THE grand scheme of the 2016 Budget padding appears to have been designed to take care of each and every member of the National Assembly. In other words, each member was expected to receive a part of the proceeds. A gigantic heist, it was enough to go round. The 2,000 projects inserted in the budget by nine committee chairman with the explicit consent of Speaker Dr. Yakubu Dogara had a grand total of N284 billion. There was a second batch of 1,635 projects valued at N270 billion. There was the N100 billion on which the two chambers seem to have received the acquiescence if not tacit approval of the Executive Branch, which was meant to be split among all members of the National Assembly.
Trouble appears to have begun when the four top dogs – Speaker Dogara, his deputy, Yusuf Lasun, the Whip, Al-hassan Doguwa, and the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, decided to appropriate for themselves N40 billion of the N100 billion. Abdulmumin Jibrin, former Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, has been consistent on his version of what happened. The four men have lost the moral authority to lead the House and must step down to permit an independent investigation into the case, he has argued for weeks.
For the Speaker to now mandate his appointed minions in the House Ethics and Privileges Committee to begin a trial of Jibrin violates all known principles of justice, equity and good conscience. The leaders of the House who should be on trial are now supervising the trial of their accuser. What manner of justice is that? The Ethics Committee men, who were bound to benefit from the budget padding had it been executed as planned, are now sitting in judgment against a whistle blower whose only offence was that he pointed out the corruption perpetrated by the leadership of the House. The committee men had demonstrated their partiality in the case by joining the ‘Save Dogara’ so-called ‘aso-ebi’ # I stand with Dogara # mufflers openly in the House. How could a manifestly biased committee be remotely thought to be capable of impartial judgment? It was therefore no surprise that after a day’s sitting the kangaroo committee of the House executed its pre-meditated and well-known agenda which is to suspend Jibrin, shut him up and shut him out.
On Monday when the committee chaired by Nicholas Ossai opened proceedings, the chief prosecutor was none other than Emmanuel Orker-Jev who had moved the motion in the House for Jibrin to be tried by the Ethics Committee. He told the committee that “the image of the House has never been worse than this before. Hon Jibrin was reckless and the allegations were false.” But the suspension of Jibrin for a year by the House is likely going to push public opinion in Jibrin’s favour. The House has never cared about public opinion. Two months ago, as the Nigerian economy drifted into negative territory and an economic recession was all visible, the National Assembly members went ahead to buy themselves a new set of luxury cars “for committee work,” against all public protests.
Jibrin read the intentions of the committee right and knew he would not obtain justice and decided to boycott the committee which already had an agenda. A newspaper reader, Taver Shima commenting on the committee two days ago queried: “Is there anyone who still believes that what Jibrin is saying is untrue? Such a person must either be one of the accused or a relative of the accused persons. We all know that the National Assembly was very corrupt. We don’t need Jibrin or any other person to tell us that a National Assembly populated by former governors, headed by people like (Dr. Bukola) Saraki, (Senate President), (Ike) Ekweremadu (Deputy Senate President), etc., is corrupt. The only difference is that an insider is able to tell the corruption story with precision – which is what Jibrin is doing now…During the (Peoples Democratic Party, the defeated ruling party) PDP era, these sordid deeds were treated as strictly “family affairs” completely hidden from public knowledge. That these revelations are coming out now is in itself a change.”
Indeed, Jibrin is like gift from Providence, the like of which Nigeria has not seen in the 17 years of the so-called democratic dispensation. But what his suspension has demonstrated is that the democracy of Nigeria is fakery in almost all important respects. You cannot describe as democracy any country where the legislature keeps most of its activities secret. You cannot describe as a democracy where a whistle-blower is suspended for a year after a day’s sitting of a kangaroo-style committee of the House because he had dared to question the integrity of leaders of the House. You cannot describe as democracy a legislature which has no regard whatsoever for public opinion. You cannot describe as a democracy a country where the populace has no idea what the legislators take home for their material compensation. You do not have a democracy when a nation is being looted brazenly by the legislature which is conventionally regarded as the guardian of the people’s commonwealth.
When Speaker Dogara said publicly that budget padding is not an offence, it became clear that he does not understand that exploiting for personal gain the power of the purse granted the National Assembly by the Constitution is probably the most despicable betrayal of the trust of the Nigerian people. In other countries, such a man would not be allowed near the seat of power.
The House had a two-month vacation in which to plot what to do about Jibrin and his accusations. It was no surprise that on the day it resumed last week, the usual disinformation and mass manipulation to squelch the scandal then began. The usual hired spinners which are part of the Nigerian Corruption Incorporated arrived. One of them is called the National Youth Council of Nigeria which stated that the nation’s democracy was under trial following what it termed a plot to destabilize the leadership of the House of Representatives by external forces. It did not name the external forces but it filled Abuja with protesters who called Jibrin unprintable names in various placards.
The Council claimed it had sent a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) accusing Jibrin of involvement in multi-million Naira contract. Other groups describing themselves as civil society organizations also rallied to save the Speaker and one of such was named African Media Roundtable Initiative and Coalition of Analysts and Media and Civil Society Organizations; the other was called the Centre for Legislative Advocacy led by an Opeyemi Duke. These groups were defending the Speaker and the National Assembly because it was the responsibility of the National Assembly “to make appropriation” and that “there was nothing like padding in legislative terms.” These organizations remind you of Daniel Kanu’s “Youths Earnestly Ask for Abacha” of the 1990s which tried hard to foist General Sani Abacha on Nigeria as an elected president. Apparently Mr. Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere now leads something similar to Youths Earnestly Ask for Dogara. Beside these, the so-called “chop and clean mouth” tradition is noticeable. National Assembly members are determined to sweep the scandal under the carpet and putting away Jibrin is probably the first step.
But Jibrin is a different kettle of fish. From the day he first made the accusations and called for the resignations, he seems to have set his sight not on vendetta but on reforms. On 27th August he stated in Twitter that “when a new speaker emerges and the other principal officers replaced, I will write to the presiding officers of both chambers to commence a radical internal reform in the entire National Assembly beyond budget to cover performance, assessment, running costs and allowances, investigations, etc. If the reform so done on the National Assembly is not made public latest by December, I will take it up and lay bare before the general public even if I am alone.”
It is easy to see that Jibrin feels the same frustrations and helplessness most Nigerians feel about the National Assembly in the face of the wanton corruption, impunity and incompetence and the total absence of any semblance of honesty to say nothing of transparency in the affairs of the institution. In the 17 years of the National Assembly there has been none like Jibrin.
Now it is understood that what had irked the members most was Jibrin’s revelation of how the House Leadership shared N10 billion among themselves as “office running costs,” a subhead they have used to pocket illegal allowances.
Nigerians have been aware of these huge allowances but Jibrin for the first time a serving member proved and provided details of those corrupt practices.
He gave a breakdown of how the money was shared: Speaker Dogara, N1.5 billion; Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun, N800 million; Majority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, N1.2 billion; his deputy, Buba Jibril, N1.2 billion; House Whip, Alhassan Doguwa, N1.2 billion; his deputy Pally Iriase, N700 million; Minority Leader PDP’s Leo Ogar, N1.2 billion; Minority Whip, Yakubu Barde, N700 million; Deputy Minority Whip Binta Bello N700 million.
Jibrin said he was not waging a war just for the removal of Dogara but to close the questionable office running costs sink hole which he described as “the sole unifying force for the 360-member House. Most of the members use it to acquire properties, cars, and live a life of luxury they have never lived before coming to the House,” he said.
It is only when the legislature comes with purity that effective oversight will be carried out and investigative hearings to expose fraud and corruption can be undertaken. The consequential effect of dealing with corruption in the House, especially the allowance issue (members collect 17 different allowances in addition to their huge salaries) will take its toll on even elections. Candidates usually spend so much money hoping that they can recoup from the huge allowances they will receive when elected into House.”
“When you know there is no such money in the House to be shared, I’m sure nobody will want to put in so much money to win an election to the House. The resultant effect will be that only people who truly want to serve will vie for the office and voters will be obliged to vote according to the dictates of their conscience. This is just one advantage,” Jibrin said
He didn’t know he was going to be silenced so soon.