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Sunday, 24 July 2016

Budget padding scandal: Groups want EFCC, ICPC to investigate Nigerian lawmakers

Dogara Jibrin
Nigerian civil society groups on Sunday called on the leadership of the House of Representatives to allow anti-corruption agencies commence detailed investigation into allegations that principal officers attempted to smuggle line items into the 2016 Appropriation Bill.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, Transition Monitoring Group, TMG, and the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL, in separate exchanges with PREMIUM TIMES this morning said only a thorough inquiry into the alleged sharp practices could unravel the circumstances under which they were perpetrated.
The civic groups’ demand came in the wake of fresh allegations of unethical inflation of budget figures by the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, and other principal officers during the consideration of the 2016 budget proposed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Leading the charge against Mr. Dogara was Abdulmumin Jibrin, a lawmaker from Kano State, who said the speaker colluded with his deputy, Yusuf Lasun, Chief Whip Alhassan Doguwa, and Minority Whip Leo Ogor to earmark up to ₦40 billion to themselves in the National Assembly budget.
The lawmakers denied the allegations and said Mr. Jibrin was expressing the scorn he felt after being sacked as chairman of Committee on Appropriation amid allegations of serial betrayal of the House.
Mr. Jibrin in turn denied the allegations, saying he was being victimised for asserting himself as an independent voice and that the he willingly resigned because he had grown disillusioned with the position.
The budget was passed and signed into law by Mr. Buhari in April.
Mr. Dogara should “urgently refer to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for an effective and independent investigation the allegations that the leadership of the House attempted to pad this year’s budget to the tune of N40 billion and that the member who blew the whistle was victimized for opposing immunity for principal officers,” the executive director of SERAP, Adetokunboh Mumuni, said in a statement to PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday.
“There must be full accountability for any leader or member of the House found to be responsible for corruption and abuse of office.”
Mr. Mumuni said, due to the “seriousness and gravity of the allegations” against the principal officers, the House cannot conduct any sufficient investigation. Hence, the appropriate agencies charged with investigating graft and other official malfeasances must be allowed to look into the issues.
To forestall similar situation in the future, the activist suggested that the House should immediately pass a bill that would further strengthen ethical conduct of lawmakers.
Such a law would help “restore public confidence in the National Assembly; provide a check against corruption; and protect the leadership of the House and Senate from claims and criticisms of self-interest,” he said.
Ibrahim Zikirullahi, the chairman of TMG, said the development had exposed Nigerian lawmakers as unprincipled people.
The allegations and counter-allegations “showed the character of men and women that we have in the Assembly because they introduced selfish interests to delay the document that was needed to take care of the nation,” Mr. Zikirullahi said.
He said Mr. Dogara and other lawmakers named in the scandal must not be allowed to walk away from it unscathed, saying their case cannot be an outlier because the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, were also answering charges of misconduct before the court.
“They need to be thoroughly investigated and, if possible, prosecuted.”
Debo Adeniran, the chairman of CACOL, said the bickering among the lawmakers should be seen in positive light by all Nigerians.
“Definitely, it’s a good omen for Nigerians when leaders of that sort begin to expose each other,” Mr. Adeniran said. “It’s only each of the two tortoises that knows how to bite one another. So it’s good that they’re biting and exposing themselves.”
Mr. Adeniran said Nigerians would have been more worried about the situation if the lawmakers had displayed keen interest in improving the lot of people who elected them as representatives.
“We know they have not been performing the functions that we sent them to perform.”
He said the ongoing crisis in the legislature might not be unconnected with the prevailing frustration they are grappling with regards to accessing public funds, which, he said, was brought about by the implementation of the Treasury Single Account policy of Mr. Buhari’s government.
“They don’t have direct access to slush funds that there would be a high level of bitterness,” Mr. Adeniran said. “They don’t have as much illicit money as they would have wanted for themselves. So they’re pained by that.”
Mr. Adeniran called for a review of the laws that govern the funding of the National Assembly to vest more power in the accountant general and the auditor general of the federation to monitor financial flow to the lawmakers in order to make it even more difficult for the them to access money from public coffers.
“The accountant general and audition general should begin to have a supervision about how they get funded,” Mr. Adeniran said. “Even if they pad the budget, they won’t be able to escape the prying eye of the accountant general.”
“They have unfettered access to funds now and that should not be.”

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