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Dogara argued that the constitution imbued the National Assembly with the requisite powers to prescribe how funds withdrawn from the consolidated revenue should be spent.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is further reinforced by section 80 of the constitution where it clearly provides that no amount of money should be withdrawn from the consolidated revenue or any other account of the federation except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.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.
FG Places 3,964 Nigerians on Watch List, Suspends Passports
No fewer than 3,964 Nigerians are currently on the watch list of the Nigeria Immigration Service.
The names of the affected individuals, it was gathered, have been placed with security agencies at the nation’s international airports where they will be arrested on sight.
According to the 2020 NIS annual report suspect index, 308 persons were placed on the watch list in 2019, 166 in 2020, while 51 persons were stop-listed in two years.
No fewer than 3, 438 passports are also being watch, while 23 are on the exemption list.
The report states, “Suspect index reviews and maintains the list of persons whose entry into Nigeria is prohibited or on whom special instructions are in place with respect to entry and departure from Nigeria. The travel documents are the instruments used to achieve this objective through synergy with other law enforcement agencies and court of competent jurisdiction.”
In a related development, the NIS has revoked 149, 875 stolen or lost passports and uploaded them to Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database via the Web Services for Data Management platform.
Meanwhile, there are indications that the FG may not meet its 2021 revenue projection from NIS services.
Findings show that there might be revenue shortfall from visa; e-PASS, ECOWAS Residence Card, the Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens Card and other documents issued by the NIS due to the reduced number of foreign visitors and expatriates in the country following COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Immigration sources said the number of Italians, Britons, South Africans, Chinese, Indians, and other Asians, who constitute a large percentage of expatriates in the country, had reduced on account of travel restrictions imposed by their respective countries.
The erstwhile Comptroller-General of Immigration, Muhammad Babandede had said the service recorded a 40 per cent revenue shortfall in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Figures from the NIS showed that in 2018, the immigration service generated N20.3bn from CERPAC; N40.7bn in 2019, and N16.7bn in 2020.
Envoy Considers Establishment Of Chinese Banks In Nigeria To Boost Economy
Mr Cui Jianchun, the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, says he is in talks with Chinese owned Banks to establish operations in Nigeria.
This, the envoy said, is to boost Nigeria’s economy and expand trade relations between the two nations.
Cui made this known on Tuesday in Abuja while addressing Journalists during the commemoration of the 2021 Chinese Moon Festival and China-Nigeria Cultural week.
According to Cui, the establishment of Chinese Banks in Nigeria will also be one of the key areas of discussion during the China-Nigeria Binational Committee meeting, which he is also pushing for the establishment.
He said that an efficient financial institution was a key driver to achieving a strong economy, one Nigeria can learn from China’s experience.
“Before my departure from Beijing to Abuja, I talked to several banks in China. When you list the World’s 10 big banks, six are in China.
“The Banking sector is very important, because, without money, we cannot build our industries.
“What I am thinking here is best to talk to the governor of Central Bank and how we can allow the Chinese Banks to run office here and now, they are doing the feasibility studies on that.
“I am working hard that in the Bi-national meeting, I hope we can make a big decision and give a big push to let the banking industry and insurance industry because financial integration and institutions are key.
“If you go to China, you will find our banking industry is very powerful, not only for business but the change in the way of life.
“Because of the COVID-19, the Banking Industry is a little hesitant, but I told them Nigeria has a lot of human resources and as long as we work together, we can do big things.
“And that is why it is important to invest in the banking industry, to solve this problem,” Cui said.
Extolling the extant China-Nigeria trade relations, Cui noted that the volume of trade between China and Nigeria is nearly 20 billion US Dollars, with an increase from 2020’s 19.2 billion dollars.
Cui said the Chinese economy is restoring to the normal post-COVID-19 pandemic and both governments are working hard on how to expand imports and exports.
Speaking on the event, Cui said the China’s moon festival is a very important and significant one for China as it symbolises family reunion, national peace and social harmony.
The envoy said the 2021 celebration is also a special one as it coincides with the 50th Anniversary of China-Nigeria’s bilateral relations.
He said that both countries also share Oct. 1 as their National Days.
He said it is also on that note that the Chinese Embassy is honouring 50 Nigerian employees of Chinese Companies in Nigeria for their outstanding performance and contribution to strengthening diplomatic ties.
Dr Ifeoma Anyanwutaku, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, also lauded the Nigeria-China relations.
She said the relations had recorded great successes over the past five decades.
“The five decades of co-operation had since witnessed several cultural activities and exchanges in the spheres of arts, music, dance, exhibition, cultural administration, training and capacity building of cultural officers.
“And recently, the development of Cultural Industries centres in Nigeria, among others.
“I must add that China, through the youth-oriented programmes such as the photos competition and similar activities in the past is surely a dependable ally.
“In redirecting the energy and mind of our youth to creative ventures, thereby furthering the Nigerian government’s policy of lifting a hundred million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years”, Anyanwukatu said. (NAN)
Lagos Prohibits Open Cattle Grazing, Sanwo-Olu Signs Bill Into Law
Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, on Monday, assented to the bill prohibiting Open Cattle Grazing and Trespass of Cattle on Land, signing the legislation into law 11 days after it was unanimously passed by the State House of Assembly and transmitted to the Executive arm for authorisation.
By implication, it is now criminal in Lagos for cattle rearers to occupy unapproved public areas and private land with their livestock for grazing. The law also prohibits the act of moving cattle round public places by herders.
The signing of the anti-open grazing law by the Governor followed the decision of Southern Governors’ Forum last August, setting the September deadline to pass the law across member States.
There have been crises witnessed in some States, resulting from alleged open grazing.
Although farmer-herder crisis is not pronounced in Lagos, the anti-open grazing law is expected to prevent the spillover of the menace into the State.
Sanwo-Olu, who assented to the bill during the State’s Executive Council meeting in Alausa, directed the security agencies to swing immediately into action and enforce provisions of the law.
He said: “By the powers vested in me as the Governor of Lagos State, I am signing the bill on Open Cattle Grazing and Trespass of Cattle on Land into law to prohibit issues associated with open grazing of livestock.”
The Governor also signed legislation transforming the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team (DSVRT) into a full-blown agency.
The development coincided with the commemorative month dedicated to raising awareness on gender-based violence in the State. The Governor and members of the State’s cabinet wore attire with purple shades to support the campaign against sexual violence.
The DSVRT legislation provides for the establishment of Sexual Offenders’ Register that would help the State efficiently tackle violations in the communities.
After signing the law, Sanwo-Olu said: “Raising awareness about domestic and sexual violence is an important piece of working to end the cycle of violence. It is important to reiterate the State Government’s zero tolerance to all forms of sexual and gender-based violence. We will not rest on our oars until the menace is reduced to the barest minimum in Lagos.”
The Governor appointed Mrs. Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi as the Executive Secretary of the new agency.
Vivour-Adeniyi was the coordinator of the response team before the legislation was signed into law.
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