Budget padding: Reps in rowdy session

There was rowdiness in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, when the point of order was raised to look into the allegation of budget padding raised by former House Committee Chairman on Appropriations, Honourable Abdulmumin Jibrin, while the House was on two months break.

This came just as the House resolved to refer Honourable Jibrin to the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges for proper investigation, over the allegation he raised against some principal officers of the House including the Speaker, Honourable Yakubu Dogara.

The chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Honourable Oker-Jev Emmanuel, had, after the Speaker’s opening speech, raised a point of order where he first reminded members about provisions in the House rule that spelt out penalty for any member that snatches the mace in the chamber.

He equally pleaded with members to conduct themselves in orderly manner and shame those who had expected that the House will be in turmoil over the allegation of budget padding raised by Honourable Jibrin.

While still addressing the House, Honourable Aliyu Madaki started shouting point of order Mr Speaker, but he was shut down by the Speaker, who reminded him that the chairman, House committee on Rules and Business should be allowed to finish his address.

To this end, Honourable Oker-Jev told the Speaker that he should be allowed to move a motion on the allegation of budget padding raised by Honourable Jibrin, which he said was in breach of privilege of members.

Immediately he made his intention known, some members started shouting “no, no, no” while others started shouting “yes, yes”.

While this was going on, the official police of the House, sergeant-at-arm, took position to safeguard the mace and the Speaker.

The atmosphere in the House was charged for a while, with Deputy Speaker, Honourable Lasun Yusuf, moving around to pacify members to calm down, including Honourable Madaki, who stood for some time to have his point of order heard.

While the commotion was ongoing with members raising their voices, Honourable Oker-Jev continued with the motion as the loud speakers in the chamber failed to work properly.

The Speaker, however, reminded members that copies of the motion were already shared among them and volunteered to read the prayers of the motion.

The motion was entitled, “The breach of privileges of the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (The House), breach of the privileges of members of the House, breach of the practices, precedents and usages of the House and sundry Acts of misconduct against the members of institution of the House and National Assembly; breach of the provisions of the legislative Houses (powers and privileges) Act, CAP. L12, LFN.”

In the motion, Honourable Oker-Jev chronicled all the allegations raised by Honourable Jibrin, which, he said, was aimed at tarnishing the image of the House as an institution and members.

The allegation raised by Honourable Jibrin while the House was on recess, he said, was contrary to sections 24 and 30 of the Legislative (Powers and Privileges) Act.

He also said that the allegation was “in breach of the Standing orders of the House of Representatives, particularly the provisions on privileges of the House and that of members thereof touching or seizing the mace order 10 rule 5 (13) and 15. The above statements are contemptuous of the House of Representatives as an institution. Punishment: Suspension not less than six months.”

After the chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business was through with his motion, attempts by Honourable Madaki to have his point of order heard was rebuffed by some members, but through the intervention of the Speaker, he was allowed.

The speaker pointedly told Honourable Madaki that “you are reaping what you sowed” as he reminded him that when Honourable Oker-Jev was presenting his motion, he was part of those that were shouting on him to stop.

But Honourable Madaki, in his point of order, told the Speaker that Honourable Jibrin had raised grievous allegation against him and other body of principal officers, the allegation, he added, rubbed off on all members and called for resignation of those named as part of budget padding.

The Speaker, in his ruling, asked Honourable Madaki to first tender his resignation, saying that there was no provision in the rules that supported his submission.

“I will wait for you, as the Speaker, to receive your resignation first. You said that the allegation has been made against the Speaker and all of us,” he said.

At this point, some members close to where Honourable Madaki was sitting offered him paper to tender his resignation.

Meanwhile, a tactic vote of confidence was passed on the Speaker as muffler with inscription: “I stand with Dogara” was distributed to members with majority of them wearing it on their necks.

A shout of “Dogara, Dogara…” rented the air. Some members, however, refused to have the muffler on their neck, including Honourable Madaki.

Earlier, Honourable Dogara, insisted that the House would not fall for any blackmail in view of budget padding allegation levelled against him and some other principal officers of the House.

This is coming just as the House asked the Federal Government to put more money in circulation by releasing money for capital project.

In his welcome address, entitled: “We shall not be distracted,” on the occasion of resumption of the House, the Speaker, however, said that truth would prevail on the matter.

To address the economic recession, the Speaker said, “government expenditure envisaged in effective budget implementation helps to put more money in the hands of citizens, puts more money in circulation and helps to reflate the economy. We, therefore, welcome increased budgetary releases for Capital projects just announced and request for even more as provided by law.”

According to him, “the events of the recent weeks give cause for grave concern and pose existential threats to the corporate integrity and image of the House as a democratic institution designed by the Constitution to play a vital role in our nation’s governmental system.

“This is a patriotic call to action from all stakeholders and indeed all Nigerians. We must unite as a people to rescue Nigeria from the shackles of poverty, social and economic underdevelopment,” he stated.

To this end, he called on the National Assembly to continue giving legislative support to the Executive on all well thought out and effective solutions to the country’s economic problems.

On effective oversight function, he said “the budget is, therefore not just a piece of paper to be treated with disdain. When the revenue targets are not met, both the Executive and the legislature are enjoined to work in a cooperative manner to remove any issues arising there from. Indeed, the 2016 Appropriation Act in Section 6 has given an indication on how it should be resolved. When a Budget is not effectively implemented by the Executive, and adequate reasons are not given, it undermines citizens’ faith in governance, as the budget is perhaps the most effective tool for addressing poverty and underdevelopment.

Speaking further he said, “In furtherance of the constitutional responsibility of the National Assembly to act as an effective check on the Executive on behalf of the Nigerian people, I hereby direct various House Committees to conduct a fact finding exercise on the extent and level of budget implementation by various MDAs.

“We must take our oversight responsibilities very seriously and report back to the House. It is the Report of the House Committees that will determine Appropriation to any MDA in 2017,” he stated.

Meanwhile, the embattled former chairman, Honourable Jibrin, has said that he would only appear before the ethics and privileges committee asked to probe him over the allegations he raised on the budget padding, if the committee will conduct its proceedings in the open.

The lawmaker, in a statement said “I will take up the opportunity provided by the Ethics Committee to state my case under the condition that the hearing will be public and will allow the Press, CSOs, NGOs, NLC, ASUU, NANS, NBA and the general public to witness the entire proceedings.”

He added that “this is the only way that I can have the comfort and confidence that the proceedings, the investigations and the outcome will not be manipulated or compromised. I am ready to appear before the committee even today, if the proceedings will be public.”

He, however, said that he was shocked by the way the proceedings of the House was handled by the Speaker.

According to him, “I attended the sitting of the House today and carefully observed the proceedings concerning the allegations of budget fraud and corruption I levelled against Speaker Dogara and three  other Principal Officers”.