The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Army, Mr. Rima Shawulu, in this interview with JOHN AMEH, absolves the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, of any wrongdoing in the budget padding scandal currently rocking the Green Chamber
How do you react to the budget ‘padding’ allegations by the former Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, after he was sacked by the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara?
What the Speaker did was a major step that he took; that Jibrin was removed. First, the Committee on Appropriation is the main committee of the House and the chairman of that committee is regarded as the 11th person in the order of hierarchy after the 10 principal officers (two presiding officers and eight principal officers). The major activity of parliament is to appropriate, which is loosely defined as the allocation of resources that are available. Sections 80/81 of the 1999 Constitution clearly spell out how funds are to be appropriated and the person who does that mainly is the chairman, committee on appropriation. You will recall that the chamber erupted in cheers and clapping when the Speaker made the announcement to remove Jibrin. That means members had been waiting for that to happen.
What is budget padding and did the four principal officers (Dogara, Yusuf Lasun, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, and Leo Ogor) pad the budget?
Well, I have no definition for padding as far as legislative process is concerned. But, I know that the House procedure on money bill (19, 1-9), which derives its powers from the constitution, gives every member the right to speak for five minutes during debate on money bills. After reading the bill for the second time, the rule provides that it shall be committed to the Committee on Appropriation. Other standing committees automatically become sub-committees of the committee on appropriation. The sub-committees consider the budgets of MDAs and report back to the committee on appropriation. Now, after deliberating on the report of the sub-committees, it shall then report to the main House. This procedure was breached by Jibrin. To say that by performing its duties, the National Assembly padded the budget, is strange to us. That is not the position of the constitution.
Jibrin alleged that Dogara and three others “criminally” inserted N40bn, N30bn, and N20bn into the budget, and that he was sacked for opposing the “illegality.”
Since 2009, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has been sending N100bn as Zonal Intervention Fund to the National Assembly as part of the budget. This time round, President Muhammadu Buhari forwarded only N60bn at first. After discussions, it was decided with the consent of the President to raise it to the traditional N100bn. It is not a new thing. When the late President Yar’Adua started it, the budget of the country was N2tn; now the budget of the country is N6tn. You cannot, therefore, reduce the zonal intervention fund. The zonal intervention fund is for both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The leadership of the two chambers takes 40 per cent (N40bn) of the fund, the remaining N60bn is shared among the six geo-political zones equally at N10bn. The zones in turn share the envelope among the states equally. The states now sit down, most of them agreeing that senators take 40 per cent, while members will take 60 per cent of the envelope. So, the members now nominate projects to the tune of the amount of money that is in the envelope. All that is happening now is politics. Jibrin knows that this has been the practice over the years. But, he is trying to play the leadership of the House against each other to see if there will be a crack. The Majority Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, for eight years, was the Minority Leader of the House and principal officer. For those eight years, he was a beneficiary of this 40 per cent for the leadership. Jibrin did not put his name there in his allegations. He left out five other principal officers as well. He only put the names of Dogara, Lasun, Ado-Doguwa and Ogor; people whom he wanted to incite the public against.
How did Jibrin get the figure (N40bn) for his allegations? Was it that other members were short-changed by reducing their share?
No. That did not happen. It is part of the lies that Jibrin is telling Nigerians. This budget was the last one in the last 10 years that came into the National Assembly and went out reduced by N17bn. All previous budgets always left the National Assembly bigger than they came in from the executive. No member is complaining that what was due to him from the intervention fund has not been allocated to him. Only Jibrin knows where the N40bn and all the other figures he mentioned came from. But, you must note that when Jibrin presented this budget to members, there were protests in the Villa, in the ministries, and within the National Assembly. The Speaker had to call one or two executive sessions. The result of the protests was the establishment of another committee made up of senators and ministers led by the Minister of Budget/National Planning. The committee was headed by the Deputy Speaker (Lasun) because there was this complaint that the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, could not head it because he is of the PDP. They worked on the final version of the budget, which the President later assented to.
But Jibrin, TG are demanding investigations into the allegations. As a matter of fact, Jibrin has since petitioned the EFCC, ICPC….
(Cuts in…) The police and the EFCC lack the powers to come and investigate the internal proceedings of the House. Neither the House rules nor the Constitution of this country gives them the powers to do so. What are they coming to investigate? That Jibrin said budget was padded? If he said the budget was padded or that it was forged, he must bring the original. Where is the original? Let him publish the original. There is no place in the legislative process for the police or the EFCC.
So, what is the way forward?
Nothing will happen; I assure you. The House is not in crisis. When members resume in September, you will know whether there is any crisis. Look, what is happening is simple, people will always nurse the ambition to become the Speaker or occupy other positions. A House of 360 people will always have tension.
But, some members and Nigerians say the Speaker should resign?
Resign because of what? What has he done that he will resign? Our law says the onus of proof lies on the person making the allegations. There is nothing Jibrin has published yet to prove anything. What does budget padding mean in law? Let me tell you one truth; we are all here in the National Assembly to attract projects to our constituencies! Assuming there was padding for the sake of argument, the person who single-handedly did the padding was Jibrin.
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