Legal luminaries in the country have said there was nothing wrong in the members of the National Assembly, opting to pad the federal budget. Such action they told Newsmen, falls within their constitutional duty of budget appropriation.
A House of Representatives member and former chairman of Appropriation Committee, Hon Abdurahim Jibrin levelled the accusation of surreptitiously inserting figures into the 2016 Budget, presented to the House by President Buhari against the speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara and other principal officers of the House.
Malam Yusuf Ali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN, said there was nothing wrong with lawmakers appropriating money to their constituencies in the budget. According to Malam Ali, the figure inserted into the budget, if used for what it is meant for, violates no law.
“If the figures inserted into the budget is used for what it is meant for, there is nothing wrong with that. But it is unfortunate that in this country we abuse a lot of things”.
Another SAN, Mr. Ahmed Raji, said that padding as an act is not known to the law of the country, but can lead to crime when you insert figures into the budget without executing the project it is meant for. Raji said, “Padding as an act is not known to law but it can lead to crime when you pad the budget without executing the project money appropriated are meant for.”
Chief Godwin Obla (SAN), said padding has to do with tinkering with the budget. He said the budget is sent to the National Assembly in the first place to be tinkered with. “Lawmakers in the process of tinkering with the budget can pad it. If they are padding the budget for the good of their constituencies, there is nothing wrong with that”, he said.
A Constitutional lawyer, Dr Tunji Abayomi, described budget padding as constitutionally wrong and not criminally wrong.
Abayomi said, “It is a constitutional wrong but not a criminal wrong. NASS has no power to raise budget heads. It is a moral wrong. It is against separation of powers in government”.
But for Festus Okoye, a Kaduna-based constitutional lawyer, “there is nothing like budget padding in the constitutional frame work.” Okoye who spoke to our correspondent in a telephone interview said, the National Assembly has the powers to add or remove from the budget proposals and projects estimates as it deems fits.
According to him, “What the executive sent to the national assembly are proposals and estimates and NASS is entitled to subtract or add to the proposals and estimates, they are also entitled to change a few things in what has been sent to them and that is what is called the power of appropriation, to appropriate funds for certain projects, so,the executive can propose one billion for a project and the NASS can change it and say the project can be executed for two billion, based on the budget estimates and proposals sent to them. Constitutionally there is nothing like padding in the constitutional frame work. What is provided for in our constitutional framework is the power of appropriation and screening. So, if members of the NASS decide to add projects to what has been submitted to them, for me there is nothing wrong with that constitutionally. We have budget proposals and project estimates which the NASS can tamper with.”
Okoye who says padding does not exist in law and in the constitution, regarding appropriation said, “Let us remove semantics from what is presently going on at the NASS regarding budget padding or no padding, the truth of the matter is that there is nothing called budget padding, secondly, it is the constitutional right of NASS to look at budget proposals and projects estimates and make amendments where necessary.”
Meanwhile, amidst controversy over allegation of padding of the 2016 budget by the former chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Hon Abdurahim Jibril , the national chairman of Citizens Popular Party (CPP). Chief Sam Eke has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate the weighty allegation against the speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and three other principal officers.
The former presidential candidate noted that any attempt to sweep the allegation under the carpet will not augur well with the anti-corruption fight of the federal government.
Chief Eke said it was necessary that the principal officers who were mentioned by the former chairman of House Appropriation Committee in the budget scandal be investigated by an independent committee to ascertain the veracity or otherwise of such claims. He warned that if the speaker and other three principal officers fail to resign and present themselves for proper investigation, it will create credibility question for the House leadership, adding that the budget scandal should not be treated like previous scandals that were ignored by the government.
He said “The revelations by Jibrin is heavy and it cannot be ignored or swept under the carpet, I call for the probe of the allegation against Dogara and the principal officers on the budget padding. The president can set up an investigation committee to tell us why projects in the budgets are not executed and are represented in the budget every year and never executed. There is need for a holistic audit of the National Assembly since the return of democracy in 1999”
On its part, the U.K chapter of Nigerians in the Diaspora Monitoring Group has said speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara deserves commendation for sacking Abdulmumin Jibrin as House of Representatives Committee chairman on Appropriation.
The group accused Jibrin of engaging in a media war against the speaker of the House of Representatives as a ploy to gain sympathy of Nigerians after he was sacked for his alleged role in the budget padding scandal.
In an electronic message to journalists, UK Representative of the group, Adeka Onyila said “it was sad that at a time when parliaments of other nations are exploring ways to protect their economies from the global slowdown, our lawmakers are robbing the populace in the name of working on the budget.”
The group said, “Instead of showing remorse as one would expect, he (Jibrin) went on denial – first he claimed he resigned and not sacked only for him to turn around and start making spurious accusations against others.We hereby call on members of the House of Representatives to stop giving Nigeria a bad name abroad. We say this because we have observed with alarm that some of them are lining up behind Jibrin to back him against the House leadership when he should be censured. Such ridiculous support could only be driven by a desire to make political gains out of the lies cooked up by Jibrin to save his hide.”
According to the UK group, “We rather demand that the Speaker of the House, Honorable Yakubu Dogara should be commended for triggering the anti-corruption fight in the National Assembly and having the political will to challenge the status quo by relieving the former Appropriation chairman of his post. Hon. Dogara deserves an award for sacking Jibrin since it is now clear that the action he took against his colleague saved the parliament and the ailing Nigerian economy from total collapse.”
The Nigeria in Diaspora Monitoring Group urged the people of Kiru/Bebeji Federal Constituency of Kano State to immediately commence the recall of Jibrin in the spirit of joining the fight against corruption. The group said without looking closely, they can easily see that instead of representing them in line with the mandate they gave him he has built for himself a life of living above his means.”