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Dogara argued that the constitution imbued the National Assembly with the requisite powers to prescribe how funds withdrawn from the consolidated revenue should be spent.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is further reinforced by section 80 of the constitution where it clearly provides that no amount of money should be withdrawn from the consolidated revenue or any other account of the federation except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.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.
Lagos State Moves to Completely Ban Okada, Keke, Introduces Minibuses
The Lagos State Government on Monday announced plans to completely ban the use of motorcycles (okada) and tricycles (Keke) due to rising crime and lawlessness across the state.
The announcement was made after a stakeholders’ meeting held at the Adeyemi Bero Auditorium, Alausa Secretariat, Ikeja.
In the meeting attended by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa; the Chief Judge, Kazeem Alogba; the Commissioner of Police, Hakeem Odumosu, traditional and religious leaders and members of the civil society, among others, the governor said the string of lawlessness daily witnessed from the confrontation between commercial motorcyclists and law enforcement agencies required urgent action.
“Based on all that we have seen and experienced in the past couple of weeks, as well as the increasing threat posed by the activities of commercial motorcycle operators to the safety and security of lives, we will be announcing further changes to the parameters of motorcycle and tricycle operations in the state in the coming days. No society can make progress amid such a haughty display of lawlessness and criminality,” he added.
Sanwo-Olu said from next week, the state would be inaugurating the First and Last Mile buses next week, which would take the routes the motorcycles were plying.
The state Commissioner of Police, Odumosu, raised the alarm over rising security breaches from the menace of okada operations in the state.
He said between January and early this month, 320 commercial motorcycles were impounded in 218 cases of criminal incidents in which 78 suspects were detained and 480 ammunition recovered.
In the same period, the Lagos police boss said Okada accounted for 83 per cent of 385 cases of avoidable fatal vehicular accidents in Lagos.
At the end of the meeting, a 12-point resolution was reached, among which was a ban on Okada “as a means of transportation in the state.”
2023 Voter’s Registration Will Be Online, Biometric To Be Captured Physically- INEC
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday unfolded plans to allow online filing during the continuous voter registration for the 2023 general election.
The National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC, Mr. Festus Okoye, however, said only the biometric would be captured physically by INEC officials.
But the commission suffered another setback yesterday as arsonists torched its office in Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia State.
Okoye, during a stakeholders’ meeting on expanding voter access to polling units in Kano yesterday, said: “On June 28, the voter registration exercise for those above 18 years and those who have not registered before will commence with two new innovations. Those versatile with computer can register online and only visit a registration centre to capture their biometrics.”
Okoye stated that the online registration would be introduced to reduce crowd at registration centres in line with COVID-19 protocols.
The commission called on citizens, especially those willing to contest elections, whose voter cards have been defaced, whose names were wrongly spelt or addresses and locations wrongly captured to present themselves for authentication or correction.
INEC also called for valid data of all those with disabilities or physical challenges to be captured during the continuous registration for proper projections ahead of the 2023 general election.
INEC also warned political parties and politicians who have started campaigning to desist from doing so.
Okoye said: “There is a ban on political campaigns which has not been lifted yet. And I find it necessary to draw your attention for you to understand the legal implication of violating this ban.
“I have listened to comments on radio stations, which are capable of heating the polity. Media organisations should avoid providing platforms for such comments. The media should try to curtail such tensions.
“Political parties, politicians and their supporters should understand there is a legal framework for campaigns and it has not commenced yet.”
No Plans To Relocate AFRICOM HQ To Nigeria Or Any Part Of Africa- U.S. Replies Buhari
The United States has said there is no plan to relocate its Africa Command from its current base in Germany to Nigeria or any other part of Africa despite the worsening state of insecurity in the region.
The US gave the response barely two weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari appealed to the US government to consider relocating AFRICOM to Africa to assist Nigeria and other adjoining countries to combat worsening terrorism, banditry and other security crises.
The President made the plea in a virtual meeting with the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, on April 27.
Germany-based Africa Command (AFRICOM) is the US military headquarters that oversees its operations in Africa.
Buhari’s request followed a series of recent military casualties in Nigeria’s decade-long fight against Boko Haram terrorists, fresh expansion of the insurgents’ bases to Niger and Nasarawa States, and heavy waves of abductions and killings by bandits in the North.
Buhari said, “The security challenges in Nigeria remain of great concern to us and impacted more negatively, by existing complex negative pressures in the Sahel, Central and West Africa, as well as the Lake Chad Region.
“Compounded as the situation remains, Nigeria and her security forces remain resolutely committed to containing them and addressing their root causes.
“The support of important and strategic partners like the United States cannot be overstated as the consequences of insecurity will affect all nations, hence the imperative for concerted cooperation and collaboration of all nations to overcome these challenges.
“In this connection, and considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel, weighing heavily on Africa, it underscores the need for the United States to consider relocating AFRICOM headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa and near the Theatre of Operation.”
However, the US government on Thursday ruled out any plan to relocate AFRICOM from its current base in Germany to Nigeria or any part of Africa.
According to the United States Department of Defence’ Pentagon, previous studies have shown that the cost of relocating AFRICOM from Germany to Africa is very huge.
In an emailed response to The PUNCH, the Pentagon said although it would continue to value Nigeria and other countries in Africa as important partners, the American government would not consider relocating AFRICOM to any part of the African continent at the moment.
This newspaper had asked if the US would consider Nigeria’s request to relocate AFRICOM to the continent.
“It would be inappropriate to speculate on any future actions. However, at this time, moving this headquarters (AFRICOM HQ) to Africa is not part of any plans, but USAFRICOM’s commitment to their mission, our African and other partners, remains as strong today as when we launched this command more than a decade ago,” US Pentagon spokesperson, Ms. Cindi King, said.
King also ruled out any plan to consider Buhari’s request in an ongoing global US defence review.
She said, “Although there is an ongoing Global Posture Review, the relocation of Combatant Command headquarters is outside the scope of its assessment. In the case of AFRICOM, previous studies have concluded that the cost associated with the relocation of this headquarters is significant and likely to incur the expense of other engagement opportunities and activities that more directly benefit our valued African partners.
“We greatly value the partnership with Nigeria and appreciate President Buhari’s recognition of the United States’ positive contribution to African peace and security, as well as other regional partners that have made similar past pronouncements. The United States remains committed to continuing our close partnership with African countries and organisations to promote security and stability.”
It’s ‘near impossible’ for America to accept Buhari’s invitation –Campbell, ex-US ambassador
Meanwhile, a former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, has listed reasons why it is “unlikely or near impossible” for the US government to relocate AFRICOM from Stuttgart in Germany to Nigeria or any part of the continent.
He said aside from the fact that the cost of doing so is very huge, the Nigerian military had proved to be a difficult partner for the US over the years.
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