By Kemi Yesufu
Hon. Timothy Golu is the chairman, House of Representatives Committee on National Assembly Budget and Research. In this interview, he speaks on the raging controversy on the padding of the 2016 budget.
Former chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Abdulmumin Jibrin said the Speaker and three other principal officers took for themselves N40 billion out of the N100 billion meant for constituency projects for the National Assembly. Can you tell us categorically if the 2016 budget was padded?
There is nothing called padding. It is just a word used to politicise the work that was done on the budget. The constitution gives the National Assembly the power to tinker with the estimates sent to it by the executive. We cannot be a rubber stamp to the executive because if we were, we wouldn’t have been the first to raise the alarm that there were discrepancies and irregularities brought forward by heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Remember, the president took note of the issues we raised and people were sacked over it. In fact, we saw multiple sub-heads for the same item. It was the National Assembly that asked the MDAs to collapse these sub-heads to one so that they get reasonable funding for the next 12 months. We were able to fix these discrepancies through the Standing Committees. The committees sent back their reports to Jibrin only for him to go and tamper with MDA’s allocations. I just showed you his text that went viral online, which he sent to committee chairmen like me, asking that we vigorously defend the allocations that were made to MDAs, especially to the media. Remember that the Appropriation Bill is just like every other bill. It is passed and referred to the relevant committee after the House agrees to its basic principles. It is left for the committee and not only one man to carry out further legislative action. But this is not what happened in the case of Jibrin and the 2016 budget.
But Jibrin said it was the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker, the Majority Whip, Alhassan Doguwa and the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, who supervised the illegal insertions of 2000 projects into the budget to the tune of N284 billion.
His allegations are all lies. How come he simply watched this happen as the chairman of the Appropriations Committee? The paper he is showing around has been in existence since 2003, it’s on the sharing formula for constituency projects. The Speaker of the House can never be treated the same with other lawmakers with regards to constituency projects. There has always been preferential treatment for the Speaker. The principal officers are like the council of elders around the Speaker. The formula which was used to share constituency projects has been there since, and zonal intervention projects were introduced. Why does the president have service wide votes? Why do governors have security vote? It is to take care of any eventuality. Rather, Jibrin should explain what he did with the budgets of MDAs. He mutilated the budgets of many agencies.
If he mutilated the budget of MDAs, why did you the chairmen of committees and even the entire House keep quiet?
We didn’t keep quiet. We complained. In fact, the complaint started from the Appropriations Committee because they raised the alarm that they didn’t know what was going on. By our legislative procedure, you cannot amend a bill on your own, you have to take it back to the committee, but Jibrin didn’t do that with the budget.
Don’t you think we should blame the Speaker for appointing him to head such an important committee in the first place, if he acted as badly as you say he did?
The Speaker has done nothing wrong. The Speaker did the right thing by appointing people chairmen and having trust in them that they will deliver. It is a privilege to be the chairman of a committee. Those of us that are chairmen of committees are not more qualified than the rest. Jibrin wasn’t made chairman of Appropriations Committee because he has a PhD in appropriations. Neither was I made chairman of the National Assembly Budget Research Committee because I have a PhD in budgeting. We were appointed and trusted to do what we were assigned to do. So Jibrin didn’t just betray the Speaker by failing to do a good job, he also betrayed the National Assembly.
Do you agree to the call by the Transparency Group that the allegations of budget padding be investigated by external agencies as those who should conduct an internal investigation may not be impartial as they are the Speaker’s appointees?
Their call is a display of frivolity on a new level. It’s an attempt to politicise a matter that should not be politicised. The people making this call are those who were against Dogara being elected as Speaker in the first place. Most of these people are among those who didn’t support the Speaker from the onset. How can you as a legislator, go to surrender your independence to external forces? Look at the police, the Economic and Financial Crimes (EFCC), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs); we have committees that do the work on oversight on these organisations. When there are issues, we call them to explain, they don’t call the legislature for explanation. We made the laws that established these agencies, so how can these agencies now conduct oversight on the legislature? Such a call is akin to asking organisations to investigate a law. The 2016 budget is a law passed by the National Assembly.
The estimates sent to the National Assembly by the president from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) do not contain the details of the N100 billion allocated for constituency projects. The president only sent a document with the figure for constituency projects. It is only after this figure is allocated according to states and constituencies, and members have scrutinised funds allocated to their constituency, that we now submit the final report on this aspect of the budget. Are they saying other allocations to MDAs were padded?
Jibrin also said that four principal officers, who he dubbed the quartet used 10 committees to insert 2000 projects to the tune of N284 billion. Is this true?
Let him give you the list of all the 2000 projects. We are waiting for him to do this. Why has he failed to identify these projects and is just dishing out crazy figures to draw people’s attention? He is trying to twist facts, but those who know how the budget work, know that projects are domiciled in MDAs. For example, I can domicile a water project for my constituency in the Benue Lower River Basin Authority. What is wrong with that? Or could it be that the person who handled the final copy of the budget inserted projects and is now accusing others of doing this? Why didn’t he talk about these so called insertions, when members where shouting ‘ole’, ‘barawo’, ‘thief’ at him during plenary?
Do you agree for calls for the Speaker to resign?
I don’t support his resignation. I am sorry to say this, but some of these NGOs are controlled by politicians wearing the garb of civil society activists. Can’t they read the laws? How can they pass judgment on somebody based on mere allegations? This is a legislature. Members are not children. For you to become a member of the House, you must have attained certain level of maturity.
So how can SERAP tell the House how to handle internal issues? We have internal mechanisms of dealing with any kind of allegation. When did SERAP come to being? Where was SERAP when the National Assembly came into being in the First Republic till date? How can a much older and advanced institution now be taught how to conduct its affairs by a recently established one? Rather, Jibrin should submit himself to the internal mechanisms of the House and I can tell you, the Speaker has tremendous support on this matter. As many as 300 lawmakers have indicated their support for him, how then should anyone from the outside be talking about his stepping aside?
It is glaring that People’s Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers are in the forefront of defending the Speaker. Some find this disappointing that the opposition, rather than being on the offensive is defending Dogara. Could it be that it’s because your caucus leader, Leo Ogor, was also fingered by Jibrin?
How can we not defend the Speaker? The Speaker has not done any wrong, so we will defend him. When the Speaker goes wrong, we complain. You have also witnessed
how debates on important issues take partisan coloration on the floor. We in the PDP come together to take decisions when lawmakers part ways according to party lines and the Speaker rubs minds with his own people . But now, we are talking about something that affects the National Assembly as a whole.