The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has said he cannot be interrogated on the allegation of padding of the 2016 budget.
This came as the All Progressives Congress (APC) ruled out the prospect of invoking sanctions against its members involved in the alleged 2016 budget padding accusation currently rocking the House.
Speaking at an interactive session with civil society organisations (CSOs) in Abuja yesterday, on one-year review of the eighth House of Representatives Legislative Agenda organised by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC), Dogara said he enjoyed statutory protection under the Legislative Houses Powers and Privileges Act.
According to him, legislatives business of the House “cannot be grounds for any investigation or any procedure or proceeding to be commenced in court against a member of the Natonal Assembly, either the Speaker or even the Senate President, once they are done in exercise of their proper function.
He said: “The law is there. Both communications, whatever it is, they are privileged. That is in order to give independence to the legislature. If the legislature is not independent we can’t do anything. If whatever you say on the floor or before a committee or whatever you communicate is subject of litigation then all the members will be in court and at the end of the day, when debate come, you cannot even air your views.”
However, Dogara took time to narrate his own side of the story and corrected some of the misconceptions surrounding the padding allegations.
He explained that the House, under his leadership, has the powers to tinker with the budget proposal that was sent to it by President Muhammadu Buhari.
According to him, what Buhari prepared and sent to the House was a mere proposal that was eventually turned into an appropriation bill and later made law in form of a budget.
Dogara argued that the constitution imbued the National Assembly with the requisite powers to prescribe how funds withdrawn from the consolidated revenue should be spent.
He said: “So the budget being a law, therefore means that it is only, I repeat only the National Assembly that can make it because it is law and I challenge all of us, members of the ciivil societies to look at the law and tell me where it is written that the president can make the budget.
“What I am saying is further reinforced by section 80 of the constitution where it clearly provides that no amount of money should be withdrawn from the consolidated revenue or any other account of the federation except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.
“How does the National Assembly prescribe this manner, it is in the appropriation bill which is later made a budget. I want this thing to sink into the minds so that we understand it from here and that perhaps may change the ongoing discourse.
“If you contend that we cannot tinker with the appropriation bill, therefore it goes without saying that we cannot tinker with any executive bill. If they bring a bill on EFCC for instance or any other executive bill and maybe because the executive will not consult civil society to come for public hearing, they don’t do that. It is the legislature that does that by the instrumentality of public hearing and when we aggregate your views it’s only our duty as representatives of the people to make sure that your voices are reflected in the laws.
“So by the time we have heard from the people and we now say we are introducing a clause into an executive bill and it goes to the president and he signs it, they will say some people have padded the bill. It doesn’t even make sense.”
Justifying why the House inserted projects into the budget, Dogara said it was done in line with the legislative agenda of the eighth House to enhance the integrity of the project selection process.
He lamented that if the 2016 budget was allowed to go as it was proposed by the executive, not even a federally funded single borehole would have been sited in his constituency comprising three local government areas.
The speaker said: “When it comes to national budget, who actually sits down to say these are the projects we will fund? Is the process open? Is it transparent? Are the people responsible for doing this accountable to anyone other than you just find these projects littered in the budget. The answer is No!
“But some people sit in the budget office, I want to challenge the civil society to just take the budget of a particular ministry for instance and look at where the directors and some of the key officials, I don’t even want to mention their names, just look at where they come from and then look at the allocation for that ministry. It is all over. If you do that exercise you will be shocked.
“That is why we are calling to question the integrity of that process. The minister perhaps comes from a particular region and you will see that almost 60 to 70 per cent of the funds go to that place. In furtherance of our responsibilities and duties, as representatives of the people, we have to attract federal presence.
“Even in the United States, the requirement for a parliamentarian to keep winning election is to attract federal presence back to his constituency. A senator brought just an airport in one of the districts in Texas, just for that, he has been elected over three times.
“The truth is that if you come from a constituency like mine for instance, we don’t have a permanent secretary or a director anywhere, so if you look at the 2016 budget, if it were to go as proposed by the executive, there is no single federally funded borehole, even if it is N50, there is no N50 meant for any project in my three local government areas.
“Why, because I don’t have anybody where they prepare or share these allocations. If it were not for the instrumentality of the zonal intervention, or what is known as constituency projects, how can I attract even a federally funded borehole in my constituency in four years? The answer is none! Then how do I get elected into the House again? It is not possible. So the biggest challenge before us is to address the integrity of the project selection process.
“In the 2016 budget, if you look at it critically, if we had no powers to amend laws, by the time the executive itself brought the proposals to us, there were so many aspects that funding was not effectively provided for.”
He noted that only N250 was budgeted for daily feeding of prisoners.
“How callous can we be? You have constrained somebody regardless of the offence he has committed; some of these people are even innocent, but they are there because they are awaiting trial and at the end of the day, some of them may be discharged and acquitted but you are subjecting him into a position by providing only N250 to feed him in the present day Nigeria, how will that work?
“We looked at it and said no, this must go up. Even if we don’t have money in the country, at least we can provide N500 to feed them through the intervention of the National Assembly. Nobody is talking about padding in this case,” Dogara said.
He said the House equally intervened and raised budgetary allocation for the construction of a befitting edifice for the EFCC, saying: “If we had gone without touching what the executive did, all these things would not have been possible.
“If you talk about the Lagos-Calabar rail line, by the time we took the budget, there was no provision for it even though the minister claimed that he appeared and tried to defend the thing before the House. But the truth is that the provision for that project was not in the budget proposal that was submitted by the president.”
The speaker said it took the intervention of the National Assembly to raise N60billion for the Lagos-Calabar rail line.
“So if they claim that there is anything known as padding, which I have always wondered what padding is, are we the ones who padded it? So who would be held responsible? Is it the institution? Has there been any country where lawmakers have been cautioned or interrogated for performing their constitutional responsibility of making a law?
“The worst that can happen is that if anyone disagrees with the law, he takes it before the court that is the beauty of separation of powers. So I think I have attempted to explain all the issues.
“For anyone who understands legislative process to begin to say that four people sat down and padded the budget, if it were in the US, we refer to such person as a BS artist. If you don’t know what BS artist means, go and Google it.
“There has never been a time where four people will just sit down on their own, take over the secretariat and impute things into the budget and it will go to the president. It is almost unimaginable that such thing will happen. It is always a process of negotiation, the ministers were there, the appropriation secretariat was there, and no one has come to say that was the case. No person from the secretariat has come out with such allegation other than one person,” he added.
Meanwhile, the APC yesterday said though the party would not sweep the padding allegation currently rocking the House under carpet, it added it will be in the public.
APC also cleared the air on its main source of finance for its campaigns during the 2015 general election, saying that it relied on the N100 registration fee from about 12.7million members in its data base.
Speaking with journalists yesterday at the APC national secretariat, the party’s Deputy National Chairman (North) Senator Lawan Shuaibu, said article 7 subsection 5 of the APC constitution gives the party power to take certain measures in the event of any conflict among its members in the National Assembly.
To that extent Shuaibu said what the leadership are doing is the right thing but only that it does not want it in public gallery.
On whether the APC would sanction the parties involved in the saga, Shuaibu asked: “What is padding? Tthe party does not sanction anybody on that, what concerns us is when any member contravenes the party constitution in his conduct. That is why I refer you to Article 7 subsection 5 of our party constitution.
“We are not a law enforcement organization; we don’t enforce law; we only ensure that the constitution is complied with, any member of the party is answerable to the party and answerable to its constituency. The two members that are subjected to this are elected or appointed members of the party including those that are holding public office.”
Meanwhile, details yesterday emerged as to why Dogara is yet to meet with the police over the budget paddings and corruption allegations levelled against him by the erstwhile Chairman of the Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Jibrin Abdulmumini.
We gathered that although an invitation was sent to the Speaker, police authorities left the date open-ended due to the need to conclude with Abdulmumini and get facts to back the several allegations he made in the petition against Dogara.
Abdulmumini had also petitioned the police and anti-graft agencies, levelling allegations of fraud against Deputy Speaker Yussuff Sulaimon Lasun, Chief Whip Alhassan Ado Doguwa, Minority Leader Leo Ogor and chairmen of 11 standing committees of the House.
While Abdulmumini has met with police officials, the principal officers he listed in his petition are yet to meet with the police or anti graft agencies.
Sources said that the letter to Dogara by the police did not specify a date for him to appear.
“It was sort of an invitation to formally put him on notice, that his attention would be needed at a later date. So no date was specified. When its time, another letter would be sent to him specifying a date,” a source said.
Another source said the police had to meet with Abdulmumini several times, because “his initial petition could not be worked on. He had to come several times to provide documents that can back the allegations in his petition.”
Abdulmumini confirmed this in a statement yesterday evening, where he disclosed that he has provided to the anti-corruption agencies documents that would back up his allegations.
However, the police yesterday advised the public to discountenance media reports on the allegations and counter-allegations by the members of the House of Representatives on the 2016 budget, as the reports cannot be substantiated.
Speaking through the Force Public Relations Officer, Donald Awunah, the police advised the media to desist from speculative reportage on the ongoing probe by the police into the alleged padding of the 2016 budget.
Reacting to a national newspaper report on the phone in Abuja yesterday night that police detectives were set to storm Dogara’s multi-billion naira farm in Nasarawa State, he described such report as a mere speculation and a figment of the report’s imagination.
The Force PRO, while urging the public to discountenance such report, said such stories stories are the handiwork of lazy reporters as such report does not rely on credible source.
Awunah, however journalists covering the crime beat to be meticulously and careful in their sources so as not to be used by politicians.