Onyebuchi Ezigbo and Damilola Oyedele write on the efforts of the leadership of the All Progressives Congress to halt the raging controversy over budget padding in the APC -controlled House of Representatives

The leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) last week intervened in the raging conflict between its members in the House of Representatives over the budget padding scandal, but the move to reconcile the key actors – the Speaker of the House of Representatives Hon. Yakubu Dogara and former Chairman of the Appropriation Committee Abdulmumuni Jibrin – has not yielded positive results. The party had summoned the two key actors in the ongoing crisis to appear before it and brief the panel it set up to resolve the matter in-house.

But after hours of separate meetings with the duo, the party said it was yet to resolve the issues. Both sides have continued with their diatribes despite the party’s intervention, an indication the crisis is far from being over. Although the party tried to extract a commitment from the warring parties that they would refrain from further excalating the conflict through media exchanges, it remains to be seen how they have complied with that order.

Before the meeting with Jibrin, the party first met with the Speaker in his residence where they discussed extensively on the conflict between him and Hon. Jibrin. The party also explored possible compromise as way of stemming the crisis in the lower legislative chamber. Speaking shortly after meeting with Jibrin which lasted about three hours, the Deputy National Chairman (North), Senator Lawan Shuaibu, said that all the party wanted to know was really what went wrong and that the panel tried to see how it could handle the situation. Lawan said that contrary to insinuations that the party was summoning Jibrin to discipline him, there was no basis for such. He added that APC believes that immunity covers whatever happens in the House of Representatives or the Senate.

Explaining further, he said: “We are discussing with them and it is an ongoing consultation, we are not done with them, we sat with the speaker, we just finished sitting with him and we would continue to sit with him.

“I want to say that what we discussed, honestly speaking, was to get a better brief on what is happening 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 it’s members to know how best to unite any feuding member 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, like you just went and published nobody knew we held a meeting with the speaker.”
On his part, Jibrin who was apparently not at ease with the party’s embargo on him not to make public statements on the issue, managed to utter a few words to journalists. He said the meeting with the APC panel was centered on the budget padding crisis that has pitted him against the Speaker and the leadership of the House of Representatives.

“I’m here on the invitation of our party, the APC. We discussed extensively on the crisis in the House of Representatives. 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 with cap to match, entered the party secretariat in company of a team of lawyers and aides at about 2: 05 PM in a Black Land Cruiser with registration number BWA 768 AM, and headed to the office of the Deputy National Chairman, Sen Lawal Shuaibu, where he was received by the NWC led by the party’s National Secretary, Mai Mala Buni, National Treasurer, Bala Muhammed Gwagwarwa, and National Vice Chair, Inuwa Abdulkadir.

The APC leadership under the National Chairman, Chief John Oyegun, had come under heavy criticism for its lukewarm attitude towards the unfolding developments in the National Assembly, especially the prosecution of the Senate leadership for forgery and now the face-off over allegations of budget padding in the House of Representatives. Among the critics is the Deputy National Publicity Secretary, Comrade Timi Frank, who blamed the party leadership for its silence, which according to him, has enabled the conflict to fester.

“Yes I commend them for this but I feel it’s already too late. This is what they ought to have done before the whole issue. Why I said this has become too late is that, it is very clear that this is like medicine after death and it is sad we allowed it to get to this level. This still boils down to my earlier statement about the incompetency of our party leadership. …

“Whether we like it or not as a party, what is happening to Honourable Dogara, the Speaker of the House of Representatives is not just embarrassing to him as the number four man in Nigeria but embarrassing to the APC leadership and Nigerians at large who have confidence in our party.
“At this point in time, I want to use this opportunity to advise my party leadership, we must not let this type of mistake to repeat itself again, we must be prompt to respond to issues before they get to the public.”

But Shuaibu, the man who along with the other members of the NWC have been saddled with the task of negotiating a peaceful settlement, has promised that everything possible would be done to stop the matter from escalating. He explained that the panel had only conducted preliminary findings on the conflict areas, adding that the next stage of engagement will be to bring the warring parties to meet face-to-face on a round table discussion that will smoothen the rough edges and possibly laid the matter to rest.

The Controversy
The House has been embroiled in crises following the removal of Abdulmumini by Speaker Dogara, over mismanagement of the 2016 budget passing process. Abdulmumini, employing a scorched earth policy after his ouster, accused Dogara, Deputy Speaker Yussuff 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.

The 11 chairmen listed in the petition are Chairman, Committee on Federal Capital Territory, Hon. Herma Hembe, Chairman, Committee on Basic Education, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, Chairman, Committee on Health Services, Hon. Chike Okafor, Chairman Committee on Power, Hon. Dan Asuquo, Chairman, Committee on Interior, Hon. Jagaba Adams Jagaba, Chairman, Committee on Police Affairs, Hon. Haliru Jika, Chairman, Committee on House Services, Hon. Babanle Ila and Chairman, Committee on Public Petitions, Hon. Uzoma Nkem Abonta.

Before the fallout, Abdulmumuni and Dogara were allies, with the former contributing to the emergence of the latter as Speaker of the House. Infact, Abdulmumuni was the spokesperson for the Consolidation group, backers of Dogara during the tussle for the distribution of principal officers positions. It was therefore not a surprise that he was appointed Chairman of the most coveted committee, Appropriation.

Resignation not an option for Dogara
Last week, there were reports in the media on the undercurrents in the House over the budget padding scandal. There were even reports of alleged moves to effect leadership change or to force the speaker to resign. But Speaker Dogara has ruled out the possibility of resigning over the scandal. In a chat with State House correspondent on Friday, the speaker said padding was not an offence under the Nigerian law, and as such he had not breached any known law. He said he had not heard the word ‘padding’ until now, even though he studied law and had been in the legislature for some time.

Divergent views on way forward
As the controversy continues to rage, there are however divergent opinion on the way forward.
The Nigeria Labour Congress, in a statement by its National President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, sums the feelings of many Nigerians that developmental projects are not need based, but prioritised on the basis of ‘who is who’ in the political arena.
It however cautioned against using the crises to settle political scores, a move it noted could weaken the National Assembly.
“It also reveals the imperfections and the distrust in project identification/implementation system and consequent failure of the present model of capital budgeting without a development plan framework.”

“The on-going controversy over the padding of the 2016 budget is an incontrovertible evidence of the inherent weaknesses in our budgeting process and accordingly underscores the need for a thorough revisit.”
Sebastian Hon, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, called for a thorough investigation which he however cautioned should be unbiased and un-political so as not to be regarded as a product of scheming from fifth columnists to change the leadership of the National Assembly.

The Abuja based lawyer emphasised that budget proposals or estimates submitted to the National Assembly by the Executive, do not have to be taken hook, line and sinker, else there would be no purpose for having a legislature.
“The National Assembly is there to vet what the Executive has brought and to make inputs. So if those inputs are made, I do not at this stage see any criminality in the allegations being made by him,” he said.

Hon added that all the issues raised by Abdulmumini are in the realm of allegations, and proving them are a completely different ball game.
“I will quickly add that even I do not know the facts so well, but looking at them on the surface, I have to say he is just trying to raise a red herring, unnecessarily, because he lost out.

Considering the moral aspect of his outing, he has been part of the so-called budget padding and he did not cry wolf until he was removed from office, it means he is not someone who should be trusted. This also goes to his credibility even on those allegations, because he was wining and dining with the Speaker and the leadership of the House and enjoying the perks of office. He did not complain until he was removed. He has cast a big cloud on his credibility and character, so much so that he should not be believed at this stage,” he said.

President of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN) Comrade, Marwan Mustapha Adamu, also called for investigations into allegations and counter-allegations raised on both sides, but insists Abdulmumuni has no moral standing to point fingers at his colleagues and accuse them of ‘senseless’ budget padding, when he did exactly the same thing.

“He claims others inserted into the budget, then he should explain how the Kano film village entered into the budget. The fact that the project has entered controversy means he did not even consult with the constituency first, means he simply used his power, ‘senselessly’ as Chairman of Appropriation, to insert what he wanted into the budget.”

Civil Rights activities and social media commentator, Kayode Ogundamisi, on his twitter handle said the embattled lawmakers serves a purpose, even if he is a hypocrite.
“Even hypocrite @AbdulAbmJ serves a positive purpose for the people, we must assist him in bringing down his fellow rogues.” Tunde Asaju, Canada-based social commentator and columnist, said it was too early to start to consider the legal implications of the actions of Abdulmumuni, as the drama was still unfurling.

“For one, it is difficult to buy Abdulmumini’s presumptive moral high ground here. We would need more consistency to take this seriously. What is his track record? What happened to turn a boy against his master/hero? Is it ego? Was he losing out before deciding to save face? Is this pure posturing or Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus? We need answers to all these questions.”

Asaju called on journalists to resolve the questions and profile Dogara and Abdulmumuni: , who are they? What were their antecedents? How have they voted on issues of public importance? What is their political pedigree? What’s at stake here?
“With answers to these questions, we’ll know if this is another posturing that could give birth to another Farouk Lawan denouement? No legal implications that I see, not with APC attempting to pull in a gag order. It’s another circus and the audience are laughing at the tragi-comedy that spins daily from one arm of our national embarrassment,” Asaju added.