A civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has faulted the claim by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, that budget padding is not a crime under Nigerian law.
Dogara said this after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa last Friday.
Former chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, had alleged that Dogara and three other principal officers of the House padded the budget submitted by the executive to the National Assembly for consideration, with Dogara cornering the sum of N40 billion, while other principle officers parted with outrageous sums as constituency projects.
According to Dogara, “Budget padding is not an offence. What is padding? I studied law and I have been in the legislature and all this period I have never heard of the word padding being an offence under any law…Why should I be worried. As far as I am concerned, I am not worried over anything.”
But SERAP in a statement by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, yesterday, said budget padding is among corruption offences such as abuse of office, attempt to embezzle, divert, and misappropriate public funds, conspiracy to act corruptly, and illicit enrichment, which are recognised under the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party, and included in national legislation such as the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Establishment Act and the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
The group argued that the allegations against Dogara and other principal officials of the House of Representatives also suggest a subversion of the budget process, which is a crime and also a fundamental breach of constitutional provisions and an affront to internationally recognised human rights.
It stated that a prima-facie case of corruption is established when elected officials are allegedly influenced to act contrary to their obligations of office by the prospect of financial gain to themselves.
SERAP noted that budget padding also amounts to corruption because it is against the public interest, adding that any appearance of corruption in the budget process can result in a cynical public making them to lose interest in political participation altogether.
It contended that democracy can’t work unless Nigerians have faith in those who govern.
The statement read: “If Dogara refuses to resign to allow for effective and transparent investigation and the allegations of budget padding are swept under the carpet, the ability of the House of Representatives to function as a watchdog and credible guardian of the public interest would be seriously compromised.
“The allegations of budget padding and abuse of office by the Speaker and principal officials of the House of Representatives have continued to upset the public, bringing the House’s integrity further into question.
“Dogara therefore has a duty to explain to Nigerians the role he played in the alleged budget padding in the House and abuse of office if the growing perception of corruption in the House is to be addressed.
“Nigerians would like Dogara to explain how the funds meant for legislative functions to service guest houses were spent. Nigerians would also like Dogara to explain allegations that favours were sought from multinational companies including the allegation that a construction company was compelled to carry out some work at his Asokoro ‘plot’”
Meanwhile, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) yesterday threw its support behind Dogara over alleged padding of 2016 budget.
In a statement issued yesterday by NANS Chairman of Coordinator’s Forum, Habib Salau and signed by its blocks- Zone A, Zone B, and Zone C, Coordinators, the association defended the speaker, stating that the speaker has placed high premium on masses-oriented legislations and inclusive government.
The group said: “In the light of current happenings regarding the office of the Speaker and other principal officers of the House of Representatives on the issue of 2016 budget process, Nigerian students herein state that we have x-rayed the leadership style, charisma and character of Dogara and found him worthy as well as well trained and roundly groomed leader best fit to steer the affairs of the House of Representatives in the best interest of our rapidly advancing democracy.”
“He is well placed to begin a holistic reform of Nigerian budget process which is already stated in the legislative agenda of the House.
“As we critically examine the kernel of the matter, it recurs in very lucid terms that Dogara has remained in the forefront of the anti-corruption war being waged by the President Muhammadu Buhari led rescue government.
“It still remains fresh in our collective memories that the Speaker Dogara came out in clear and unmistakable terms to condemn acts of corruption, going a step further in exposing the antics and tactics of corrupt individuals.
“Yakubu Dogara deserves an excellent rating to the extent that the anti-corruption crusade is concerned and only the prejudiced or ill-intentioned will turn around to accuse him of corruption where no evidence of such exists.”