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It’s a padded world


The Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara PHOTO: TWITTER/DOGARA

The Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara PHOTO: TWITTER/DOGARA

Those who make laws for the Federal Republic of Nigeria are back to work after a long recess. They are all singing from the same hymn book, the hymn book of recession. So the National Assembly looks, on the surface, like the island of bliss but it is only a peaceful island in a sea of trouble. Before they went away the fat was in the fire. Everything was not hunky-dory. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, was being roasted like suya for alleged budget padding. So were three of his colleagues: Lasun Yusuf, Deputy Speaker, Alhassan Doguwa, Chief Whip and Leo Ogor, Minority Leader.

Before they vacated, Abdulmumin Jibrin who used to be the chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, had spilled the beans and like a house with left-over food the place was “stinking” (apologies to Olusegun Obasanjo). The litany of accusations submitted by Jibrin: That the four men cornered N40 billion out of the N100 billion voted as constituency projects fund for the 360 members; that they took 20 per cent of the inputs reserved for the House after the harmonisation exercise; that the heads of 10 standing committees in the House made about 2,000 insertions in the budget worth about N284 billion without the knowledge of their committee members. He described the insertions as “reckless.”

Last month, Dogara tried to deal with the matter in a lawyerly fashion. He told a civil society dialogue session in Abuja on “one year of the Legislative Agenda of the 8th House” that there is nothing like padding; that the executive sends estimates of revenue and expenditure and the legislature makes the law. Budget is the law, he said. When the legislature makes the law, the executive implements it and the judiciary interprets it. Secondly, he said that the EFCC, ICPC, Police and other law enforcement agencies cannot investigate their activities, procedures or proceedings once they are done in the exercise of their proper functions. He is wrong, very wrong. If there is a crime in the execution of the functions of the legislature the crime is investigatable. Padding is corruption, and corruption is a crime. In fact, the ICPC Chairman, Ekpo Nta, has since confirmed that his outfit is empowered to investigate the National Assembly. “We can investigate infractions and we have investigated when infractions happened.”

Interestingly, the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas, addressed a press conference a few weeks ago on the removal of Jibrin as chairman of the Appropriation Committee. He accused Jibrin of currying favour from President Muhammadu Buhari by “siting numerous projects in Daura without the consent or solicitation of the President.” Isn’t that padding? So there is padding whether by Dogara and his gang or by Jibrin, or by both. Which shows that, truly, that place stinks. They accused Jibrin of solicitation, sycophancy, influence peddling, cringing and crawling. However, you look at this “if-you-Daboh-me-I-will-Tarka-you” episode, it is nothing short of advanced harlotry: money for hand, back for ground. This egg is scrambled. You cannot unscramble it. Perhaps, Dogara thinks there ought to be some honour among thieves, since the booty has always been shared. But when thieves share the loot in a highly disproportionate manner, there is always some fracas, and the police get to know and the full story of the robbery is told. That is what is happening now.

To confirm the padding episode some 113 members of the House led by Musa Soba (APC, Kaduna) said that Namdas was not speaking for all the House members and that each of the accused persons should defend themselves. They said their duty was to compel the Speaker to explain the discrepancies in the budget because they believe that the budget was padded. The group which adorns itself with the title of “Transparency Group” has called for an external investigation of the matter.

The Police have stepped in already. They have gathered some documents from the House of Representatives that may help them in their investigation. Meanwhile, Mr. Dogara is working from the answer to the question by asking the Ethics and Privileges Committee to look into the matter. Their job is cut out for them: to return a verdict of guilty so that Jibrin can be suspended and the matter swept under the carpet. That will not work. Dogara and co must submit themselves to an external investigation. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. If Dogara is not investigated then Bukola Saraki, the Senate President, will have an extra reason to think that Buhari’s anti-corruption agenda is a discriminatory and selective witch hunt of those he does not like.

In any case, there has always been budget padding since 1999. The ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) always work things out neatly with the parliamentarians so that at the end of the day their budgets are padded for a fee. During President Obasanjo’s administration there was an episode during which a minister and a Senate President were removed. What would you call that? Attempted padding? Anyone who thinks there is nothing like padding is living in a world of naivety. It has always been there but only known to those in the innermost circle of the National Assembly. The second reason it hasn’t been a well publicised boodle is that one hand always washes the other. It has almost always been a mafia-like, unconscionable, cooperative, kleptocratic enterprise. Budget time is always chopping time.

However, padding is a phenomenon that comes in different forms. At the personal level, some women pad their boobs with what beauty experts call wonder bra. Wonder or magic bra has the 419 characteristic of giving flabbiness the appearance of fullness and that fake fullness, in turn, gives the flavour of fabulousness. A variant of it is to call science and technology into the matter. A beautiful lady called Modupe Ozulua, herself a beneficiary of boobs enhancement, has been an unabashed merchant of body parts padding, whether they are boobs or buttocks. I have no idea whether she has enlisted as clients men who would like their tooth-pick penis to be inflated to the size of a lager beer bottle. Whether that happens or not she is already a certified expert in padding the paddable.

In the days of yore when the Efik people of Cross River State considered a full, rounded and beefy woman as the ideal marriage partner, the fattening room concept was in vogue. Today, most Efik men are revising their idea of a beautiful woman and the fattening room concept is gradually vanishing although the culture is unyielding in its desire to survive the onslaught of today’s thin-girl beauty pageantry. Even the men now take to the gym to build their biceps and muscles so that when they don their test-tube trousers and body-clinging shirts, it will be obvious that they have it.

While the girls can pad what they have the parliamentarians can pad what they want to have.At another level we are padding or expanding our freedom, pushing it to its outer limit: Men are wearing women’s ear rings and women are wearing men’s shirts and trousers. This is called cross-over dressing. The padding doesn’t end there. In sexual matters we crave for the insanity of men sleeping with men and women sleeping with women, or two women sleeping with one man or one woman sleeping with two men. This is freedom expanded or well, padded.

In the 60s when the January 15, 1966 coupists talked of corruption they mentioned ten percenters. Now corruption has increased exponentially from a few thousand naira to a few millions and now to trillions. It is a rapid growth both in terms of size and variety of storage ideas. They now store stolen loot in soakaway pits and farmlands, you would think they are planting cassava. Some even build houses just for warehousing the booty.

The reason we have never had a successful head count is padding. We enlist children that are in their mother’s stomach and people that are in the grave already. Now we have had to deal with the phenomenon of ghost workers, ghost pensioners, all of which make the payroll bloated because we have had to pad them with names that ought not to be there. The ghosts are the first to collect the money while the human beings die on the queue waiting for their money. Hold padding responsible.

Our elections have been dogged by controversies, disputations and protests largely because of vote padding. There are two examples of legendary vote-padding I can remember. In the 1983 elections that the NPN won with a landslide, the NPN scored more votes than the number of registered voters in the Ife-Modakeke area and the UPN had to kick like a horse. That incident led to the famous Ife-Modakeke rift. Another example is the resounding padding that took place in Kogi State. It was the primary election of 1991 which was contested by Silas Daniyan and Mr. Achema. When the votes were counted Daniyan scored about 128,000 votes out of a total population of 60,000. Abracadabra, you would say.

The mad pursuit of extremes – extreme beauty, extreme wealth, extreme power, extreme pleasure – in the belief that big is best always comes with some consequences.

Mr. Dogara need not deny anything. He is in good company. That is precisely the way we have always lived. That is why this country is in this ugly shape. The pity of it is that the APC government that has anti-corruption as a core item in its agenda is holding meetings and trying to make it seem like a little disagreement within the APC family. But it is not. It is a national affair that no one should try to close without full disclosure which should come through an external investigation ordered by the Buhari government.

No one said that fighting corruption in Nigeria was going to be easy. But Buhari freely chose that path by putting it on the front burner. The real test of his resolve to fight corruption no matter whose ox is gored is here.The whistle blower is a patriot not a pariah. Don’t take his whistle away.

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