The President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has, again, debunked insinuations that its anti-graft war is lopsided, insisting that the ongoing fight against corruption is not selective.
Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, made the clarification, in Port Harcourt, on Monday, while speaking at one of the sessions at the ongoing 56th Annual General Conference of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
He said the fight against corruption was not targeted at any particular individual or any political office holder, assuring that there was no sacred cow and that nobody would be spared, if found to be corrupt.
Malami further said there must be a reasonable ground for suspicion of the commission of an offence bordering on corruption before anybody can be investigated and arrested.
“On the issue of being lopsided in the fight against corruption, I think the question should be that, is there any reasonable ground for suspicion of the commission of an offence? It is not about whether they (offenders) are PDP or APC.
“As lawyers, you have at your disposal the Freedom of Information Act and the right to seek for support for the prosecution of those suspected to have committed any offence,” he said.
Responding to a question on how to punish top civil servants who were found to be corrupt, the Minister of Justice said investigations were ongoing on the matter, even as he disclosed that plans were underway to set up a committee on the amendment of the Electoral Act.
Former REC laments poverty level
A former Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Resident Electoral Commissioner of Edo State, Mr Mike Igini, lamented the level of poverty in the country and urged the Federal Government to tackle the economic problems facing the country while fighting corruption.
He said those elected into public offices had only a year and five months left to fulfil their promises to the electorate, maintaining that it would be difficult for elected office holders to achieve anything after 2017.
“The belief and faith in democracy is on what it can achieve. All those elected into public offices have only one year, five months to perform. The truth is that 2018 is a campaign year, while 2019 is for elections.
“So, they [elected public office holders] have till 2017 to fulfil their electoral promises. Consequently, looking at what is available, one should look at the law and see how we can tackle our economic problems while also fighting corruption,” he said.
It’s not right for legislature to unilaterally increase budget
The Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, has said it is not proper or appropriate for the legislative arm of government to unilaterally seek to increase the annual national budget.
Speaking at the same event on “The Role of the Legislature and the Executive in the Budgeting Process,” the immediate past governor of Lagos State, however, called for collaboration between the executive arm and the legislature in the budgeting process.
While not calling for the amendment of the constitution, he pointed out that the primary duty of a parliamentarian was not to make laws but make representation, adding that the legislature should not be in any position to influence constituency projects.
The minister also stressed that the different political leanings were no longer relevant, adding that the most important and relevant thing was how elected and appointed public office holders could work together for the good of the people.
He said he found it challenging getting to the venue of the conference, but added that he was present because he was involved as “the three ministries I have responsibilities to superintend are ministries that have one role or the other over our lives.
“I will like to say that it is not appropriate for parliament to unilaterially seek to increase the budget because they do not collect taxes.
“I think there should be collaboration between the executive and the legislature in the budgeting process. In this process, clear lines should be drawn because compromise is better achieved where all parties know their rights.
“I am not making any argument for any amendment, but the point I want to make is that the more people who do more of the budgeting process are also in the executive arm of government, the better their career knowledge,” he said.
Fashola also said the executive arm would be in a better stead to interpret all the process of budget development, adding that those who worked within the executive arm were better placed to give a cost to all the projects being executed.
“Let me also say that we must understand what the the primary duty of the parliamentarian is. In my view, his duty is representation and not to make laws. His duty is to represent you and me.
“I honestly cannot say that parliamentarians should not be able to influence what some call constituency projects. The point I wish to make is that the parliament cannot make appropriation over a matter for which it has no responsibility.
“If we have constituency projects, we must make sure they are not the projects of lawmakers. Even if they (the projects) were nominated by the senator or the state lawmaker, they must be the project that the constituency owns.
“In cases where the lawmaker who started the project is not re-elected, the new person who takes over should continue the project. But this is not the case we have; what we see are new legislators coming in and starting their own projects. In my ministry, we have over 200 projects that have no parentage.
“The meaning of this is that there is no senator to push for the completion of such projects, because there are new senators in place. I have said we must finish these existing projects, but people are nominating new ones,” he said.
All budgets passed by NASS since 1999 illegal —Enang
Also speaking at the session, Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Legislative Matters, Senator Ita Enang, said all the budgets passed by the National Assembly since 1999 were illegal.
Enang, who spoke on “Fresh Perspective in Legislative Practice: Who Makes the Law?,” however, said it was the duty of the legislator to make law, adding that the executive arm of government could, in the course of engagement, bring out any part of the law made by the legislature.
He said the entire appropriation passed since 1999 were illegal because none of them was part of the vote and proceedings of the House.
“Under the law, it is only the clerk that has powers to certify correct version of bill passed by the Senate or the House of Representatives. Unless we return to this standard practice, we will continue to have the problem.
“The duty of the legislator is to make laws…The legislature passes what ministries should use and leave the details to committees. The legislatures should pursue the details of budgeting to the end,” he said.
Speaking on the vexed issue of budget padding, Enang said the word, “padding” was incongruous as it was not in the legislative lexicon, advising that the legislature should, however, revert to the best practices.
“The legislature has to return to the best practice of passing budgets by doing all the details.
“In the 2016 Appropriation, the legal department added some things that were not contained in the vote and proceedings passed by the National Assembly which ought not to be. You should correct before passage on the floor of the House,” he said.
Corroborating the stand taken by Fashola on constituency projects, the former federal lawmaker said he was always consulting his constituents on their areas of need, adding however that no money was given to any legislator for constituency projects.
“I will find out from my people on what they really need for constituency projects. No money is given to the legislator as they are not involved in awarding the projects. We don’t drive projects; you are only told to put in project what certain values, but the executive awards,” he added.
A former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Chibudom Nwuche, also called for a collaboration between the legislature and the executive.
“I will advocate they have a joint project office to work out details on the budget, this will remove conflicts. I agree with the minister that it must be projects for the benefit of your constituency and not for personal benefit,” he added.