Niyi Odebode, Olalekan Adetayo, Friday Olokor, Ade Adesomoju, Fisayo Falodi, Gbenro Adeoye, Jesusegun Alagbe and Eric Dumo
Prominent groups and individuals have berated the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, for claiming that budget padding is not an offence.
In separate interviews on Friday with Saturday PUNCH, they said that the Speaker’s statement showed that he was not sensitive to the suffering of Nigerians.
Dogara, after a closed-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday, said that he would not resign over the budget padding allegation levelled against him and 12 others by a former Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin. The Speaker also said that budget padding was not an offence under the law.
In an interview with journalists after the meeting, which lasted for 30 minutes, the Speaker said, “I studied Law and I have been in the legislature and all this period I have never heard of the word ‘padding’ being an offence under any law.”
It is criminal—Falana, Afenifere, others
Condemning the Speaker, a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), insisted that the alleged padding of the Federal Government’s budget by some members of the National Assembly constituted a criminal offence.
He explained that the offence of padding the budget was not a “once-and-for-all” like murder.
The senior lawyer said it started as conspiracy while planning it and concluded when it was used to draw money fraudulently after the budget had been passed.
Falana had also said that it was logical for those implicated in the scam to step down because Jibrin had done the same.
He said, “The act violates Fiscal Responsibility Act. Section 13 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act prescribes that relevant agencies, including the National Assembly, make input into the budget. Relevant government agencies are required to do the costing for the projects to be included in the budget.
“It is expected that negotiation and costing of projects should have been concluded while the preparation is going on. Budgeting is a process. Budget is money bill, which must necessarily originate from the executive. Section 81(1) of the Constitution says the President shall cause the budget to be prepared and lay it before the National Assembly. The National Assembly cannot cause the budget to be prepared and lay it before itself.
“What the National Assembly can do after the budget is laid before it is to reduce the amount if it is convinced it is inflated.
“So it is conspiracy when they increase the amount or insert projects into the budget. The criminal act is concluded when they now draw from the funds they have inserted.”
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Robert Clarke said the appropriate thing for the Speaker to do is to resign first and face investigation.
He said, “As for Dogara, morality beckons on him to resign and face investigation. When there are allegations of such against a public officer, that’s the appropriate thing to do. But that only happens in civilised societies. Nigeria too is a civilised society, but it’s unfortunate we’ve never seen something like that happening.
“Some of us concerned citizens are pleading with Dogara to step down and face investigation. But if he does not want to do that, we will wait and let the course of events take its turn.”
Also the spokesman of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin said, “Budget padding is intent to commit an offence no doubt but the speaker should shelve impunity by showing some remorse.
Odumakin stated, “He should appreciate the level of angst in the society. If people have not been paid for several months and cannot afford to eat, you can’t be telling them that ‘padding’ with billions of naira is not an offence.”
On his part, the Executive Director of Conscience Nigeria, Tosin Adeyanju, said that the National Assembly should be made less attractive.
“The National Assembly’s financial dealing is shrouded in secrecy. The House must come out clean on the matter by making the investigation public and participatory so as to restore their dignity among Nigerians,” he said.
Also, the President of Campaign for Democracy, Abdul Usman, said that budget padding without following the due process was illegal. He called on the Speaker to resign.
Usman stated, “Dogara should resign for this illegal inclusion of projects that doesn’t exist in his constituency in the 2016 budget, as alleged by his colleague.”
He called on security and anti-graft agencies to investigate those involved in the illegal action.
The President of Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Malachy Ugwummadu, said if the Speaker was not disposed to stepping down, then the least expected of him was “to remain extremely circumspect without the air of dismissive arrogance and impunity.”
He stated, “The extraneous technical response sought to be communicated to the public that ‘padding’ is unknown to our criminal jurisprudence is reminiscent of President Jonathan’s failed attempt to draw a non-existing distinction between stealing and corruption which is very provocative and completely unacceptable to the people of Nigeria, who are the direct victims of the financial recklessness of the state actors including the Speaker.”
Spokesperson for the Ijaw Youth Council, Mr. Eric Omare, said the Speaker should stop justifying an action tantamount to corruption.
Omare described budget padding as one of the reasons why many government agencies have been underperforming, adding that “any action that is immoral in the course of governance is corruption”.
He said, “In this case, some parts of the country got more than some others. So because Dogara is the Speaker, he put more than N4bn contract in his constituency alone whereas some constituencies did not get any. In my view, that is corruption.
“And not only that, in some cases, as alleged by Jibrin, they tampered with budgets of some agencies and ministries such as the Niger Delta Development Commission and the Ministry of Niger Delta. It is immoral and condemnable; he should not try to justify it and what he did is one of the reasons why a lot of government agencies are not performing because the budget process has been distorted.”
Reacting to the issue, a former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja, Lagos Branch, Monday Ubani, described Dogara’s statement as very unfortunate and the hallmark of an unremorseful person.
According to him the lawmaker should cover his face in shame and resign honourably over the weighty allegations against him, rather than trying to convince Nigerians of his innocence by being the judge in his own case.
He said, “If it is true that Dogara said that padding is not corruption, then it is a most unfortunate statement from him. It goes to show that he does not have any form of remorse on what he is alleged to have done and all the atrocities committed under his nose as the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
““Already from some of his statements he has already acknowledged the fact that the budget was padded, in law that is enough to prosecute him. Legislators are not supposed to be adding figures to our national budget; it is the prerogative of the President and governors at the state level.
“In saner climes somebody like him would have resigned willingly or forced to do so. It is unacceptable to watch somebody who has been alleged to commit such crime to remain as the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Nigeria. Putting up a defence that padding is not corruption is insulting our collective sensibility; he is in fact spilling petrol on fire.”
The National Coordinator, Rights Monitoring Group, Mr. Olufemi Aduwo, described the alleged padding of the budget as “forgery”.
He said, “That action is purely forgery and it will be an embarrassment to Buhari’s government if Dogara still remains as the Speaker of the House.
Even the same forgery happened in the Senate. The issue of injecting frivolous figure into the nation’s budget started many years ago. They don’t just inject alone, they do it in connivance with ministries, departments and agencies of the government.”
The PUNCH had reported exclusively on Friday that Buhari would meet with Dogara on the matter.
I won’t reconvene the House now –Dogara
The Speaker, who was accompanied to the meeting with the President by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives), Suleiman Kawu, said he would not reconvene the House now.
Dogara also told State House correspondents that he would not resign to pave the way for thorough investigation of the allegations.
He said with his experience as a lawyer and a federal lawmaker of many years, he had never heard padding as being an offence under the law.
He also ruled out the possibility of reconvening the House before the September scheduled resumption time over the matter, saying the House of Representatives is not a mock institution.
Dogara also claimed that he was not worried by the allegations levelled against him.
On whether the House will sanction Jibrin on the matter, the Speaker said the Chairman of the House’ Ethics Committee was in the best position to answer the question.
The following encounter took place between the Speaker and reporters:
Reporter: What informed your visit to the Presidential Villa this Friday?
Speaker: You mean I can’t come and see my President? Do I need any reason to come and see my President? It was a private visit.
Reporter: Was the issue of alleged budget padding discussed?
Speaker: What is budget padding?
Reporter: The language emanated from your chamber
Speaker: I don’t know, educate me. I am a lawyer and the Speaker and I have never heard of the word “padding.” What does “padding” mean?
Reporter: Your former chairman of Appropriation Committee is saying you padded the budget. What is your reaction to that?
Speaker: Ask him. He who alleges must prove; that is the law in Nigeria.
Reporter: Are you not going to defend yourself?
Speaker: Am I before a court?
Reporter: There are people saying you should reconvene the House before September resumption time and step aside for thorough investigation to be carried out. What is your reaction to this?
Speaker: We have rules and regulations. This is not a mock institution, we operate by rules and we will follow the rules.
Reporter: Will you resign?
Speaker: Resign for what? For what?
Reporter: On this allegation.
Speaker: What is the allegation?
Reporter: That you and some members of the leadership padded the budget.
Speaker: What is padding? You haven’t told me. Ask Jibrin what is padding? For me, I studied Law and I have been in the legislature and all this period I have never heard of the word “padding” being an offence under any law. If I don’t know, you are the media, research the law and let me know
Reporter: Are you worried?
Speaker: Worried for what? Worried over nothing? Why should I be worried? As far as I am concerned, I am not worried over anything.
Reporter: Will there be sanctions for Jibrin?
Speaker: I am not the Chairman of Ethics Committee of the House so I wouldn’t know and I don’t know what padding means.