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How Dogara blackmailed members into silence over running cost matter —Jibrin

Honourable Abdumumin Jibrin was chairman of House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations who got suspended from the House for a period of 180 days as a result of his activism against the chamber on the budget padding issue. He insists in this interview with the Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, that he will not look back, despite his travails.

 

WHEN you were making a series of allegations against the leadership of the House, did it ever occur to you that you could be suspended?

I actually didn’t think about suspension as of then because in my own thinking, it would be ridiculous. I never thought that some members of the House would choose to act in a very reckless manner. I have never seen that sort of impunity in my life. While I was dishing out the allegations, my impression was that by the time we resumed, of course my colleagues would do the right thing by insisting that the House investigate the allegations and also collaborate with the anti-graft agencies and the police and, of course, the DSS that have already commenced investigations. That was what I anticipated.

But to my surprise when we resumed, a motion was raised and it was referred to the Ethics Committee. I actually thought it was referring the issue in its entirety to the Ethics Committee so that one can go and discuss the allegations that were raised, only for me to read the other paper and discovered that the only item they were taking there is that I bridged the privileges of the members of the House. That was why I declined participation because it made no sense to me.

 

Are you seriously saying you didn’t think they were going to come after you? You’ve been part of that cult and you were going to expose them and you were expecting them to allow you get away with it?

A couple of people have asked me that question which also relates to the question he has just asked because the point is still on – didn’t you see this coming? As an insider, the point I’m trying to make is that I was so sure because the facts are out in a way that it has never happened in this country. So, I will never have thought that they will decide to turn the other way, rather than looking at the focus of the issues. The difference from the case of the past is that you could have issues coming up as speculations, like somebody from outside the system saying running costs are being mismanaged, or that there is budget padding and so on. In that kind of instance, you could quickly look at a case of connivance or gang up or whatsoever. But in a case where I said four principal officers did this and I clarified the allegations one after the other, there wasn’t anyhow I thought there was going to be a gang up, except under one condition and that I know in the course of our discussion I will get into that.

 

While you were making the allegations, there was a group called the Transparency Group in the House that appeared to be supporting your moves to probe the leadership of the House. When you were suspended, we thought they were going to rise on your behalf. But up till now, we have not heard from them. What happened?

All the three questions are related and this question gives me the leeway to open up the answer. Nigerians are surprised: is it that there is only one person that has conscience in the House of Representatives? At least, during the recess, you had the Transparency Group and the Integrity Group talking. Soon after resumption, of course, they continued to talk. But immediately after my suspension, everybody went quiet. I underestimated the extent that the cabal can go in protecting their interest. I have never thought in my life that the Speaker, the number four citizen of this country, can go into a meeting and blackmail his colleagues. I have never seen that happen all my life. Of all the experiences that I have had, it is only in Speaker Dogara that I have seen someone come in because of the abundance of systemic corruption and he used systemic corruption to blackmail the whole members into silence.

The night before our resumption, the Speaker arranged caucuses which looked normal to members because we normally have such caucuses where we discuss how we are going to proceed after returning from recess and I went to the caucuses. But when the Speaker came in, the first thing he said sent everybody into shock. He said look, the issue that Jibril is raising, it is not only going to bring down Dogara; Lasun Yusuf, Leo Ogor and Alhassan Doguwa, it is going to involve the whole House because when they start this investigation, it will get to the issue of running cost and the issue of the running cost has become a systemic corruption in the House. Very few members are not involved in that scam. He just said it straight as simple as that. I won’t go down alone. If you allow for these issues to be investigated. Of course, we have to open up the running cost issue and from that meeting, people started backtracking and that was why even you had a peaceful session on the first day because everybody was ready for a showdown.

But that night, he struck and he put the fear of running cost because the running cost will send hundreds of members to jail directly; you don’t need to investigate it. It’s fraud. It’s a huge massive fraud and I’ve never refrained from saying it. But Nigerians are just looking. Since I mentioned figures and everything, has any of the 359 members come out to say Jibril is lying? It will be 100 days on Saturday and nobody has come out to say Jibril is lying. So, he used that to blackmail members. But I said, I’m going all out, even if I am alone.

 

So how far do you think you can go alone in this battle?

When I say alone, it doesn’t mean I’m actually alone. It actually means from the direction of the House I am alone. Of course, every day you see what is going on in the media, social media, Nigerians, public commentators, everybody is concerned about it. So, the context I am saying when I say alone, it means that if every member of the National Assembly will drop this issue, I will continue this matter and I will not drop it. I have repeatedly said I will never apologise. Rapprochements have been made and whatever you have and I said look, it doesn’t make sense to me to apologise when I know that the people I’m faced with are corrupt. So, why should I apologise? Maybe they feel the three years that is left for us is like 50 years. But because I have been in the system over and over again, I know three years is just like today and tomorrow. So, even if they will succeed in ensuring that I remain suspended, the maximum they can go is three years.

 

If you were not removed as Chairman of Appropriation Committee, would you have fought Dogara?

The issue is that my removal was just an immediate cause. There have been remote crises. I have reported several times in the media that I protested when I saw 2,000 projects worth N284 billion in the budget and I confronted the Speaker with it. I said I cannot allow this to happen. We fought internally when the Speaker tried to get me to put in projects worth N30 billion in the budget and I said this is ridiculous. It has never happened and I’m not going to do it. I’ve put together all this evidence; I’ve given it to the anti-graft agencies.

 

But we are also aware that why these seemed so difficult to resolve or to even take a standpoint is the fact that during the course of this crisis, documents have also come out indicting you of some projects that you allegedly put in your local government running into billions of naira. What are the facts surrounding that allegation?

That takes us to the issue of what is a budget offence. Let me say this very clearly: the National Assembly has the power to appropriate. The National Assembly has the power   to add or remove projects and increase whatever you have and the rest. But the point I have been trying to make and enlighten Nigerians is that over the years, that power has been used to commit fraud in the budget. For instance, if people of Kiru/ Bebeji need light and water was voted and the Chairman of the Committee felt in his own wisdom that it should be replaced with light, it’s understandable. But the point we are making is, for instance, if you are going to buy a transformer and everybody understands that that transformer should not cost more than N2 million, then a chairman of a committee, because he has power to appropriate decides to add N3 million on it and makes it N5 million, that is where  the fraud comes in.

Then the second thing he could do again is everybody knows that transformer should cost N2 million, then he reduces N1 million, knowing fully that the remaining N1 million he’s leaving there cannot buy the transformer; it is sabotage against the country. Then the third scenario is when he even decides to lift the whole N2 million, delete that line item and that transformer is needed in a village, confirmed that he took it and when he took it, because he wants to steal the money, he just went and created an item and said purchase of wall sockets, just to steal the money. Wall sockets to put where? These are the issues.