…Says 2016 budget controversy hasn’t taught Reps lesson
By Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Hon Jibrin Abdumumin who was recently suspended by the House of Representatives over his battle with the leadership of the chamber has refused to give up the fight. He has been in the trenches with the House for more than 100 days over alleged doctoring of the 2016 budget. In this interview, the Kano-born lawmaker insisted that the House has not learnt any lesson from the controversies that dogged the budget. He also made fresh allegations on ways the House perpetrates corruption.
When you were making the revelations against the leadership of the House, did it ever occur to you that you could be suspended?
I actually did not think about suspension as at then because in my own thinking, it would be ridiculous. I never thought that some members of the House would choose to act in a very reckless manner. I have never seen that sort of impunity in my life. While I was dishing out the allegations, my impression was that by the time we resume, of course my colleagues will do the right thing and the right thing is by insisting that the House investigates the allegations and also collaborate with the anti-graft agencies and the Nigerian police and of course, the DSS that have already commenced investigations. That was what I anticipated. But to my surprise when we resumed, a motion was raised and it was referred to the Ethics Committee. I actually thought it was referring the issue in its entirety to the Ethics Committee so that one can go and discuss the allegations that were raised, only for me to read the order paper and discovered that the only item they were taking there is that I bridged the privileges of the members of the House. That was why I declined participation because it made no sense to me.
Let me give you an analogy. It’s like a case of someone shouting thief in a market square; rather than people following the track of where the thief was running towards and everybody saw where the thief was running towards, they rather now apprehended the person shouting thief and started beating him up. So, you find that very ridiculous and extremely rare. Personally, in 40 years of my life in the world, I have never seen where that happened. Wherever you hear thief, people try to run towards that direction where the thief has gone. But what the House of Representatives did was rather than follow the track where the thief is running towards, they now decided to go towards the person who is shouting thief, obviously to silence him.
Are you seriously saying you didn’t think they were going to come after you? You’ve been part of that cult and you were going to expose them and you were expecting them to allow you get away with it?
A couple of people have asked me that question which also relates to the question he has just asked because the point is still on – didn’t you see this coming. As an insider, the point I’m trying to make is that I was so sure because the facts are out in a way that it has never happened in this country. So, I will never have thought that they will decide to turn the other way, rather than looking at the focus of the issues. The difference from the case of the past is that you could have issues coming up as speculations, like somebody from outside the system saying running costs are being mismanaged, or that there is budget padding, etc. In that kind of instance, you could quickly look at a case of connivance or gang up or whatsoever. But in a case where I said four principal officers did this and I clarified the allegations one after the other, there wasn’t anyhow I thought there was going to be a gang up, except under one condition and that I know in the course of our discussion, I will get into that.
While you were making the allegations, there was a group called the Transparency Group in the House that appeared to be supporting your moves to probe the leadership of the House. But all of a sudden, we no longer hear from them. When you were suspended, we thought they were going to rise on your behalf. But up till now, we have not heard from them. What happened?
Excellent question. All the three questions are related and this question gives me the leeway to open up the answer. Nigerians are surprised: is it that there is only one person that has conscience in the House of Representatives? At least, during the recess, you had the Transparency Group and the Integrity Group talking. Soon after resumption, of course, they continued to talk. But immediately after my suspension, everybody went quiet. There is one issue and I have said it repeatedly that unites the House and that is the issue of the running cost. But even me, when you talk about the cabal, I underestimated the extent that the cabal can go to in protecting their interest. I have never thought in my life that the Speaker, the number four citizen of this country can go into a meeting and blackmail his colleagues. I have never seen that happen all my life. Of all the experiences that I have had, it is only in Speaker Dogara that I have seen someone come in because of the abundance of systemic corruption and he used systemic corruption to blackmail the whole members into silence.
So, I’m not going to speak in tongues. What happened was simple. Many members are still angry about the issue of budget fraud and other issues of corruption in the House like how the Speaker managed the funds of the House; how he has kept the budget of the House in secrecy; how they’ve been taking money with the Deputy Speaker from multiple sources, millions of Naira for rent of houses, guest houses where all sorts of parties are being held; how he diverted projects to his farm and so many other issues of corruption. I tell you this: until date, members are very angry about these issues.
The night before our resumption, the Speaker arranged caucuses which looked normal to members because we normally have such caucuses where we discuss how we are going to proceed after returning from recess and I went to the caucuses. But when the Speaker came in, the first thing he said sent everybody into shock. He said look, the issue that Jibrin is raising, it is not only going to bring down Dogara; (Deputy Speaker) Lasun Yusuf, Leo Ogor and Alhassan Doguwa, it is going to involve the whole House because when they start this investigation, it will get to the issue of running cost and the issue of the running cost has become a systemic corruption in the House. Very few members are not involved in that scam. He just said it straight as simple as
that. I won’t go down alone. If you allow for these issues to be investigated, etc. Of course, we have to open up the running cost issue and from that meeting, people started backtracking and that was why even you had a peaceful session on the first day because everybody was ready for a showdown. But that night, he struck and he put the fear of running cost because the running cost will send hundreds of members to jail directly; you don’t need to investigate it. It’s fraud. It’s a huge massive fraud and I’ve never refrained from saying it. But Nigerians are just looking. I have said it repeatedly. It’s massive fraud and nobody has come out. Since I mentioned figures and everything, has any of the 359 members come out to say Jibrin is lying? It will be 100 days on Saturday and nobody has come out to say Jibrin is lying. So, he used that to blackmail members. I have members who have come to me to say can you go ahead with this issue without running cost? If it were an interest of just taking Dogara out, I will not even talk about running cost issues. I’m smart enough to understand that. But I said I’m going all out, even if I am alone and that was it.
So how far do you think you can go alone in this battle?
When I say alone, it doesn’t mean I’m actually alone. It actually means from the direction of the House if I am alone. Of course, every day you see what is going on in the media, social media, Nigerians, public commentators, everybody is concerned about it. So, the context I am saying when I say alone, it means that if every member of the National Assembly will drop this issue, I will continue this matter and I will not drop it. I have said repeatedly that I will never apologize.
Rapprochements have been made and whatever you have and I said look, it doesn’t make sense to me to apologize when I know that the people I’m faced with are corrupt. So, why should I apologize? Maybe, they feel the three years that is left for us is like 50 years. But because I have been in the system over and over again, I know that today, three years is just like today and tomorrow. So, even if they will succeed in ensuring that I remain suspended, the maximum they can go is three years.
If you were not removed as Chairman of Appropriation, would you have fought Dogara?
The issue is that my removal was just an immediate cause. There have been remote crises. I have reported severally in the media that I protested when I saw 2,000 projects worth N284 billion in the budget and I confronted the Speaker with it. I said I cannot allow this happen. We fought internally when the Speaker tried to get me to put in projects worth N30 billion in the budget and I said this is ridiculous. It has never happened and I’m not going to do it. I’ve put together all these evidence; I’ve given it to the anti-graft agencies.
I have said we had crisis inside the House because I said I cannot accommodate a N20 billion introduction of a new line item in the service wide vote, which I declined in doing and it created tension all over. So, it hasn’t been rosy. There have been lots of issues and that is why I keep trying to explain to people that I have fought this battle internally, extensively and I have given out documents to the anti-graft agencies, to the Nigerian police force, so say these are the battles that I’ve been fighting internally.
But we are also aware that why these seemed so difficult to resolve or to even take a standpoint is the fact that during the course of this crisis, documents have also come out indicting you of some projects that you allegedly put in your Local Government running into billions of naira. What are the facts surrounding that allegation?
That takes us to the issue of what is a budget offence. Let me say this very clearly: the National Assembly has the power to appropriate.
The National Assembly has the power to add projects, remove projects, and increase whatever you have and the rest. But the point I have been trying to make and enlighten Nigerians is that over the years, that power has been used to commit fraud in the budget. It’s a thin line and that’s why they confused people, when you are talking, the response they give you is from spokesman of the House; they just tell you that you can’t challenge us.
They have power to appropriate and Nigerians get confused; and I see some learned people on the television and social media saying this matter is a bit difficult because the National Assembly has the power to appropriate. But what I’m saying is that you have good appropriation and bad appropriation and what has happened in the last 16 years, more often than not, the power is used to commit fraud. You could see projects in Speaker Dogara’s constituency; so long as it is the appropriate one, I would not have been complaining. You might go and see projects in Kiru/Bebeji. For instance, if people of Kiru/ Bebeji need light and water was voted and the Chairman of the Committee felt in his own wisdom that it should be replaced with light, it’s understandable. But the point we are making is for instance, if you are going to buy a transformer and everybody understands that that transformer should not cost more than N2 million; then a Chairman of a Committee, because he has power to appropriate decides to add N3 million on it and makes it N5 million, that is where the fraud comes in.
Then the second thing he could do again; everybody knows that transformer should cost N2 million, then he reduces N1 million, knowing fully that the remaining N1 million he’s leaving there cannot buy the transformer; its sabotage against the country.
Then the third scenario is when he even decides to lift the whole N2 million, delete that line item and that transformer is needed in a village, confirmed that he took it and when he took it, because he wants to steal the money, he just went and created an item and said purchase of wall sockets, just to steal the money. Wall sockets to put where? These are the issues.
But if for instance you have a situation where a town needs irrigation and when the budget comes, they now put solar boreholes and the equivalent money of that solar borehole can buy the irrigation and the Chairman of the Committee decides to convert the money of the solar boreholes for irrigation. He has used the power of appropriation correctly. But what I have challenged the people I have accused is to show me how you’ve used the powers of appropriation correctly. They can’t and I have put out lots of documents to anti-graft agencies, showing how year after year, the House continues to use the power of appropriation to commit fraud.
In 2016, I’m saying it without mincing my word that almost all the insertions that were done were fraudulent.
Was it the same way in the last session? You held a key position as Chairman of Committee on Finance?
Well, as Chairman of Finance, I dealt with the revenue aspect of the budget, not the expenditure aspect of the budget. So, I’m more competent to talk about what happened to the budget during my time at appropriations.
Did you enjoy all these running costs you talked about?
Of course I took running costs. I’ve said that repeatedly that I took running costs and that is why I said why will I say I took money that I didn’t. I said I took running costs.
Are you shocked that the EFCC didn’t deem it fit to invite the accused so far?
I am not, in fairness, contrary to the thinking of Nigerians because I’m the one who submitted the petition. I’ve been following up on the petitions. I submitted petitions to the ICPC, to the EFCC and to the Nigerian Police Force and the rest and they’ve been conducting their investigations. You might be surprised, like the DSS, for how long they’ve been following the judges before they eventually busted the whole thing. So, I believe we will get to that point. I’m very optimistic that we will get to the point where there will be a strike.
They are doing their work. They’ve invited me severally; I’ve gone there, presented my case. They’ve interacted with me countless times the DSS, the EFCC, the ICPC, the Nigerian Police Force and I know that the investigations are all at various stages. There have been massive discoveries. All the teams are excellent, the EFCC teams, the AIG in charge of investigation for the police and the rest. They are doing their work and I’ve had lots of assurances that we will get to the point that every Nigerian wants to see, where of course the Speaker Dogara and of course the remaining people in the House of
Representatives will be arrested and prosecuted. I have no element of doubt that at the end of this, Speaker Dogara will go to jail.
2017 budget is just around the corner. Do you think your colleagues have learnt any lesson?
I do not believe that any lessons have been learnt with what I have seen happening. The whole process of forming a small group, inviting Minister of Budget, inviting Minister of Finance has started and that is where the whole problem in the appropriation process starts. You form a small team, you go and agree on certain fundamentals, you come back and try to impose it on the Chairman Appropriation or the Chairman, Finance. When he declines, he becomes an enemy and you start blackmailing him. I can see that they have taken these same steps. I know that the MTEF has come to the National Assembly and it’s simple and straightforward to do by our rules. You take it for first reading and after first reading, it goes to second reading in a very transparent manner. If you have any misgiving, if you have any objection, if you have any observation, if you have anything you want to say on the content of the MTEF, it is during the context of the second reading you say it publicly. After the second reading, it is referred to the Joint Committee on Finance, Appropriation and Planning. When it goes to that Committee, they have taken note of all the debates and observation on the floor of the House in addition to their own knowledge of the issues. They will now invite all the key actors – the Minister of Finance, the DG Budget, the Minister of Budget, the Central Bank, all the relevant people; they will ask them hard questions, based on these observations that members have done.
They get all the necessary clarifications and based on that, they make their recommendations. Their recommendation will be taken to the floor where again it will be passed.
But I do not think that that is going to happen because already, they’ve started these small meetings. Now, I’ve heard that Minister of Finance has been invited to brief one leadership. Minister of Budget has been invited to brief another leadership. That is where the whole budget fraud and padding issue is negotiated. When they go there, there is nothing that is being discussed apart from oh! I have this contractors, I want you to pay him his money; ah, you did not put my project in the budget. They go there and commit the House at such meetings and when they commit the House, they come back and try to impose it on the Chairman, Appropriations who has to now take the whole load on his ahead and his colleagues are not aware that this is what is going on. With what I have seen, I don’t think the National Assembly has learnt its lesson. That is the pattern that I haven’t seen happening in the House until Dogara and that is where I started having problem with Dogara because much more than concentrating in his job as the Speaker, he enjoys to go and sit eating Jollof rice with Ministers, Head of MDAs and before you know, you start having issues.
You’ve been suspended for 180 sittings; it appears that you will not be able to attend any sitting before the end of this tenure. Are you missing the House already?
I miss working for my people. I miss serving my constituency. I miss serving Nigeria. But I will never miss the corruption, both individual and systemic corruption that I know is in abundance in the House of Representatives. Of course, this struggle will lead us to deal with that and it will be a conducive atmosphere for people to operate. So, within that context, I will tell you I’m not missing.
What if they give you an option to apologize and come back to us?
I’ve said it repeatedly that I will never apologize. I will prefer rather to remain consistently suspended until the end of the next three years and after the next three years, we will now pick it up with them.