House Consolidation Group: Falling Apart

0

Erstwhile allies, Speaker Yakubu Dogara and Hon. Jibrin Abdulmumin, clash and upset the peace in the House of Representatives. Damilola Oyedele writes

The plenary last Wednesday at the House of Representatives was smooth with no inkling of what was about to happen. That was before Speaker Yakubu Dogara made the announcement, which, though, certainly, unsurprising to many lawmakers, was not quite expected. He announced the removal of the chairman of the Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Jibrin Abdulmumin, and replaced him with Hon. Mustapha Bala Dawaki.

Pressure

The Speaker had been under pressure from lawmakers, particularly, the committee chairmen, to remove Abdulmumin on allegations of unilaterally awarding to his Kiru/Bebeji constituency of Kano State projects worth N4.1 billion, while his committee was working on the budget. This had contributed to the impasse between the legislature and the executive over the budget.

President Mihammadu Buhari had refused to sign the budget into law on the ground that the legislators had removed several key projects and inserted theirs. Abdulmumin and his senate counterpart, Senator Danjuma Goje, came under fire for what many termed mishandling of the budget, leading to calls for his removal.

Dogara, in making the announcement, said the decision was already reached to replace Abdulmumin, who coincidentally had offered to resign.

“He met me and said he does not think he can continue as the committee chairman due to pressure of the work. But the notification came too late, as the House leadership had already concluded plans to remove him from the position,” Dogara said.

Abdulmumin, who had left the chambers before the announcement, addressed a press conference where he explained that he had voluntarily resigned after “consultations with my family”, saying his relationship with the Speaker remains a cordial one.

But the cordiality lasted less than 24 hours, before the bubble burst between both men.

Erstwhile Allies

Both men, ranking members, were close allies, a situation that came clearly during the tussle for the leadership of the House, when Abdulmumin stood solidly behind Dogara. Abdulmumin had stepped down from contesting for Speaker and thrown his weight behind Dogara, against Femi Gbajabiamila. Dogara emerged Speaker, but the rift between the Consolidation Group, Dogara’s platform, and the Loyalists Group, which backed Gbajabimaila, continued.

Abdulmumin was the spokesman for the Consolidation Group. He was, apparently, rewarded with his appointment as chairman of the appropriation committee, which is considered one of the juiciest committees in the National Assembly. Abdulmumin was one of the few who had the ears of the Speaker.

Allegation

On Thursday, Abdulmumin released a strongly-worded statement where he accused Dogara, the deputy speaker, Yusuf Sulaiman Lasun, Chief Whip, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, and Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, of allocating to themselves N40 billion, out of the N100 billion earmarked for the entire National Assembly. The lawmaker claimed that his refusal to cover up the deal and remain silent over the allocation of wasteful projects worth N20 billion to the principal officers’ constituencies put him at loggerheads with the House leadership.

“My inability to admit into the budget almost N30 billion personal requests from Mr. Speaker and the three other principal officers also became an issue,” Abdulmumin alleged.

These, Abdulmumim noted, resulted in attempts to blackmail him by Dogara, who he said constantly reminded him that occupying the coveted position of chairman of appropriation committee was a favour.

Abdulmumin added that he had explained to his colleagues how the N100 billion for the National Assembly was allocated at one of the private sessions, and had since been blocked from briefing members on the matter.

According to him, “I gave Mr. Speaker statistics of 2,000 new projects introduced into the budget by less than 10 committee chairmen without the knowledge of their committee members. He did nothing about it because he was part of the mess, yet he is talking about improving the budget system. I did nothing wrong. I worked within the rules of the House and instructions of Mr. Speaker.”

Abdulmumin said Dogara also took offence at a meeting the Buhari had with the chairmen of the Senate and House committees on appropriation, while working on the budget.

“Speaker Dogara took it extremely personal that we saw the president without his knowledge and went on to scuttle all our efforts to help the president during the budget process because he wanted to be seen by the president as the only good man,” he said.

Denial

The House has, however, denied Abdulmumin’s allegations, describing them as untrue. The chairman of the Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, described the allegations as wild and non-issues. He queried why the embattled lawmaker did not make his facts public before now, insisting that they are manufactured because the House removed him.

Namdas insisted that Abdulmumin was not removed because of his opposition to the immunity bill. Namdas stated, “After all, he is not the only one who opposed the bill. The bill is still pending before the committee on review of the constitution and it has to be voted upon by each and every member of the House, get Senate concurrence, be endorsed by two-third of the 36 state Houses of Assembly and be assented to by the president. It is a cheap blackmail on the part of Hon. Jibrin to even insinuate that he was removed because he opposed immunity bill.”

Dogara, in a series of tweets, said he would not engage in political mudslinging.

“I won’t respond to jokes. I’m not a mud wrestler. I owe a word on the subject to my friends on this platform. The rest would be dealt with by the Institution,” he said.

Ogor also refuted the allegations and said Abdulmumin “is singing different tunes because he has lost his committee.”

A Fractured Camp

There are indications that the Speaker would not take the accusations levelled against him lying low. Sources told THISDAY that if not well handled, Abdulmumin may be suspended.

“He is fond of issuing threats. One single person cannot hold the House to ransom, it was not very unexpected that this would happen,” a lawmaker said on condition of anonymity.

Another legislator noted that the Speaker would have simply hinged his announcement on the fact that Abdulmumin resigned.

“The Speaker should not have announced that the decision was already reached to remove him, since he has offered to resign. In this clime, we all know resignation means you know you are about to be sacked. We need peace and stability in the House and he is not someone who would go down quietly, without a fight.”

From the beginning of this year things seemed to be quiet in the House, with an air of unity pervading the lower chamber. Many, however, insisted that peace among politicians was always a fragile one, as friends become foes within easily. Yet the current development in the House is surprising, coming from an unexpected quarter.

Nigerians are watching to see how the present controversy would unfold in the coming days and weeks.