By Simon Atea/Lagos
Principal officers at the Nigerian House of Representatives should be immediately investigated over allegations that they had wanted to pad (inflate, manipulate) the 2016 budget for personal gains, Nigeria’s anti-corruption group, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL, said on Friday.
‘Budget padding’ in Nigeria means inflating values of projects, duplicating projects, adding and hiding billions of naira in the budget that end up going to a few powerful lawmakers. The concept remains very confusing. Many Nigerians are still finding it hard to understand the full meaning of padding the budget.
In a statement, CACOL described the allegations made by the former Chairman, Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, against the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, and three other principal officers as a “can of worms” that should not be ignored.
Mr. Jibrin, a lawmaker representing Kano state had alleged that Mr. Dogara had connived with his deputy, Mr. Yusuf Lasun, the Chief Whip, Alhassan Doguwa, and the Minority Whip, Mr. Leo Ogor, to earmark to themselves at least N40 billion in the National Assembly budget. The plot had almost succeeded but for his quick intervention.
The lawmakers denied the allegations and described them as the rant of a fallen man who was enraged to have been removed as the chairman of the Committee on Appropriation, a very important committee in the National Assembly.
Mr. Abdulmunin denied that he was making false allegations, arguing that he was being victimised because he stood against corruption and outright theft in the National Assembly. Mr. Dogara has threatened legal actions and asked for an apology, but Mr. Abdulmunin has vowed never to apologise.
Although it is not very clear what happened, and with the crossfire continuing almost on a daily basis, CACOL said a comprehensive investigation should be carried out.
“The allegations are too grievous which makes the imperative need for thorough investigations inevitable; and anyone be found guilty of violating laid-down rules, procedures and the Constitution, should be prosecuted,” said Mr.
Debo Adeniran, the Executive Chairman of CACOL.
He added: “With what we are witnessing in the unfolding exposé, it is clear that the issue is of serious National importance given that the National Budget is at the very heart of the imbroglio. At this stage, where even the leadership of the HOR (House of Representatives) appears convinced that the exposé require investigation, the logical thing is to subject the matter to judicial process from investigation, prosecution if need be and application of punitive where culpability is established.”
“The conviction of the HOR has reportedly been demonstrated through the decision of the leadership under scrutiny to invite the ICPC that is saddled with the task of dealing with issues of official corruption and related offences; and if appropriate and necessary, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and other relevant anti-graft agencies to look into the matter including allegations that Jibrin abused his office between 2011 and 2015 when he was the Chairman, Committee on Finance.”
”Our findings from Media reports also reveal that a group within the HOR named Transparency Group, which claim to have to collected about 113 signatures from lawmakers from the six geopolitical zones and across party lines is also calling for an external investigation into the matter.”
Mr. Adeniran said “it is therefore clear from the division in the HOR over the padding saga that the matter cannot be reduced to one which the House can handle internally. We have always called for circumspection, thorough investigations, diligent prosecutions and regard for the rule of law when situations like this arise and that is where we stand on this matter too.”
“But the episode itself has also thrown up a major question which would raise other questions that probably only the investigations of the case will provide answers for. And the main question is – what really does ‘budget padding’ mean? Is ‘budget padding’ the bloating of the budget in terms of inflating the value of projects? Is ‘budget padding’ the addition, duplication, replication or repetition of projects to the budget into, within or outside the Appropriation Bill submitted by the Executive to the House?” The CACOL Leader asked.
“The situation remains foggy and only those involved can explain to Nigerians what actually transpired. The truth is that ‘budget padding’ recently crept into Nigerian lexicon with the first Budget of the current regime; previously it was simple enough to understand when the lingua was ‘budget inflation’ making the whole picture appear like a conscious effort to confuse Nigerians to achieve the perpetration of sharp practices.”
“The bickering among the lawmakers should be seen in a positive light by all Nigerians because it is a good omen when leaders of that sort begin to expose each other as it usually reveals the truth in the end. It is only each of the two tortoises that know how to bite one another. All we know is that they have not been performing the functions that we sent them to perform.”
To avert occurrences like the present one in future, Mr. Adeniran called for a review of the laws that govern the funding of the National Assembly to vest more power in the Accountant General and the Auditor General of the Federation to monitor financial flow to the lawmakers in order to make it even more difficult for the them to access money from public coffers.
“The Accountant General and Auditor General should begin to play supervisory roles about how the NASS get funded. Even if they pad the budget, they won’t be able to escape the prying eyes of the Accountant General and the Auditor General of the Federation.” He said concluded.