House of Representatives Committee chairman on Public Procurement, Honourable Wole Oke, representing Obokun/Oriade Federal Constituency in Osun State, in this interview with JACOB SEGUN OLATUNJI, speaks on the alleged 2016 Budget padding and sundry issues. Excerpts:
YOU are a ranking member of the 8th National Assembly, what is your take on the drama going on at the House of Representatives over the alleged padding of the 2016 Budget by Speaker Yakubu Dogara and others?
It is a very sad development in the history of Nigeria’s legislature. It’s a very strange word, budget padding—I am hearing it for the first time. It does not exist in our laws; it does not even exist in our constitution or in our penal or criminal codes. The crafters of our constitution have never, ever mentioned such word as padding. Somebody has called it forgery. I know forgery exists as an offence in our criminal codes, penal codes. But in the parliament, the purpose of any lawmaker coming to the parliament, the purpose of any constituency donating their mandate to their representatives to represent them in parliament is actually because of the budget bill, because it is what you can use to attract development to your areas, to your constituency or to your Senatorial districts, lobbying, relating with people, furnished energy to attract project to my constituency, should not be criminalised.
I don’t know what Honourable Abdulmumin Jibrin wants to achieve. What the honourable is doing, is to knock the heads of the legislature and the executive together and put our democracy asunder.
Assuming without conceding that there are projects that have been tempered with, Mr. President has a lot of gateways, he has a lot of tools to manage the budget with. He can request for virement; ask for amendment. These tools are there, but for Hon Jibrin himself to start saying that there is padding or there is insertion, I mean it’s busybody! I don’t know what he wants to achieve. The All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government should sanction him, because he has painted the government of President Muhammadu Buhari in a bad manner.
Jibrin has christened the APC-led government as a corrupt government because virtually everybody he has mentioned so far, with the exception of my own leader, Hon. Leo Ogor, are members of APC, so the APC-led government should sanction Hon Jibrin. The party has all the mechanisms to address the issue that he has raised and the legislature also has its own rules. So, honestly, I am totally disappointed and I am not proud of Jibrin being a part of the parliament, roaming the streets and talking about issues that don’t exist.
How do you mean?
At worst, if he is aggrieved, he should have approached the court of law. He can challenge the processes if he wants, he can go to court if he wants but to be labeling every member of the parliament as corrupt is un- called for because I am not corrupt. I am standing very, very straight, not bending. I can be seen, I am standing straight and I am supporting Speaker Dogara, I am supporting the Deputy Speaker, Hon Lasun Yusuf. The Minority Leader, Ogor, is a member of my own party. In the past, between 2003 abd 2007, I have had cause to attract Federal Government projects to my constituency, Obokun/ Oriade Federal Constituency,Osun State. Would you call that padding?
The Nigeria Airforce Safety Training Institute sited in Ipetu-Ijesha, would you call it budget padding? I influenced its being sighted in my area. I didn’t even know the contractors that executed it. I have no business with contractors that executed it. At any rate, Dogara, Yussuf, Ogor, Dogowa and others mentioned have no access to the treasury. All the projects captured in the budget are going to the executive arm of government. It has the procurement procedure as a gateway to arrest any project it doesn’t want.
Are you suspecting external forces behind the whole drama?
That is my worry. What he is doing is to put our democracy in trouble. We all understand and believe in separation of powers. He is out to knock the heads of the executive, judiciary and parliament together, he is out to cause confusion in the entire polity.
What do you think is the way out of the mess?
You see, we as lawmakers in the parliament, our Bible and Quran are anchored by our House rules and they are procedures for managing these scenarios.
Did Honourable Jibrin exhaust these procedures and secondly, has he ever mentioned this on the floor of the House or in any of your executive meetings?
As far as we are concerned, all the allegations by Jibrin are not known to the House.One, we are not in session and secondly, he has not tabled any petition against any member of the House. He has not raised this matter in the House. So, legislatively, Jibrin’s position is not known to the House. When we resume, he has a window to ventilate his views. He can, by way of point of order, put his position on notice; he can come in form of a motion on notice. All the black mailing, the distraction, the allegation against the institution of the House of Reps and the un-parliamentary language will be addressedwhen we resume.
Is it true that some members have been collecting signatures to send away all the principal officers over the alleged padding ?
That cannot happen. I can give you the statistics of the position of the House. In the North East today, Dogara has 98 per cent support. In the North-Central, he has 99 per cent support, and 95 per cent in the North- West. In the South-South and South East, he has 100 per cent support, while in the South-West, he has 75 per cent support. So, which list are they collecting?
Which signatures are they collecting? We are 360 in the House, and I put it to you— I stand to be corrected, 310 members are behind Dogara that I know of. I don’t know of the remaining 50, but I put it to you that at least on my own records, I have 310 members that we meet that are fully for Dogara. You may have few members who are disgruntled, who are not happy maybe because of the post Speakership election but as I speak to you, noting can shake Dogara lead leadership.
Does the alleged budget padding have any connection with the reported plans to impeach the president?
Anybody who is thinking of impeaching President Buhari must be insane. Nobody has discussed such issue. We are in a state of economic quagmire; we are trying to get out of it. It has not crossed anybody’s mind.