The budget padding fiasco

BY: Aliyu Sulaiman

The resignation of former House Committee Chairman on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, over allegations of the padding of the 2016 Budget, may consume some principal officers of the Green Chamber, and affect the already rusty relationship between Nigeria’s executive and legislative arm.

Members of the 8th National Assembly accused of padding the budget include the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara; his Deputy, Yusuf Lasun; Chief Whip, Alhassan Ado Doguwa; Hon. Leo Ogor; Hon. Herman Hembe; Hon. Umar Muhammed Bago; Hon. Zakari Mohammed; Hon. Chike Okafor; Hon. Dan Asuquo; Hon. Jagaba Adams; Hon. Haliru Jika and Hon. Uzoma Abonta.

Nigerians were first treated to accusations of padding by the executive when the Lagos/Calabar rail project was removed from the 2016 budget, following which President Muhammadu Buhari refused to sign the budget into law. In the following weeks, more damning dealings were discovered.

The executive responded by sacking some staff of the budget office said to have participated in preparing their ministries budget. This was followed by accusations and counter accusations that then Appropriation Chairman, Jibrin, who is at the center of the crisis allocated over N4 billion to his constituency.

A source confided in this magazine that Jibrin’s action pitched him against his colleagues. In one incidence he was booed on the floor of the House. The Speaker was advised to remove him according to our source. Knowing of his impending sack, Jibrin resigned but vowed to bring the House down with him.

On resigning, Jibrin quickly called for a press conference where he accused four of the House principal officers including the Speaker, Dogara, of corrupt shady dealings and budget padding. Although they have denied the allegation and even went further to say that, there was no padding, Hon. Ali Wudil, member representing Wudil/Garko federal constituency reemphasized to this magazine that padding of the budget was not done by the National Assembly. According to him, the only padding was done by the executive.

According to him, “It is the duty of the National Assembly to add money where it is inadequate and subtract where it’s too much and put it where it will be of much benefit to the people.” This he insists is not padding. “The members only performed their constitutional duty,” he insists.

But Hon. Bala Ikara of the Transparency Group in the 8th Assembly confirmed to this magazine that there was indeed padding of the budget and that they raised alarm at an executive session three months before the controversial resignation of Jibrin as Appropriation Chairman.

Noting that it was unfair that almost all the principal officers allocated huge sums of money to their constituency to the tune of billions of naira, Hon. Ikara said his group was collecting signatures and information and they will blow it up when the House is back from recess. He said they would be insisting that whoever was allocated funds illegally must be punished.

Already, over two hundred members of the group, in a statement signed by the trio of Hon. Bashir Baballe from Kano; Hon. Agunsoye Oluwarotimi Ojo, from Lagos and Hon. Abubakar Chika Adamu from Niger state, have expressed shock that Speaker Dogara was trying to exonerate himself from the scandal, describing his action as “disappointing and dishonorable”.

On the Speaker’s side, some Pro-Dogara lawmakers, almost two-third of the members at the time of filing this report, were alleged to have signed a register at his residence in Abuja, with a view of passing a vote of confidence on the Speaker as soon as the House comes back from recess on September 13.

However, Jibrin filed a case at the Federal High Court, Abuja on August 9, requesting the court to restrain the House of Representatives and the principal officers from suspending him from the House. He also filed an ex-parte motion seeking among others, an order restraining the defendants from taking steps to suspend him pending the determination of the substantive suit.

When the House resumes, it is not clear how this scandal would affect Jibrin’s membership of the House, the principal officers position and most especially the relationship between the executive and legislative arm. If allowed to linger, political watchers are of the view that this budget padding scandal will not auger well for the smooth running of the country.

When it was rumored that there were plans by the National Assembly to impeach President Muhammadu Buhari, Senator Ubali Shitu from Jigawa, said there was no such plan, but agreed that there were discussions at the executive session about the unhealthy relationship between the executive and the legislature and that they had discussed of possible solutions.

“It was on that note we asked the Senate President, Bukola Saraki to meet with the executive to resolve the impasse between us”. He noted that there was the need for better understanding between both arms of government in order to achieve result: “We need each other because we are grass-root politicians and through us the government can reach out to the masses”.

The member representing Kano Municipal, Hon. Danburan Abubakar Nuhu, cautioned the unhealthy relationship between the legislature and the executive. “We all have a role to play, we make the laws and the executive implement the laws and if the relationship is bad, it will affect good leadership. Therefore, I am appealing for harmonious relationship between the executive and the legislature for the benefit of the electorate.” According to him, “When two elephants are fighting, the grass suffers.”

Not happy that the two arms had met only once since the House was sworn-in, Shitu said, “I think there is the need for regular meetings for better understanding and advice to the executive on the needs of the people.” MA