113 Reps demand external probe of budget padding
There seems to be no let up to the 2016 budget scandal rocking the House of Representatives.
Over 100 members yesterday joined the fray, calling for “an external investigation with a view to finding out if our principal officers are guilty or not”.
They did not state if the probe should be by auditors or the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
Also yesterday, former Head of State Gen. Yakubu Gowon called for “stiff penalty” for anyone found guilty of the padding.
Former Appropriations Committee chairman Abdulmumin Jibrin blew the lid on the scandal following his removal last week by Speaker Yakubu Dogara.
He accused Dogara, Deputy Speaker Yusuff Lasun, Chief Whip Alhassan Ado Doguwa and Minority Leader Leo Ogor of appropriating to themselves N40 billion of the N100 billion meant for the 360-member House.
Dogara yesterday asked Jibrin to withdraw the allegation against him.
He threatened to sue for defamation, if Jibrin failed to withdraw the claim.
Jibrin vowed not to retract the claim, daring Dogara to go to court.
Last Monday, former President Olusegun Obasanjo said the scandal has vindicated his claim that the National Assembly stinks.
Briefing reporters in Abuja, the 113 representatives known as Transparency Group distanced themselves from Dogara and Jibrin.
The group asked Dogara, Lasun, Doguwa and Ogor to respond to the allegations against them as individuals.
Its spokesman Musa Soba (APC, Kaduna) said it was wrong for the Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas to have claimed that the House was behind the Speaker on the issue.
According to Soba, who was joined by Abubakar Chika (APC, Niger), Baballe Bashir (APC, Kano), Bala Ikora (APC, Kaduna) and Lawal Yahaha (APC,Bauchi), the group had earlier complained about Dogara’s indifference to its earlier demand at plenary to sack Jibrin who it accused of personalising the budget.
The group wondered why the Speaker was shielding Jibrin before now.
Claiming that about 113 signatures were collected from lawmakers from the six geopolitical zones and across party lines before the last Sallah break, Soba said the intention was to compel the Speaker to explain the discrepancies in the budget.
He said: “We call for an external investigation into the matter with a view of finding out 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. 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 centre of the controversy answer to all the allegations made against them individually and collectively in line with legal practice and our criminal justice system.
“While we do not hold brief for Hon. Jibrin and we do not claim to be speaking for the entire House, we are of the view that Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas has no mandate of the Honourable House to speak on its behalf on the allegations made by Hon. Jibrin against some principal officers and presiding officers of the House (Speaker and Deputy speaker). The allegations against the officers mentioned were not allegations against the entire House but against the mentioned officers of the House in their individual capacity and as such, they can only speak for themselves through their respective spokespersons not through the spokesman of the entire House. Accordingly, we hereby dissociate ourselves from all statements made by Hon. Namdas in respect of the budget padding controversy.
“The history of the 2016 budget padding is not new because we have at different times raised this issue to alert Nigerians on the move by our presiding officers and some principal officers of the House to insert unnecessary and illegal projects into the Appropriation Bill with a view to taking advantage of their respective positions against the collective national interests. If Hon. Jibrin could be sacrificed as the Appropriation committee chairman due to complaints and allegations against him by the Honourable members of the house, it is hypocritical for anybody to insinuate that the presiding officers and principal officers are immune to such complaints, allegations and subsequent investigations. We condemn the 2016 budget padding and consider it as an abuse of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) as it relates to chapter 2 under the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policy.
“It is also an abuse of legislative ethics and privileges by the very individuals that are supposed to be the custodians of the laws of the land. Let those at the centre of the controversy answer to all the allegations made against them individually and collectively in line with legislative practice and our criminal justice system”.
In a letter written by his lawyer, Dogara claimed that Jibrin defamed him with his allegation.
The letter reads: “By the said publication and without putting to the public any shred of evidence, our client is portrayed as a criminal, corrupt, dishonest, fraudulent, dishonourable and unfit to hold the position of Speaker of House of Representatives.
“Our client’s reputation has further been brought down in the estimation of right thinking members of the society and he has been thrown into public opprobrium, odium, scorn and ridicule. Consequently, we consider your publication on the matter as not only libellous but made in bad faith; an act of vendetta owing to your recent removal as the Chairman of House Committee on Appropriation. The said publication is also aimed at causing disaffection between Nigerians and members of the House of Representatives.
“Sequel to the above, we have to request you to submit immediately to us a clear and unqualified apology and retraction of the publication in an equally conspicuous position in all the print and electronic media where the publication appeared.
“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. If we have to pursue this course, we shall be claiming aggravated and exemplary damages”.
Responding to the Speaker’s threat via twitter, Jibrin described the speaker’s action as predictable.
Saying he anticipated the Speaker’s reaction, Jibrin vowed not to retract the allegations nor apologise.
He said he was set to submit his petition to the the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ( EFCC ) on the issue.
Jibrin’s Twitter handle reads: “Speaker Dogara has threatened legal action against me. Quite predicable. I know he will rush to court in order to invoke the House rules that matters in court cannot be heard on the floor. He failed to realise 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 I will not withdraw them!
“I am happy to announce that my lawyers have officially approached the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) towards working out a date for me to personally submit my petition against Speaker Dogara, Deputy Speaker Lasun, Whip Doguwa and Minority Leader Ogor.
“I believe once a date is agreed with the anti-corruption agencies we would have begun the process of making these characters pay for abusing their office”.