The hue and cry following the revelations of Honorable Abdulmumin Jibrin on how four principal officers of the lower House padded the 2016 National Budget is yet to die down. Of late, concerned Nigerians have also joined the fray of those calling for the Honorable Speaker Yakubu Dogara to subject himself to the investigations being conducted by the Nigerian Police and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Recall that about a month ago, Hon. Jibrin made the startling revelation which reportedly led to his removal as the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation. Honourable Jibrin had alleged that four principal officers of the Lower House (Hon Dogara, Deputy Speaker, Mr. Yussuff Lasun; the Chief Whip, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; and the Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor) and some other officers in the Senate padded the budget sent to the Chamber by additional N100bn and the ‘padded amount’ was to be shared in ratio 60 to 40 by the Upper and Lower Houses respectively.
Hon. Jibrin is believed to have spilled the beans because the Speaker of the House allegedly cornered N4bn while leaving the remaining 359 members of the Lower House to share the remaining N36bn. This allegation has been followed by denials and threats of legal redress by the Speaker and other alleged persons.
Given the stance of the present administration on fighting corruption, we are concerned that the Presidency has not taken this up with the fervor needed, like it did in the case of Senate President, Bukola Saraki. The Presidency, even at some point, made a statement that the budget was not padded. Should we take this as an attempt to cover up an illegality or complete ignorance of the Presidency of the purported padding?
Budget Padding is the act of inflating budget proposals with the aim of diverting the padded portion of the approved budget for private gains. Ironically, not even once is budget padding mentioned in the Nigerian Constitution, yet the Speaker claims there is nothing unconstitutional about budget padding.
Recall that the issue of padding was one of the reasons for the prolonged delay in signing of the budget by President Buhari. After the President found out that the initial bill sent to the National Assembly had been altered and padded with several items, he removed the items and returned the amended bill back to the Assembly before it was passed into law.
Therefore, any alteration made to the approved budget after it has been signed into law, outside supplementary budget, amounts to criminality. The onus therefore lies on Hon. Dogara and others involved in both Houses to prove that the purported 2000 items tagged as constituency projects and valued at N100bn were added before the President assented the bill into law and not after. If the insertions were done after the budget were signed into law, then this amounts to budget padding and requires investigation by the Police and EFCC. Unless it is otherwise proven, Hon. Dogara and the other alleged officers may have committed a major breach.
The continued silence of the Presidency and the ruling party All Progressives Congress ( APC) on this matter, portends a great danger for the sustenance of the anti-corruption crusade of the present administration. Any attempt to continue to treat this scandal as an APC family issue will not only deflate the ‘White Stallion’ balloon image of President Buhari, but erode the last ounce of confidence reposed on the country by the International Community.
Hopefully, this will serve as the best opportunity for the country to rid itself of unconstitutional practices in the National Assembly. Certainly, the issue of budget padding has become synonymous with Nigeria’s legislative houses and there is no better time than now to stamp it out.