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Dogara argued that the constitution imbued the National Assembly with the requisite powers to prescribe how funds withdrawn from the consolidated revenue should be spent.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is further reinforced by section 80 of the constitution where it clearly provides that no amount of money should be withdrawn from the consolidated revenue or any other account of the federation except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.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.
Boko Haram Kills Rice Farmers in Borno State, Northeast Nigeria
Rice farmers were killed on Saturday morning in the Northeast Nigeria by suspected Islamist militants, Boko Haram, according to a Reuters Report.
The report also noted that 30 of the people killed were beheaded while over a dozen others were still missing.
However, resident of the Zambarmari Village where the attacks took place said a total of 70 people were feared dead.
Another resident and Amnesty International were quoted as saying at least 10 women were among those missing.
In another statement by Edward Kallon, the United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator in Nigeria, it was armed men on motorcycles that led the brutal attack on civilians harvesting their fields.
“Armed men on motorcycles led a brutal attack on civilian men and women who were harvesting their fields,” Edward Kallon stated.
“At least 110 civilians were ruthlessly killed and many others were wounded in this attack,” he added, noting that several women are believed to have been kidnapped.
“The incident is the most violent direct attack against innocent civilians this year. I call for the perpetrators of this heinous and senseless act to be brought to justice,” Kallon said.
On Sunday, Governor Babaganan Umara Zulum of Borno State, who was at the burial told journalists that at least 70 farmers were killed on Saturday.
The Governor, therefore, called on the Federal Government to recruit more Civilian Joint Task Force members, Soldiers and civil defence fighters to protect farmers in the region.
He added that people are facing desperate choices.
“In one side, they stay at home they may be killed by hunger and starvation, on the other, they go out to their farmlands and risk getting killed by the insurgents,” he said.
In The Fight Against Corruption, No Individual is Bigger Than The State – Buhari
In response to the suspended acting EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, President Muhammed Buhari, lamented that the anti-corruption war becomes endangered “when persons entrusted with the responsibility of that magnitude become suspects themselves.”
Buhari, whose vision is to put an end to corruption in Nigeria, believed that every aspect of the nation’s life is enshrined in corruption and it’s of major concern when leaders of institutions saddled with the mandate to fight the menace are found in the waves of the corruption they claimed to be fighting.
This act is a great abomination not only because it strikes at the root but it also trivialises and undermines the anti-corruption crusade itself, the President explained.
He further said that in a bid to put an end to this great abomination, he had set up Ayo Salami Panel to unravel the mystery behind the mystique of Magu’s alleged involvement in corruption that his administration is fighting.
Buhari said that his administration is ready and willing to go all out in the fight against corruption, and no one is too big nor above the law to become a victim of anti-graft’s sledgehammer.
The president said, “However, the stark reality of widespread corruption becomes poignant when allegations of corruption touch on the leadership of an institution set up by law to coordinate and enforce all economic and financial crimes.
“It is an abomination that strikes at the root and undermines the government’s anti-corruption programme.
“It was in response to the serious allegations against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission that I set up a panel headed by the Honourable Justice Isa Ayo Salami, retired President of the Court of Appeal, via an Instrument dated 3rd July 2020 pursuant to the Tribunals of Inquiry Act (Cap T21, LFN, 2004).
“We recognise that there are more grounds to cover in the war against corruption, and we are prepared to go out to possess those lands by cutting off any stream that nourishes the seed of corruption and supports its growth.
“Let it be known that in the fight against corruption, no one is too big to tackle, as no individual is bigger than the Nigerian State!”
In Search For The New EFCC Chairman, Justice Ayo Salami Panel Advises Buhari to Look Outside The Police Force
Justice Ayo Salami’s panel advised President Muhammadu Buhari to look outside the Nigerian Police Force for the new Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
A credible source confirmed that President Muhammadu Buhari may have decided to follow the panel recommendation to avoid a similar fate to that of Magu, the former chairman.
The source also confirmed that the panel recommendation was a result of sleaze allegations against suspended acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu. Also, that search team would be constituted in the next few days to slim down the possibilities of finding the right candidate to bring into reality the President’s vision of a corrupt-free anti-graft agency.
The source further confirmed that “the sleaze and abuse of office allegations against Magu, a commissioner of police, were overwhelming,” and that he may be put on trial.
As advised by the panel, the new EFCC chairman should be in interim position for two years.
It was suggested that the recommendation from the Justice Ayo Salami panel might have pinned Magu, according to Femi Adesina, the presidential spokesman, he advised president Buhari to consider looking into other law enforcement or security agencies, as well as considering important and diligent staff of EFCC in his plans to appoint the next EFCC chairman, as s provided in the EFCC Establishment Act of 2004.
Following the Justice Ayo Salami panel recommendation, Salami said “Your Excellency, permit me to say that four successive chairmen of the EFCC from inception have been drawn from the police. Therefore, in appointing a new chairman of EFCC, consideration should be given to candidates from other law enforcement or security agencies and qualified core staff of EFCC as provided in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment Act 2004).
“It is also important to point out that at the moment, 970 policemen (114 drivers, 641 mobile policemen and 215 operations), are on secondment in the EFCC.
“Therefore, an exit plan for the disengagement of the police and other personnel within two years from now should be considered. This will address the issue of non-promotion of core staff for over nine years.
“Your Excellency, our thinking here is that whoever you are appointing other than a core EFCC staff, should be in transitional capacity of two years during which period, the arrangement would be made for the appointment of any of the core staff who has been commended by National Crime Agency, UK and other international law enforcement for their professionalism”.
Justice Ayo Salami appreciated the president for giving members of the panel an avenue to serve the country.
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