Paucity of funds, budget intrigues eroding Reps’ oversight
The last recess members of House of Representatives observed began on July 21 and ended on September 20, 2016. It would have ended a week earlier, but for the Eid-el-Kabir festival that coincided with the earlier date of September 13, 2016. In all, the break lasted for seven weeks.
To many Nigerians, the holiday was rather prolonged; especially at the time citizens were faced with an economy that was rapidly receding. They expected the lawmakers to cut short the break. But it was not to be. Some members of the House, who initially aligned with former chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Abdulmumini Jibrin that was sacked by the House shortly before the House went on the break, were also threatened to pull down the Speaker Yakubu Dogara. It made it quite chancy and dangerous to reconvene.
Shortly after Jibrin was relieved of his duties for alleged misconduct, he fumed with anger and started reeling out accounts and documents purportedly linking the Speaker and three other principal officers of the House with padding of the lower chamber’s 2016 budget to the tune of N40 billion. He also warned of plans to mobilize his sympathizers drawn from civil society groups to unseat the officers.
There was so much expectation. Then the House reconvened. The protesters began losing their voices. Support for Jibrin started fading rapidly as the leadership capitalized on it to gloss over the matter. Members became flippant about it – that not up to a dozen out of 360 of them could boldly call for thorough investigations of the allegations. They merely mandated a Committee of the House to hear the side of Jibrin and take a decision.
Political watchers said the docility of members is made worst with the lack of funds available to members to care for their personal needs and carry out Committee duties.
According to Jibrin, a number of them who stood by him were disentangling themselves from his struggles due to certain influences. He said they feared being denied certain opportunities, such as delegation, travels and other self-seeking privileges available to members. It was based on that, he said, several members of the House agreed to collect and adorn themselves with ‘I Stand with Dogara’ mufflers on the day that his matter was considered and referred to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges for consideration.
“Many representatives don’t care about integrity, but what comes into their pockets,” Jibrin claimed. He had specifically accused Deputy Speaker, Yussuf Lasun, Chief Whip, Ado Doguwa and Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, alongside the House Speaker of high-handedness and thoughtless appropriations of funds in this year’s budget.
As members of the House resumed last week after the two-month break, many Nigerians had thought that the lawmakers were returning with increased enthusiasm and determination to address the allegations satisfactorily and put behind them all hurdles standing in their way to carry out their constitutional mandates; among them are formulation of laws for the good governance of the country and scrutiny executive activities.
But beyond resuming to the stark reality of being unable to manage the embarrassing situations surrounding the budget allegations, members were bewildered with lack of funds to implement committee activities. It was the disappointment, according to analysts that reflected in the supple manner they defended the four accused in House.
According to Mr. Eta Mbora representing Calabar Municipal/ Odukpani federal constituency of Cross River, the plan ahead of the motion to refer Jibrin to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges was to outrightly suspend the former chairman on Appropriations, but the mixed mood in the chamber on that day weakened their resolve to do so.
“Those who planned it did not expect that Jibrin would have the magnitude of sympathy that was building up on that day. It made the mover of the motion to rather make a detour to avoid opposition and unnecessary tensions on the floor,” he explained.
Another member who prefers not to be named said that the solidarity the leadership enjoyed on that day did not translate to genuine support. “Deep down, they know something is wrong,” he argued, stressing that the inability of the leadership to attract adequate funds for the running of their Committees was also contributing to their anger.
“For example, ahead of the last Eid-Kabir, each Senator got two rams and five bags of rice, but no member in the House was given. Members are not united and the budget padding scandal is not helping matters,” he said.
He regretted further that some members of the House were yet to be allocated certain office stationery, furniture and electronics over a year in the life of this administration, even as the leadership argued that the distribution was being done in batches.
On monthly allocation to members, Mbora regretted that the N3.9 million allotted each House member was grossly inadequate to cater for the personal, domestic and contingency needs of a member, particularly at this time that the country was receding economy.
This is coming just as some members are also lamenting poor funding for Committee activities in the House. In the past, according to a clerk of a Committee, who spoke anonymously, a Committee received N350, 000 on the average to carry out Committee functions, but as at now, a Committee, such as his, gets as low as N100,000.
The House Committee on Public Petitions, chaired by Hon Nkem Abonta Uzoma, PDP, Abia State is in the category of Committees that received N100,000 for its duties. The Committee, mainly adjudicate over complaints sent to the House. It would purchase stationery, send out mails, do follow ups and arrange for investigative hearings.
It has been gathered that the Committee, which used to conclude hearings on about 150 petitions on the average in a legislative year, is yet to conclude hearings on 50 complaints since the inauguration of this assembly in May 29, 2015. It still has about 320 petitions unattended to for lack of funds.
In the one week that the House sat for three days, Speaker Dogara referred six petitions to the committee.Analysts say if urgent steps are not taken to strengthen oversight role of legislators, the situation could pave the way to a major constitutional lapse where members would be redundant in the atmosphere of trivialities.
Mbora held that such revamping step should extend to clear-cut enlightenment on the executive to let Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) subject their activities to scrutiny and adhere to legislative summons and resolutions.
Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas agreed that inadequate funds in the House of Representatives was slowing down Committees activities in the lower legislative chamber.
He said wrong perceptions of many Nigerians on the role of the Parliament, especially as regards constituency projects was a major hindrance to adequate flow of funds that should have been available to the House for carrying out their activities.
Besides, Namdas blamed the financial situation to the current recession of the economy, stressing that due to high exchange rates and inflation, there is a huge drop in revenue flow not only to the House, but also to other organs of government.
“In the last administration, allocation to National Assembly had in a year risen to N150 billion, but for this year, only N115 billion was appropriated. This is also affecting allocations to Committees as they are not getting as much as they require for their activities,” he said.
He categorized the Committees as Special, Ad-hoc and Standing, explaining that allocations vary according to the categories. He did not disclose the amounts for each of the categories.
Federal government had expressed displeasure over yearly appropriations of funds for constituency projects.It is only by this that the bicameral legislature in Nigeria, like the oversight power of the American Congress can help force corrupt officials out of office, change policies and provide new statutory controls over the executive.