RLB – BUDGET IMBROGLIO
·APC fails to broker truce as Jagaba challenges Abdulmumuni on alleged link to Farouk Lawan bribery scandal
Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The budget scandal in the House of Representatives has opened grounds for horse trading as several lawmakers who felt left out during the constitution of the so-called “plum committees” last year, are now demanding for assurances of compensation from its leadership, before joining others to pass a vote of confidence on Speaker Yakubu Dogara.
This is as several caucuses yesterday began rallying to avert any move aimed at impeaching Dogara and changing the current leadership of the lower legislative chamber.
The House has been embroiled in crisis following the sack of Hon. Jubrin Abdulmumini as the Chairman, Committee on Appropriation by his former ally, Dogara.
Following his ouster, Abdulmumuni has employed a scorched earth policy by accusing Dogara, Deputy Speaker, Yussuf Sulaimon Lasun, Chief Whip, Alhassan Ado Doguwa and Minority Leader, Leo Ogor of allocating N40 billion to themselves out of the N100 billion appropriated for the National Assembly, and making “senseless’ insertions into the 2016 budget”.
He also petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and the Nigeria Police, demanding the arrest and prosecution of the speaker, three principal officers, and 11 committee chairmen for corruption and abuse of office.
But as the crisis over Abdulmumini’s revelations gathered steam, the North-central caucus of the House headed by Deputy Majority Leader, Hon. Jibril Buba (Kogi APC), met for several hours at the National Assembly yesterday, while the North West caucus, headed by Chief Whip, Alhassan Ado Doguwa (Kano APC) met in Kaduna.
Also, Dogara’s “kitchen cabinet”, headed by Hon. Mukhtar Betara (Borno APC), met at the National Assembly. The speaker was however not at any of the meetings.
Leaders of the caucuses had set up the meetings to get enough signatures to pass a vote of confidence on Dogara and the House leadership, but were confronted by aggrieved members who were “unsatisfied with certain developments in the management of the House”.
“Some wanted certain things and are using this window to demand for it. Some felt left out in the scheme of things, and are saying yes, while they support Dogara, their interests should be taken care of,” a lawmaker from one of the northern states told THISDAY.
The lawmaker explained that a decision was therefore taken to ensure any acrimony or bitterness among members was resolved before going public with the “vote of confidence” plan.
He, however, assured that Dogara still has a comfortable majority among the lawmakers, with at least 75 per cent support from each of the caucuses.
The lawmaker, who preferred not to be named, added that members of the APC caucus from the South-west, were still on the fence as they were awaiting instructions from their national leader, Senator Bola Tinubu.
“But Ekiti members are completely with Dogara,” the lawmaker claimed, adding that “they cannot get members to remove Dogara, even if there are external influences, it will not happen”.
The North-central caucus, at its meeting, THISDAY gathered, agreed on the need to protect the lower chamber from any “rampaging external forces” allegedly using Abdulmumini to create discord.
A member of the caucus, who opened up on the meeting, confirmed that the caucus and other caucuses in the House would soon formally pass a vote of confidence on the speaker.
“The problem is that we are on recess and this recess is really long. So since we are not holding plenary, we have resolved to show our support for the House leadership. We would pass a vote of confidence on the speaker, but I am not sure what day that would be, as other caucuses are still meeting,” the lawmaker said.
The lawmaker was also adamant that Dogara would not be removed, saying: “No plot to remove Dogara would work, forget it.”
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the House also dismissed the plot of impeachment against Dogara.
Although the PDP caucus did not hold its meeting which was scheduled to take place yesterday, Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, presented its position.
Speaking with THISDAY, Ogor said the allegations levelled against the speaker and other principal officers were “non-issues”, adding that investigations by the anti-graft agencies would unravel what “is really the truth”.
“The first point of call would be to examine what happened to the budget that Mr. President refused to assent to and the truth would be revealed. We would see who would laugh last, but it is definitely not those shouting wolf today. We, in the PDP caucus, would not lose sleep over this,” he said.
He added that Dogara has the full support of the caucus. “How can you impeach him, what are the offences? There is an impeachment process…let him (Abdulmumim) come and make his allegations open.
“Is it the Zonal Intervention Fund? Let us see the allegations, we should be confronted with facts, then we will respond clearly to them. We are happy and excited that the man himself has run to the EFCC and ICPC, so we are waiting for their invitation. Our doors are open, because it would unravel a lot of things,” Ogor added.
The Ghost of Farouk is Resurrected
However, Abdulmumini, who was at the EFCC last night, yesterday also accused the Chairman of the House Committee on Interior, Hon. Jagaba Adams Jagaba of not being able to account for $500,000 which was allegedly given to him by a former House member, Farouk Lawan, after the latter received the amount four years ago as bribe from the Chairman of Forte Oil Plc, Mr. Femi Otedola.
In order not to indict Otedola and his companies, Farouk had allegedly demanded $3 million dollars from the Forte Oil chairman in 2012 when he chaired the adhoc committee to investigate the fuel subsidy scam.
Otedola had played along and paid out $620,000 to Farouk in a sting job that was to lead to his prosecution and ended his career as a legislator.
At the time, no trace of the $620,000 was ever found until yesterday when Abdulmumuni alleged that $500,000 was given to Jagaba, but could no longer be accounted for.
He also described Jagaba, whose name he included in his petitions to the anti-graft agencies as one of the committee chairmen who inserted 2,000 projects into the budget, as corrupt and a bigot.
Reacting to the allegation, Jagaba challenged Abdulmumini to back up his claim that $500,000 kept in his care during the Farouk bribery scandal had disappeared.
Jagaba, in a phone conversation with THISDAY, said Abdulmumini should provide documents to back his claim.
“I am not afraid of EFCC at all. If he strongly feels about it, he should stop making noise, he should write a petition on it and attach the relevant documents,” he said.
Jagaba described Abdulmumini as a “loose canon”.
“I do not want to join issues with a loose canon,” Jagaba said.
APC Fail to Broker Peace
Meanwhile, efforts by the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to intervene and resolve conflict between its members in the House over the budget alteration scandal did not yield any result yesterday.
The party had summoned Dogara and Abdulmumuni to appear before it in order to resolve their differences.
But after several hours of separate meetings with the duo, the party said that they were yet to resolve the crisis. However, the party succeeded in extracting a commitment from the warring parties that they would refrain from further media exchanges.
THISDAY gathered that the party leadership first met with the speaker at a residence in Abuja, where an extensive discussion on the conflict between him and Adbulmumuni was held.
After the meeting with Dogara, another one was held with Abdulmumuni at the party secretariat in Abuja.
Speaking shortly after meeting with Abdulmumuni, which lasted for about three hours, the Deputy National Chairman (North), Senator Lawan Shuaibu said that the party wanted to know what really went wrong and to see how it could handle the situation.
“We are discussing with them and it is an ongoing consultation, we are not done with them, we sat with the speaker, and we just finished sitting with Abdulmumuni and we would continue to sit with him,” he said.
Lawan said contrary to insinuations that the party has summoned the former appropriation committee chairamn to discipline him, there was no basis for passing judgment on the matter yet, adding that APC believes that immunity covers whatever happens in the House of Representatives or the Senate.
“I want to say that what we discussed, honestly speaking, was to get a better brief on what happened, because we have to be carried along. They are our members, we should know from them directly what is really going on so that we can see how we can handle the situation without necessarily making it a town square dance.
“In respect of what is going on in the House of Representatives which you people know more than all of us, but I asked him to come and brief the party, honestly speaking we never thought it would be covered by the media.
“I that summoned him, the national secretary of the party and the national vice chairman of his zone sat down to discuss, there is nothing like passing any judgment on any member of the party, we only play our role as the umpire in this matter to see how we can create some atmosphere of peace and unity among our members.
“But when certain things go wrong, of course, the party needs to call its members to know how best to unite any feuding members and that is exactly what we did.
“What we did actually was that we heard from him. We have heard earlier from the speaker but because it was not in the newspapers, nobody knew we held a meeting with the speaker,” he said.
On his part, Jibrin, who was evidently not comfortable with the party’s embargo on him, managed to utter a few words to journalists.
He however confirmed that the meeting with the APC was centered on the budget crisis that has pitted him against the speaker and the leadership of the House.
“I’m here on the invitation of our party, the APC. We discussed extensively the crisis in the House. We will continue to discuss and engage ourselves, I will continue to honour the invitation of our party and I am sure that whatever it is we decide you will know in due course,” he said.
The lawmaker, who was decked in a white brocade babariga (Nigerian traditional attire) and a cap to match, entered the party secretariat in the company of a team of lawyers and aides at about 2.05 p.m. in a black Toyota Land Cruiser sport utility vehicle and made straight to the office of Shuaibu where he was received by the National Working Committee of the APC led by the party’s National Secretary, Mai Mala Buni, National Treasurer, Bala Muhammed Gwagwarwa, and National Vice Chairman, Inuwa Abdulkadir.
Before the meeting with the APC leadership, Abdulmumini had also clarified that he was not invited to the party secretariat to appear before a disciplinary committee of the APC, but to meet with the party leaders in respect of the current crisis in the House.
On his twitter handle yesterday morning, Abdulmumini said: “I am confident that the party will do the rightful thing by throwing its weight to support our resolve to wipe out corrupt people and institutional corruption in the House and prevail or direct Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun, Whip Alhassan Doguwa and Minority Leader Leo Ogor to reconvene the house immediately and step aside to face their imminent prosecution and save the party and our dear country from further embarrassment.”