And Jibrin Opens National Assembly’s Can of Worms

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TundeRahman

By Tunde Rahman

Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin from Kano State is embittered and embattled. He is firing from all cylinders, singing like a bird and spilling the bean with reckless abandon. He is not bothered that he indicts himself as he makes grim revelations, which indict the leadership of the House of Representatives. And of course, Jibrin has been hugging the headlines.

The allegation that the leadership of the House, particularly Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Deputy Speaker Yusuff Lasun, Chief Whip Ado Doguwa and Minority Leader Leo Ogor, engaged in heavy padding of the 2016 budget is not entirely strange though. Budget padding is something many had always suspected, but with little or no evidence to back it up. Among other things, Jibrin says the four aforementioned House Leaders asked him to allocate to them N40billion of the N100billion allocation for members’ Constituency Projects in the 2016 Budget. Forget that the harbinger of the message is now an aggrieved party, coming from Jibrin, the Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation when the 2016 budget was processed, the allegation against the House Leaders cannot be taken lightly.

Apparently feeling vindicated, former President Olusegun Obasanjo believes what is coming out of the House has confirmed his earlier assertion that the National Assembly is filled with rogues. “Well, if you say that I have said it in the past and if there are people who didn’t believe what I said in the past then, you can now see that what has come out confirms what I said in the past. Then what I said in the past is what I will say now,” the former president told State House Correspondents on Monday during a visit to President Muhammadu Buhari.  He advised President Buhari to be vigilant. (By the way, won’t someone tell President Obasanjo it’s time he stopped the incessant visits to his former subordinate now president, lest he soon became unwelcome at Aso Rock?)

Now, attempts by the National Assembly and its spokespersons to explain away the allegation by Jibrin have been unsuccessful thus far. Watching Senate Leader Ali Ndume on Channels Television telling some reporters that padding was not an appropriate word to use by Jibrin and the media in the circumstance, I had a good laugh. Ndume had argued that the National Assembly could not be accused of padding a document they had right to process and tinker with. That, for me, is part of the crux of the matter: where does the National Assembly’s power of appropriation begin and end? Appropriation is a bill about proposed expenditure for a particular period by the Executive, bearing in mind its revenue projections and following the President’s campaign promises and policies and programmes of his party.

The document, as indicated, is prepared by the Executive. Yes, the National Assembly has power of control over public funds, but this, in my view, is based on what the Executive proposes. Section 80 (4) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, which confers on the Parliament absolute power and control over public funds is being overstretched I think. That section states thus: “No money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund of the Federation, except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly”. Under this provision, can the lawmakers initiate new projects and go ahead to allocate funds for them or unduly increase MDA’s allocations without recourse to the Executive? That would be awfully wrong.

What the lawmakers allegedly do in some cases is to either initiate new projects or allocate votes not originally proposed by MDAs. They jack up MDA’s allocations in order to turn round and benefit from the votes. This is what they do every time. I recall the case of one head of a Federal Government-owned agency in the South-west who in 2007 complained bitterly to this writer that he surprisingly saw as budget for his corporation an outrageous allocation he never asked for, only for one ‘big man’ in the National Assembly to call to inform him he had put some funds in the agency’s budget and would tell him how the money would be disbursed in the fullness of time. The National Assembly has now allegedly resorted to outright padding. They do this after the budget had been passed. They would simply forward the final figures to the Executive, expect the President to sign and then they begin to juggle the numbers. This is criminal!

Jibrin says he is not assaulting the integrity of the House, but that of some leaders in the House. He has specifically gone for Dogara’s jugular, whom he accused of various infractions over the 2016 Appropriation Act. He says Dogara is not a man of integrity, and for effect, he says he regrets backing him for Speakership during the June 6, 2015 election of principal officers of the House. In his reaction, the Speaker gave Jibrin 7 days to tender an unreserved apology to him or be ready for court action. Jibrin’s response was prompt; he said he would never apologise to Dogara and that he had already briefed his lawyers in readiness for the legal battle. Dogara should clear himself of allegation of budget padding, he said.

The House, expectedly, has moved into the matter. Speaking with newsmen last Tuesday, Chairman, House Committee on Information, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to probe Jibrin. The investigation, he said, should begin from the 7th House when the lawmaker was Chairman Committee on Finance. Like Senator Ndume, Namdas also said given the workings of the budget process, the House cannot be accused of padding, “because there is nothing like that.”
I sympathise with the House leadership, particularly now that it has seemingly found itself in a difficult situation. Hon. Jibrin may have been found wanting as Chairman, Appropriation Committee for which he was allegedly removed. However, to insinuate that his litany of misdemeanour, infraction and non-performance dated back to when he was Chairman House Finance Committee as Namdas claimed is difficult to believe. For the life of me, does not beggar belief that Jibrin was a crook, a failure and a non-performer as Finance Committee Chairman and yet the House rewarded him with the leadership of Appropriation Committee and saddled him with higher responsibilities.

The allegations on the ground are weighty and it’s not only Jibrin that should be investigated by EFCC, Dogara, Lasun and others fingered by him should also face EFCC’s probe.  The matter calls for dispassionate investigation by a neutral body, not by any committee of the House, which in the usual practice of the lawmakers would treat the issue as an internal affair of the House and sacrifice only the recalcitrant member who dared to expose the dirty linen of the House leadership for all to see.

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For Governor Oshiomhole

Governor Adams Oshiomhole aka Osho Baba has been doing wonderfully well in office. The other day, while on a campaign trail with his anointed candidate, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, the governor said he had approved the release of N120 million to women cooperative societies in Edo State. He also said more lucrative things were underway for women in the state. And last week, in a political masterstroke of sort, Oshiomhole’s ally, Mrs. Elizabeth Ativie, stepped down as Speaker of the state’s Assembly in order to allow his deputy, Dr. Justin Okonoboh, assume leadership of the House to ensure equitable distribution of offices among the three senatorial districts in the state. Mrs. Ativie then settled for the position of Deputy Speaker.

Many within and outside Edo are of the view that Oshiomhole has done noble as governor of the state. Former Osun State Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, who was appointed by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to head a committee to reconcile Oshiomhole and his deputy Dr. Pius Odubu, said the other day that he thought only Brigadier Samuel Ogbemudia (rtd) had done more than any other governor, military or civilian, in the history of the state, until Ogbemudia himself openly admitted that Oshiomhole had surpassed his record in office.

Now, as he winds down in office, will someone tell the Comrade-Governor to pay pensioners in the state who are suffering and dying daily as a result of hunger and starvation. The pensioners are demanding their gratuities and pension arrears of between 10 and 42 months. They also want Governor Oshiomhole to constitute the state’s Pensions Board. Not less than 500 of them took to the streets last week in Benin demanding their pay. They retired from the service of Edo State Government between 2013 and 2016 and they at present wallowing in penury.

And Actor Desmond Elliot’s Political Baptism…
Nollywood actor-turned politician Desmond Elliot has combined his two callings-entertainment and politics- with panache. As a lawmaker representing Surulere 1 Constituency in the Lagos State House of Assembly, Elliot has told whoever cares to listen that he is not quitting Nollywood, as Nigeria’s movie and entertainment industry is called. He said he would never leave but would rather use his position to uplift the industry. In Nollywood, he remains an A-List actor and producer, and remains one of the most sought-after in the industry.
Elliot is understandably a rookie in politics, his election into the House being his first foray.

He had his political baptism of sort when one of his constituents took him up over the state of electricity in the area and wanted to know what he (Elliot), their representative in Alausa, had done in line with his promise. An exasperated Elliot told his constituent that he was not Power Holding Company of Nigeria to fix and provide electricity for them.

He said on his twitter handle:”Adeyi Samiat, I said I will do my best. I’m not PHCN my dear and I have been working hard at it. Patience and see.” Most of those who responded to Elliot’s tweet on social media upbraided him for that response. Elliot was brutally frank you might say but his response was not politically expedient. It reminds one of that cold and cruel reaction of former President Obasanjo to some Lagosians who had confronted him for coming late to the scene of the Ikeja Military Cantonment bomb blast in January 2002, which killed many Nigerians. “I don’t have to be here,” Obasanjo muttered when the angry crowd refused to listen to him.

I don’t know whether to commend or condemn Elliot for being blunt. It is just that the people are used to our tongue-in-cheek, run-of-the-mill politicians, who, confronted by such a challenge, would convene a news conference or place advertorials in newspapers to give a laborious presentation on what they have been doing about the issue in question. Meanwhile, they are not doing anything to ameliorate the sufferings of their people.