The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has picked holes in the claim of the Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, that “budget padding is not an offence under Nigerian law”.
The embattled Speaker made the comment last week after a closed-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja.
According to him, “Budget padding is not an offence. What is padding? I studied law and I have been in the legislature and all this period I have never heard of the word ‘padding’ being an offence under any law”.
Mr. Dogara met the president ostensibly to clarify the situation in the House, which has been engulfed in crisis of confidence in the last two weeks, following allegations by the ousted Chairman of Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, that the Speaker, his deputy, Yussuf Lasun, and eleven other lawmakers, including two other principal officers, “criminally inserted” over 2,000 items worth N284billion into the 2016 budget.
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Reacting to Mr. Dogara’s statement that he did not commit any known offence under the law, SERAP, in a statement Sunday by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, insisted that he alongside others mentioned in the allegation by Mr. Jibrin, committed an act of corruption.
The organization said, “Budget padding in fact is corruption, as it is implicit in corruption offences such as abuse of office, attempt to embezzle, divert, and misappropriate public funds, conspiracy to act corruptly, and illicit enrichment, which are recognized under the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party, and included in national legislation such as the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Establishment Act and the Fiscal Responsibility Act”.
The statement reads in part: “The allegations against Mr Dogara and other principal officials of the House of Representatives also suggest a subversion of the budget process, which in itself is a crime but also a fundamental breach of constitutional provisions and an affront to internationally recognized human rights.
“A prima-facie case of corruption is established when elected officials are allegedly influenced to act contrary to their obligations of office by the prospect of financial gain to themselves. Budget padding also amounts to corruption as the action is against the public interest. Any appearance of corruption in the budget process can result in a cynical public to losing interest in political participation altogether. And democracy can’t work unless Nigerians have faith in those who govern.
“If Mr Dogara refuses to resign to allow for effective and transparent investigation and the allegations of budget padding are swept under the carpet, the ability of the House of Representatives to function as a watchdog and credible guardian of the public interest would be seriously compromised.
“The allegations of budget padding and abuse of office by the Speaker and principal officials of the House of Representatives have continue to outrage the public, bringing the House’s integrity further into question.
“Mr Dogara therefore has a duty to explain to Nigerians the role he played in the alleged budget padding in the House and abuse of office if the growing perception of corruption in the House is to be addressed.
“Nigerians would like Mr Dogara to explain how the funds meant for legislative functions to service guest houses were spent. Nigerians would also like Mr Dogara to explain allegations that favours were sought from multinational companies including the allegation that a construction company was compelled to carry out some work at his Asokoro ‘plot’.
“The truth about the alleged budget padding and abuse of office cannot be kept from the public, and treated as an internal matter or a case of see no evil, speak no evil.
“The more the leadership of the House of Representatives recoils and resists Nigerians’ calls for investigation and accountability for those involved in the alleged budget padding and abuse of office, the more Nigerians will turn on the House of Representatives, and the calls for those involved to step down and for an independent and transparent investigation and prosecution will only get stronger”.