By Emman Ovuakporie & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Since the removal of the former Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, Abdulmumin Jibrin, by the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, on Wednesday, July 20, there have been allegations and counter-allegations on how the 2016 budget was mutilated.
In the eye of storm are Jibrin; Dogara; the Deputy Speaker of the House, Yusuf Lasun; the Chief Whip, Ado Doguwa, and the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor.
Jibrin claimed the four principal officers of the House are culpable in the alleged mutilation of the budget, saying they put pressure on him while deciding on who got what during the budgeting process.
But to many members of the House, who seem to be on Dogara’s side, there has been the suspicion of external influence that played a prominent role during the election of the principal officers and even blackmail to discredit the House and its leadership.
They want concrete proof of the allegation of budget mutilation against the House officials.
For instance, the Chairman of the House Committee on Health Services, Chike John Okafor, told Sunday Vanguard that it was surprising to him how the former Appropriations Committee Chairman got health constituency project worth about N500 million for his Bebeji/Kiru Federal Constituency of Kano State without the knowledge of his committee.
Okafor claimed that Jibrin tried to lobby his committee to take something for his constituency project which the committee did not consent to, but expressed surprise that without the knowledge of the committee, the former Appropriations Chairman inserted the health project for his constituency.
The lawmaker, who represents Ehime Mbano/Ihitte Uboma/Obowo Federal Constituency of Imo State on the platform of All Progressives Congress, said that, during the budget defence, the Minister of Health had pleaded with his committee that, because there were no loose funds even to cater for vital projects like vaccines, members should not talk much on having constituency projects in the budget.
And in another attempt to heap the blames of the budget impasse at the door steps of Jibrin, the Chairman of House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas, said a film village, worth over N1 billion to be sited in Jibrin’s constituency and named after Buhari,was inserted by the former Appropriations Committee Chair in the budget without the knowledge of the lawmakers and President prior to the passage of the 2016 budget.
A Presidency source, who confirmed this development, stated that the disapproval by Buhari of the film village project on a 12 hectare plot, situated a Jibrin’s shopping complex in Kofa village of Bebeji local government area, was based on the realisation that the project was not in tandem with the President’s developmental agenda for the people of Kano State.
The project, according to sources, has made a prominent Kano cleric, Sheik Abdallah Usman Gadan Kanya, to threaten to mobilise adherents of Islam against the project which was considered as a veritable avenue to breed immoral acts and other anti -Islamic practices.
The cleric justified the opposition to the project when he said: “We heard that it is one lawmaker that is bringing this calamity to us from Federal Government. Another mischief is that they have put the picture of the President and calling the place Muhammadu Buhari Film Village because they know people love Buhari and are supporting him. But Buhari is not Allah, and he is not [the]Prophet. Even if it is Buhari that did wrong we will confront him squarely. Even if it is Buhari that brings this we will fight it; it is wrong. “Tell them, write it and propagate it through all the means. We don’t want it; we don’t need it. They should take it somewhere. We will continue to curse people behind this film village. You should campaign against it in WhatsApp, Facebook. If they insist, we have hot spiritual prayers that will bring curse and affliction to anyone. Very hot prayers that will cause blindness and make those involved deaf completely.”
But as commentators continue to express divergent views on the appropriation process, especially concerning which arm of government has the power to allocate resources to projects in the budget, there are questions yet to be answered. Some of the commentators argued that there is nothing like padding in the legislative parlance in the budgeting process, hence, nobody could be accused of committing any crime that is not known to law.
They pointed out that based on the constitutional provision and other relevant rules guiding the activities of the House, the legislature has the right to tinker with budget estimates presented by the executive arm.
According to this school of thought, the legislature all over the world has three primary functions; to regulate and oversee the external affairs of the country as seen in the approval of ambassadors, make laws for the good of the country and approve expenditures.
In Nigeria, the legislature draws its powers from Section 80(1) of 1999 Constitution, as amended, which states thus: (1). All revenues or other moneys raised or received by the Federation (not being revenues or other moneys payable under this Constitution or any Act of the National Assembly into any other public fund of the Federation established for a specific purpose) shall be paid into and form one Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.
(2). No moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation except to meet expenditure that is charged upon the fund by this Constitution or where the issue of those moneys has been authorised by an Appropriation Act, Supplementary Appropriation Act or an Act passed in pursuance of section 81 of this Constitution.
(3) No moneys shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the Federation, other than the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, unless the issue of those moneys has been authorised by an Act of the National Assembly.
(4) No moneys shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund of the Federation, except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.
- (1) The President shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National Assembly at any time in each financial year estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the Federation for the next following financial year.
It should noted that while working on the budget estimates, presented by the executive arm, the lawmakers reserve the power to alter such proposals, as they deem fit.
Even the erstwhile Chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the House, Jibrin, did not say that what the House did was unconstitutional; he only said the insertions were “senseless.”
“There were a lot of insertions in the budget and I raised the issue with the Speaker, but he did nothing. Although the Constitution allows us, it doesn’t say there should be senseless insertions. I don’t believe it was padding, but I believe it was a case of insertions,” Jibrin said during a TV interview.
His position was immediately countered by his colleague, Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, representing Ukwa Federal Constituency of Abia State, and Chairman, House Committee on Public Petitions, who insisted that, as far as the budget consideration was concerned, Jibrin failed the House and was only looking for scapegoats.
The fact remains that long before Jibrin’s removal, pressure had mounted on Dogara to remove him for allegedly allocating projects worth about N4 billion to his Bebeji/Kiru Federal Constituency without the knowledge of other members of the House.
Also, an executive session, held on Wednesday, June 15, was said to have turned rowdy, with lawmakers openly rejecting the Kano lawmaker’s continued stay as Chairman of Appropriations Committee. Sources at the session revealed that lawmakers, who were aggrieved over the alleged lopsidedness in the spread of constituency projects, accused some principal officers of being selfish in the spread of projects that should have been across constituencies in all the 36 states, but which were allegedly restricted to the constituencies of some of the principal officers.
The alleged padding of the budget has once again battered the image of the National Assembly and has become a source of worry to some serving and former members of the nation’s federal lawmaking bodies especially the House where the allegation is coming from.
This worrisome development made a group of lawmakers that operate under the aegis of Faculty Board of Initiatives, FBI – a think-tank comprising former and serving members of the House of Representatives-to defend the institution as it said that the National Assembly cannot be said to pad the budget. According to the group, ‘padding’ is unknown to the lexicon of the legislature.
A former member and erstwhile spokesman for the House, Hon. Eseme Eyibo, said the issue of alleged padding of budget in the House was a misapplication of an English word that does not exist in the dictionary of the legislature.
Eyibo, who said his group was not interested in the individuals in the matter and was not to apportion blames, explained that its primary responsibility was on the institution, the legislature, which he claimed derives its powers under Section 80, Subsection 4 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria to make inputs and adjustments into annual budgets of the federal government. He urged the public to allow the legislature to exercise its powers.
He said, “The annual Appropriation Act flows from the executive to the legislature and goes back to the executive after its passage and no budget is implemented 100 percent.”
The ex-lawmaker said that the basis of a pre-budget meeting between both arms of government is that the latter should take into account the input of the former.
On the alleged cornering of N40 billion constituency projects by Dogara and three other principal officers of the House in the budget, Eyibo said lawmakers always make overtures to attract such projects from government ministries and agencies, adding that the sharing of constituency projects is an issue that has to be determined internally by the House through committees. The group was of the view that having an effective budget research desk in the National Assembly would remove the need for Appropriations Committees and also reduce the usual frictions on the fiscal policy document.