In this interview with WALE AKINSELURE, member representing Iseyin/Itesiwaju/Kajola/Iwajowa constituency of Oyo State in the House of Representatives, speaks on the budget padding controversy, why Honourable Abdulmumin Jibrin was removed as Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation and other issues. Excerpts:
YOU were recently reported as saying part of the functions of the members of the National Assembly were elected to do is to pad budget. Why this assertion?
There is nothing like padding in legislative parlance but what Abdulmumin Jibrin referred to as padding was that, in the Appropriation bill brought to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, some things were increased, changed entirely and inserted. Section 80 and 81 of the Nigerian Constitution empowers the National Assembly to change, insert, add or subtract estimates brought by Mr President. He only brings estimates; it is our duty to look through the estimates, pass the bill and the President signs, before it becomes a law. So, I said if the action we took by changing some of the estimates brought by Mr President is what Jibrin referred to as padding, that means we are performing our constitutional duties.
You also mentioned that members pad the budget to ensure that constituency projects tilt towards their constituencies. But, there are concerns that these constituency projects you crave for are usually abandoned?
In budgeting, we don’t have constituency project; rather, we have zonal intervention and it is an agreement between the executive and the legislature. In the 2016 budget, Mr President graciously granted both chambers of the National Assembly the sum of N100 billion. We share this amount such that principal officers across the two chambers get 40 per cent, then the remaining 60 percent across the six geo political zones. Then, whatever comes to each zone will be divided by the number of states in that zone. At the state level, 40 per cent is given to the Senatorial districts in each state and 60 per cent to federal constituencies. Once we now get a clear amount that accrues to your constituency, you can now nominate, based on the knowledge of what a constituency needs. And we have documents which indicate the cost of a kilometre of road, boreholes, classrooms, ICT centre, among other projects. We, as National Assembly members, then examine the cost of the project to be done through agencies. So, it is the agencies that execute projects.
I am not saying that zonal intervention projects, referred to as constituency projects, are not prone to corruption, but that corruption cannot be singlehandedly perpetrated by a member of the National Assembly. It takes more than two to tango, one of which is the Ministries, Agencies and Departments (MDAs) in which the project is domiciled and then the honourable member. The fund does not directly come to the honourable member; it goes to the concerned MDA. And for the agency to award that contract, it has to observe the Public Procurement Act, where you advertise for about six weeks, then open the tender, and award, which are public knowledge. So, if some constituency projects are not done, it could be that the budget was not funded as our budget usually does not record 100 per cent performance, as contained in the Appropriation Bill. Also, the process is open to corruption but the corrupt aspect can easily be tracked by the media and you invite the concerned honourable member for explanation.
Do you mean allocation of zonal intervention project is the major avenue for corruption in the budgeting process?
In the time past, we may have heard of stories of shady deals in the budgeting process. But in this time, we, honourable members are being careful, because we know that President Muhammadu Buhari has zero tolerance for corruption. It is not only through constituency projects that corruption can be perpetrated. Every capital project to be executed is approved by the National Assembly and it is easy for anyone who has certain interest to influence the MDAs to inflate certain projects. So, for corruption to happen in the budgeting process, several parties must be involved. But, I can sincerely tell you that one would have to think twice to perpetrate corruption in the 2016 budget.
But your fellow member, Abdulmumin Jibrin has alleged that the budget was padded. He claimed that appropriation bill signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari was corrupted. Are you standing with Jibrin or Dogara?
My brother, in that House of Representatives, I won’t mince words to tell you that there is nobody on the side of Abdulmumin Jibrin. Let me give you a bit of history into the situation. The House is a chamber such that when we want to elect leaders, especially the presiding officers, returning members take calculated risk on where to pitch their tent out of the candidates. If the camp you belong to wins, it is winners take all. And, if a returning member does not belong to the winning camp, it is a big loss for such member. There are some privileges that accrue to a returning member, as a result of his or her experience, for example being Chairman of committees, partake in sensitive ad hoc committees and head of some delegations. In fact, once a returning member is on the losing side, a new lawmaker can be considered more important than such returning member. We all know Abdulmumin Jibrin. You would recall that he also showed interest in becoming the Speaker of the House. The interested persons were Femi Gbajabiamila, Yakubu Dogara and Jibrin. At that time, Jibrin sent series of text messages to members, especially the returning members, because we had a high turnover of returning members. In the text messages, he said if we supported him, he would break the tradition of new members not becoming chairmen of some committees. Jibrin offered the new members 50 per cent of chairmanship of those standing committees. But, we were warned that Jibrin would not stand by his words. I was deputy State Coordinator for Honourable Gbajabiamila for Speaker and I voted for him. I was in Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja, where Jibrin offered to step down for Gbajabiamila, urging Gbajabiamila to be with him in a press conference, where he (Jibrin) will formally step down. But some people warned Gbajabiamila against sitting with Jibrin. Gbajabiamila was told that if Jibrin intended to step down, he should go to the press stating that he had stepped down and join the Gbajabiamila group. But because of the precarious situation Honourable Dogara practically found himself in, then, and because of the uncertainty, Jibrin joined Dogara’s camp, a day before the election. It was not as if he (Jibrin) was a heavyweight in Dogara’s emergence as Speaker. With all certainty, we don’t have anybody on Jibrin’s side. However, the election of Dogara divided the House, almost equally into two, such that anything could shift the delicate balance. So, the noise made by Jibrin and some other people is to tilt the balance towards their side. Even the Transparency group that is asking the Speaker to step down have never said that they support Jibrin. There is nobody lining up behind Jibrin; everyone is just trying to take advantage of the situation.
You seem to say that Jibrin is aggrieved with the Dogara led leadership. Does that mean that Nigerians should discountenance all that Jibrin says?
Jibrin is not aggrieved with the Speaker. Some persons erroneously believe that Dogara removed Jibrin as chairman, House Committee on Appropriation Committee. It was the House that removed him. The budget presided over by Jibrin as Chairman, Appropriation Committee, was rejected by Mr President. The President, the Vice President and the Minister for Budget and Planning, pointed out 280 abnormalities. The Presidency then consulted with the National Assembly to set up a committee that included Senate Committee Chairman on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, Jibrin, Senator Udo Udoma, other members of the National Assembly, headed by the deputy Speaker, Honourable Lasun Yusuf. These persons corrected these abnormalities. So, the first budget rejected by Mr President was where Jibrin began to have problems with the House. The first was that the House recommended that Jibrin should be removed even before the budget was corrected. But, the Speaker, in an executive session, begged us that this should not be done for the unity of the House, and we agreed. Then, 37 members of the House Committee on Appropriation signed a petition that Jibrn should be removed as chairman as a result of the way he handled the budget. Also, on three occasions, Jibrin while trying to make his contributions on the floor of the House was shouted down until he walked out of the chambers. We insisted and there was no peace in the House until Mr Speaker succumbed to the pressure coming from the entire members of the House of Representatives that Jibrin should be removed as Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation. You need to see the jubilation in the House the day the Speaker announced Jibrin’s removal. We were in jubilant mood and immediately ended the session for that day. Majority of us rejected Jibrin.