The House of Representatives has postponed by one week its anticipated resumption, on Sunday. This also implies that the expected action of the 360-member legislature on the budget padding allegations levelled against the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, and three other principal officers, will be delayed by at least one week. The other three are the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Yussuff Lasun; the Chief Whip, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; and the Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor.
“Taken that the Federal Government will naturally declare Monday and Tuesday (September 13) as public holidays to mark the Sallah, it is no longer feasible for the House to reconvene on September 13. We are now looking at a date from Tuesday, September 20.”
Meanwhile, a former Deputy Minority Whip of the House, Mr. Garba Dhatti, confirmed to The PUNCH on Sunday that the resumption would be delayed by “three weeks.” Dhatti, who is still a serving member, stated, “The end of recess will now be up to three weeks (September 20).
“It has to be after Sallah, which you know is Monday (September 12).”
The development came as the Chief Whip of the 7th House (2011-2015), Mr. Ishaka Bawa, told The PUNCHthat there was “nothing abnormal” for Dogara and other principal officers to receive higher allocations for intervention or constituency projects in the 2016 budget. Bawa said in every budget year, principal officers were allocated higher votes for projects in line with a “parliamentary tradition in practice over the years.”
Citing the instance of the 7th Assembly, where he was the fourth highest-ranked principal officer, Bawa disclosed that each of the 10 principal officers received higher project allocations according to their ranks. He also confirmed that all the principal officers had higher project votes than those he called “floor members.” Bawa added:
“As a principal officer in the 7th Assembly, the funds allocated for my projects were higher than that of Dogara, who was a ‘floor member’ at the time. Dogara was a floor member. Even as the Chairman, Committee on House Services, the funds for his projects were nothing compared to that of the least-ranked principal officer.
“Principal officers got their allocations pro-rata. They then identified the projects which were domiciled in the relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies for execution. Every member knows that this has been the practice and the 8th Assembly principal officers have done nothing new.”
According to Bawa, the allocations of Dogara and the other three principal officers in the 2016 budget are not padding “so long as they were contained in the budget that was considered, passed by the National Assembly and signed into the law by Mr. President.”
Bawa, a lawyer, argued that the padding allegations could “only be sustained if there is proof that the money (N40bn) was added to the budget after the National Assembly passed it and on its way to the President’s office.”
A former Chairman, Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, had alleged that the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, and three other principal officers requested the inclusion of N40bn projects in the 2016 budget, besides sundry projects in sums ranging from N20bn to N30bn.
He claimed that his refusal to oblige the four principal officers and his opposition to several alleged financial infractions were responsible for his sacking by Dogara on July 20. The leadership of the House denied the alleged padding, saying all insertions into the budget followed the “due process of legislation and budgeting.”
However, it said Jibrin’s allegations would be investigated internally by the Committee on Ethics and Privileges after the House would have reconvened on the initially fixed September 13. The police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption are already investigating the allegations.
Jibrin had petitioned the agencies and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission as well as the Department of State Services. Also on Sunday, Jibrin suggested how the budgeting process and other finances of the House could be reformed to plug alleged loopholes for “fraud.”
Jibrin said he made the submissions to the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption during his visit to the body in Abuja on Wednesday last week. He said he told the committee, which is chaired by Prof. Itse Sagay, that the legislature was abusing its power of appropriation and should be stopped.
Jibrin suggested that copies of the budget should always be circulated to all members while the highlights and the details must be considered together by lawmakers. He added:
“The most important reform here is to ensure that budget estimates and details are returned to the floor of the House at the same time for passage. This will check the insertions by some standing committee chairmen and principal officers in the process of budget passage.”
On the internal finances of the House, Jibrin said such funds should be made public so that Nigerians could follow the spending pattern of lawmakers.