No matter how Speaker Yakubu Dogara spins the budget padding scandal in the House of Representatives, Nigerians know what the issue is about. Budget padding is perhaps the most polite way, the least embarrassing expression, to describe what is essentially a grand theft, or a conspiracy to perpetrate a gigantic heist the like of which Nigeria has never seen. Part of it probably has not been cashed and is therefore still in the making. But no one knows which part.
Speaker Dogara’s attempt to lecture Nigerians on how padding could not be an offence is a cheap weasel response to pertinent questions. It is still one of the wonders of Nigeria that Speaker Dogara still believes that anyone who is not in the take for the padding would still believe him when he speaks on the budget scandal. His praise-singers may sing all they want, but most Nigerians know a con man when they see one.
The erstwhile Chairman of the Appropriations Committee Abdulmumin Jibrin was dismissed by Speaker Dogara allegedly for awarding to his constituency in Kano State of projects worth N4.1 billion. But Jibrin has replied that the real reason he wanted to resign voluntarily before he actually was sacked was because he had come under withering pressure by the leadership of the House to cook the books: “My inability to admit into the budget almost N30 billion personal requests from Mr. Speaker and the other principal officers also became an issue.” Speaker Dogara has not deigned to want to address this question, but he should.
The leaders of the House – Speaker Dogara, the Deputy Speaker Yusuf Suleiman Lasun, the Chief Whip, Al-Hassan Doguwa, and the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor – had unilaterally allocated to themselves N40 billion of the N100 billion allocated to the entire National Assembly. Mr. Dogara has not addressed this issue and the Nigerian public would expect that even for courtesy reasons, he should answer questions that arise out of his conduct in public office.
Jubrin said that in addition to the above selfish allocations, the House Leadership had allocated “wasteful projects worth N20 billion to their constituencies.” His refusal to cover up for the leaders on this issue irked them so much they decided to push him out. Does Speaker Dogara not think he should address a question concerning the N20 billion. When the chairman of the appropriations committee thinks some projects are wasteful, people are likely to believe him if only because he is expected to know. Does Speaker Dogara not think he owes the nation an explanation for his pushing such “wasteful projects?”
Jibrin had alleged that “I gave the Speaker statistics of 2,000 (two thousand) new projects introduced into the budget by less than 10 committee chairmen without the knowledge of their committee members. He did nothing about it because he was part of the mess, yet he is talking about improving the budget system.” This accusation is too weighty to be ignored, Mr. Speaker.
Jibrin also queried: “Why did you fraudulently divert a federal government water project to your farm in Nasarawa and how are you funding the farm?” These questions are pertinent in a season of “fight against corruption” because it has been reported that the farm has exploded from a six-hectare enterprise into a hundred-hectare venture complete with structures worth hundreds of millions of Naira. There is a picture of a mansion which was reported to have been built within six months of your ascending the Speakership located at Wuse Zone II, Abuja. Can you comment on the ownership of that mansion on Persian Gulf Close? This question was posed by another medium interested in probity.
Jibrin told the nation on live television that former President Obasanjo was right to assert that the National Assembly is corrupt. “Yes, we are corrupt…there is corruption in the House of Representatives, and not only is there corruption, there is institutional corruption.” Speaker Dogara would appreciate that this is a weighty charge by a man who knows what he is talking about, an insider. The question is not whether the Speaker concurs because this has been for a while the opinion of most Nigerians. The question is: what is the way out before corruption kills the country and its democracy?
Jibrin also stated that “I came to the National Assembly and I was made to believe that when one is chairman of finance, you have to live and die with certain information. Also if you are chairman of Appropriation (Committee) you have to be a custodian of information, meaning there are a lot of things you must not say.” Why has the people’s house been turned into an Ogboni secret society?
Jibrin has offered the breakdown of how the House Leadership intended to share the proceeds of part of the padding: The Speaker, N3billion; the deputy speaker, N2.55 billion; House leader and chief whip, N1.8 billion each; deputy leader and deputy chief whip, N1.5 billion each; minority leader and minority whip, N1.4 billion each; deputy minority leader and deputy minority whip, N1.3 billion each, totaling N17.5 billion. Speaker Dogara and his defenders need to find answers to so many questions including the fact that the 2,000 projects inserted with the permission of the Speaker by 10 standing committee chairmen amounted to N284 billion, pushing the total amount of the budget padding to N480 billion. If these figures are mind-wrenching, it all goes to illustrate the greed of the National Assembly, the new assembly of Ali Babas.
Jibrin also disclosed that the Speaker collects N25 million every month. This may not be a surprise to many Nigerians who already know that the National Assembly is the highest paid legislature in the world, earning at least eight times that of the United States Congress. In an interview with the Daily Sun of 24th July, former Petroleum Minister, Prof. Tam David-West noted that “…look at another aspect of it (Nigeria’s situation); we have 109 senators; our senators earn more than (US President Barack) Obama You will be surprised that a senator in Nigerian earns about N25 million a month. I have phoned three people and they confirmed it. This is a country that cannot pay N18,000 minimum (wage).”
The National Assembly constitutes the greatest risk to democracy in Nigeria because it cannot be reformed or redeemed, it is peopled by men and women who ought to be in another kind of calling. Jibrin spoke of corruption but he also pointed out the difference between corruption and institutional corruption. Institutional corruption usually has no remedy. That is why a consensus is emerging that the only choice left for Nigerians is to dissolve the assembly and start over by either turning it into a part-time legislature and de-emphasizing the monetary returns which is what has corrupted the institution and will not let go. And the tragedy of the National Assembly is that but for a few individuals like the two Sani’s (Shehu Sani and Sani Zorro) and a few you could count on the fingers, they all sound at best like hustlers, and mostly like con artists.