By Iheanacho Nwosu,Abuja
HON. Abdulmalik Zubairu Bangudu, represents Bangudu/Maru Constituency of Zamfara state in the House of Representatives. In this interview, the lawmaker who is currently the spokesman of Integrity Group that is pressing for the investigation of the ongoing controversy over the padding of the 2016 budget explained the reason for the stance of the association. He insisted that the group would not backpedal on its position that for peace to reign in the chamber, the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, his Deputy, Yusuf Lasun, Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, ousted Chairman of Appropriation, Abdulmumuni Jibrin and all the principal officers must be investigated.
What is the Integrity Group, what is it out to achieve?
The Integrity Group emerged as a result of the existence of two other groups we have so far in the National Assembly-the group led by the former chairman of the House Appropriation Committee, Abdulmumin Jibrin and the recent one that calls itself Transparency Group. As a result of these groups, almost 36 of us representing each state decided to come together to form the Integrity Group.
This is a well established group formed in three days. We have 106 members that have so far registered and by our projections, in the next one week, the membership will increase to more than 200. The group has a website created for members to interact with one another and we have specific contacts when we want to deliberate.
The essence of this group is as a result of what was disclosed by Jibrin on the issue of padding of the 2016 budget. After his disclosure, we heard the response of the House leadership through the spokesman, Abdulrazak Namdas. Recently, we also heard the response of the Transparency Group on the allegations against the principal officers and the padding. We created this group to serve as a platform to express ourselves on these issues. There are also other issues beyond these in the 8th National Assembly. The group was formed last Wednesday and we had our first meeting and the consultative meeting on that day.
What is the position of the group on the padding and the allegations against four principal officers of the House?
The actual position of this group on the issue of padding of the budget is that even though Jibrin had disclosed that the four principal officers had hands in the padding, and the Transparency Group also accused the four principal officers, the main mission of the Integrity Group is to make a justification that if we are to have transparency and accountability on the issue of padding, we should not limit it to only four officers. We have 10 principal officers in the House of Reps, and we know that all the principal officers are victims of circumstances on the issue of padding the budget. So, there is no justification to limit the allegation to only four people. That is why we want to involve ourselves to make a clarification.
All the 10 principal officers of the House must account for their deeds and must come and justify what they are alleged to have done in the padding, including the House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila. He is also a principal officer, so there is no objection in this matter. If it comes to matter of truth, nobody should be exempted, everybody must account for his deeds. So, the Integrity Group is talking about all the principal officers without exception, we are not talking about only four.
Are you saying all the 10 principal officers are involved?
Really, all of them are involved, so they must all come to defend themselves. Besides, our group will not operate like the others, what we have decided to do is to respect law and order, we have a standing rule which guides the way we operate, so we will follow due process. Due process in the sense that when we come back from recess, we are going to present a motion which has to be deliberated upon based on the facts we have so far on the issue of padding. From there, we are ready to follow up this matter even if it means going to court.
Some Nigerians are wondering why this entire crisis just after Abdulmumin’s removal as chairman of the Appropriation Committee. How do you react to that?
Really, as we all know, all of us swore to serve our people. So, as a matter of fact, what Abdulmumin is doing is not wrong, even though some are looking at it that he is doing it because he was removed as chairman. Yes, some people may look at it that way, but if you look at it very well, you would realise that what was operating in the National Assembly is just jungle justice. We were elected on equal status, but someone may have the privilege of appropriating up to N3 or N4 billion to his constituency for his people to benefit, but someone else would have only N40million to N50 million; there is no justification for this. That’s why even before Abdulmumin disclosed all these, there were serious allegations on the matter; it was not disclosed openly until when he was removed. But as I have said, there were several meetings on the grievances on the 2016 appropriation, so it came to a time that God helped other members that did not have that privilege to have certain amounts appropriated to their constituencies. That Abdulmumin just raised this matter, that I tell you, all the aggrieved members of the National Assembly have interest in this matter and we are going to follow it up to a logical conclusion.
Are you saying Abdulmunin just revealed a routine tampering with the budget which had been going on before now?
As a matter of fact, every member was benefitting from the budget, but the way it was operated this year is entirely different from the way it used to be. What was normally done is that each member had some certain amount to establish certain projects in his or her constituency for the benefit of the people, to see the essence and impact of their representation at the National Assembly. There is a sharing formula depending on state and constituency. But this issue of padding that emerged this year is very unfortunate, and it is a disgrace to the whole institution as far as the Integrity Group is concerned.
How do you relate this crisis to the present administration’s anti-corruption posture?
It justifies the anti-corruption stand of the president because it is no longer business as usual. This is a government of integrity and people are looking at how it can deliver, but it is not only the executive people are looking at, they are also looking at the legislature. That is why some people who are conscious of this decided to do things that are right when others thought it was a time they could play as usual, but it is very unfortunate. This is because any member that comes to the National Assembly should come with a vision, since we were elected to come and deliver change by providing the needs of our people. As a matter of fact, I want to tell you that this thing has happened, and as far as our group is concerned, we are going to follow it to see that justice is done.
Is it not possible that members of the Integrity Group are taking this action because they did not benefit?
It is not an issue of whether or not they benefitted, we are looking at the institution, and there is no justification to heap the allegations on only four principal officials. So, we are saying, what about the remaining six who we all know that if well investigated will be linked to the matter? All the 10 members must be investigated and if found guilty, must face the law.
What do you think is the likely effect of this crisis on the political stability of the country and the 8th National Assembly?
This is the tradition of democracy, and we always expect such things to happen in a democracy because everyone has a right to express his or her views. What is happening is not very different from what happened in the 7th assembly. Each comes with a different concept. If you can recall, there was crisis in the 7th assembly over so many issues.
You spoke about other issues your group is concerned about which you intend to iron out soon, can you briefly touch on that?
There is this issue of members’ incentives, it is very unfortunate that members receive their monthly remunerations almost 60 days behind schedule and we have evidence that the National Assembly normally gets its funds from the federal government at the right time, so what’s causing the delay? It’s also part of our mission but we just want to start with this one thing and I tell you, as a mature group, we don’t want to start beating about the bush or going up and down, no, we want to follow due process by starting this issue of padding when we return from recess, and even if this matter needs to go to court, we are ready to follow it.
Have you as a group tried to find out from the House leadership why your remunerations are being delayed?
We are talking about padding now, but subsequently, the issue of remuneration of members will come up. It will be the next step the Integrity Group will come up with to ensure that our members receive their salaries at the right time.