Recession, budget padding in focus as National Assembly reconvenes
As the House of Representatives reconvenes on Tuesday, an issue that would dominate discourse when the lawmakers get down to business would definitely be how to tackle the economic recession plaguing the country.
The body of Principal Officers of the lower legislative chambers, which includes Speaker Yakubu Dogara, has also expressed readiness to put to rest the controversy surrounding the padding of the 2016 Budget on commencement of deliberations.
Obviously, this resolve must have been based on the need to reassure the entire 360-member green chambers of their commitment to the legislative agenda of the 8th Assembly, which entails among others the need to build a House of Representatives with integrity and capacity to effectively and efficiently deliver on its constitutional and legislative mandate.
The agenda included the need to operate a House that responds to citizens’ demands for greater transparency and accountability in the way the legislative activities of government are conducted.
The barrage of allegations by the sacked chairman of the House of Representatives committee on Appropriation, Dr. Abdulmumini Jibrin against Dogara, three other principal officers of the House and scores of lawmakers that they turned the 2016 Budget into a honey pot holds the prospect of making mincemeat of the legislative agenda if it turns out to be true.
Jibrin who is apparently livid over the way and manner he was booted out of his juicy seat had alleged, among others that Dogara, in cohort with his trusted colleagues in the House padded the 2016 budget to the tune of over N40 billion, a claim the entire body of Principal Officers have since described as wild, baseless and unfounded.
Among those accused of impropriety were the House Deputy Speaker, Mr. Sulaimon Yusuff Lassun, the House Minority Leader, Leo Ogor and the Chief Whip, Ado Alhassan Doguwa who hinted that Jibrin would surely be brought before the Mr. Ossai Nicholas Ossai-led House Committee on Ethics and Privileges to substantiate his claims or face the risk of being handed a deserving punishment.
Jibrin who has approached an Abuja High Court for protection against a likely suspension from the House has beckoned to anti-graft agencies – Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), and the Professor Itse Sagay-led Presidential Advisory Committee on Corrupt Practices (PACC) to probe the Dogara-led Principal Officers of the House.
Jibrin who represents Kiru /Bebeji Federal Constituency of Kano State believe that justice would be better served if the Speaker and the others are prevailed upon to resign their position upon resumption from recess.
But a member of the House, Dr. Mojeed Alabi who arguably is echoing the sentiments of most members of the House feels otherwise noting that dragging the anti -graft agencies to probe the issue smacks of disrespect for the lower chambers to deal with issues that are strictly within the purview of the hallowed chambers.
Alabi who is Deputy Chairman, Committee on Human Rights insisted that Jibrin couldn’t absolve himself of blame in the matter since he oversaw the appropriation process of the 2016 Budget.
He, however, pointed out that the ongoing Budget crisis emanating from the House was a blessing in disguise, as it would culminate in the entrenchment of sanity in the budget process in the parliament.
“My position is that when people are put in positions of trust, they should be open and transparent enough to make sure that each and every constituency get whatever it is due. However, where it is found that some individuals who are put in positions of trust have abused such trust, it must be reprehensible. And in this particular instance you cannot remove Hon. Abdulmumini Jibrin from blame because he presided over all these maneuverings in the first instance.”
According to him, if it eventually turns out that people put in the budget what was not supposed to be there or that they gained what was beyond their entitlements, then it is a manifestation of a major defect in the appropriation process in the National Assembly.
He said that the Speaker and others occupy positions that ordinarily would enable them derive certain benefits accrued by virtue of such positions in the same way that the President and others in the executive arm of government would get by virtue of their positions, but stressed that if such benefits were beyond the expected, then questions would be asked.
“What you are seeing now are just sensationalism and people trying to play to the gallery; people forming various groups just to be seen to be holier than thou. And such things are not the way of a legislative institution. If we have the power to take a decision why do you have to go to the press and be talking?
“If we are talking of padding in terms of increasing budgetary allocation I cannot see how such a thing should be a matter for the EFCC. It is a matter for the House itself to resolve. Because what we call padding in terms of disproportionate allocation to a particular member’s constituency over and above what that constituency is entitled to will not be a thing that any Court of law will convict anyone for,” Alabi who represents Ede North/Ede South/ Egbedore/Ejigbo Federal constituency of Osun declared.
However while Mr. Muhammad Musa Soba of the Integrity Group maintained that Principal Officers of the House couldn’t insulate themselves from the allegations of budget padding, which led to the removal of Jibrin, Second Republic Minority Leader, Dr. Junaid Mohammed canvassed the need for the EFCC to wade into the issue with the aim of bringing anyone found wanting to book.
Mohammed who operated on the platform of the defunct Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) said it was not a surprise for keen observers of the National Assembly that it was now engulfed in very serious crises.
This, he argued was because from 1999 to date, the propelling mind set of the average member of the Senate, House of representatives or even States Houses of Assembly has been going into politics to make money claiming that some of them have become very rich within their short sojourn in the National Assembly.
“Now nobody needs to be told that the only way to make money in politics is by corruption and certainly there has been more than enough corruption in the National Assembly and other areas of government but it is a surprise that it is so late in the day, they are now doing the thing so openly,” he alleged adding that whatever is being said is something known publicly because Nigerians know that the legislators are corrupt.
Furthermore, he said: “My own attitude is that whether Jibrin is a good man or a bad man there is need for an external group of people preferably the EFCC to probe the activities of the Speaker and all the Principal Officers and make sure that the stealing which has been the culture in the National Assembly is exposed to all of us and that fundamental amends are made.”
Speaker Dogara hinted in his Sallah message to mark the Eid-El-Kabir festival that members of the House would be much more inclined to address issues that involved the recession and the implementation of the 2016 Budget than being distracted by the budget padding saga.
“If you recall, the House had set the ball rolling through the ministerial debate to deepen engagement of the lawmakers and the executive on national development policy issues. This is because we are keen on promoting the enactment of appropriate laws to enhance Nigeria’s economic growth and development,” the Speaker stated through the media aide, Mr. Hassan Adamu Turaki.
According to him, the Speaker was concerned about the challenges posed by poverty and how to ensure economic growth in the country.
Consequently, some cabinet ministers including the Finance minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun addressed the plenary session of the House on steps to be taken to diversify the economy before the House embarked on its two months recess.
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