their own constituencies in the Appropriation Bill is proved, then a crime, in the nature of theft, would have been committed.

One wonders how a legislature such as this can fulfil the order of section 4 (2) of the 1999 Constitution, namely, that is should make laws for the good government of the entire nation and any part thereof. Meanwhile, all the verbal eruptions, gratuitous swipe, clenched reaction and brackish comments against Hon. Dogara and the padding saga are becoming democracy’s comedic charade. This sad episode is falling out of touch with the various pulses of Nigeria’s democratic aspiration and President Muhammadu Buhari’s desire to rid this nation of corrupt practices in high places. The President speaks in soaring eloquence about change and the urgent need to wage war against corruption, but his fellow travellers are singing from different pages. This padding shame has become the focus of boundless public curiosity among Nigerians both the high and the mighty and they are on their watchtowers to see how this saga will play out.

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The dominoes of retribution are already set in motion. The ‘Transparency Group’ of the House of Representatives has raised alarm, demanding the investigation of Speaker Yakubu Dogara and others by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the alleged padding of the 2016 Budget. Also, some lawmakers said they had started collecting signatures to have the indicted lawmakers removed because the allegations amount to a dent on the integrity of not just the House, but of the National Assembly. Lawmakers and Nigerians are shocked and in total disbelief that despite efforts to sanitize the system, some lawmakers allegedly found a way around the Budget and inserted items after the Budget had been passed and sent to the executive arm.

This padding saga is like a prairie fire that has grown beyond the control of those who enkindled it. And as with such fire, no one knows how far it will spread or how it will end. But the allegations must be thoroughly and openly investigated by an institution other than the National Assembly. Nemo debet esse judex in propria causa: no man ought to be judge in his own cause. We strongly suggest that the messy allegations must be thoroughly looked into and all the dramatis personae, including the named four top officers of the House and even Jibrin himself, must be covered by the probe. The inclusion of Hon. Jibrin, former chairman of the Appropriation Committee, whose signature was on the final product (the Bill sent to the President for his assent), is necessary because of the valid Latin maxim, Nemo ex proprio dolo consequitur actiomem (No one maintains an action arising from his own wrong).