The Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Eseme Eyibor, did not share the sentiment of those accusing the leadership of the House of padding the 2016 budget. He insisted there was no such thing as padding. Shola Oyeyipo writes
Over the years, the legislative arm of government in Nigeria has come under strident attacks by those, who consider the lawmakers as mere leech sucking the blood of the nation dry through spurious means. In fact, a former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has never shied away from his frontal castigation of members of the National Assembly. He often flagrantly refers to them as bunch of “corrupt” people.
Obasanjo is not alone in his disdain for the lawmakers’ perceived ‘excesses’. Worried by the alleged waste of national resources at the two chambers of the National Assembly, a national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Tinubu, has also queried the need for two legislative houses.
This ill-feeling has been made worse and has permeated the larger society due to the recent rumble generated in the House of Representatives over allegations of budget padding, leveled against the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara and some other principal officers of the lower chamber.
But at a recent briefing, the Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Eseme Eyibor, shed some more light on the substance of the matter, harped on the need for Nigerians to firmly understand the workings of the legislature and disabused the minds of those saying the legislature was irresponsible.
“Majority of Nigerians are still living with that illusion that there should be no legislature. The thinking is that the legislators are not doing anything but stealing from the nation’s treasury but we have forgotten that the legislature is what has given us the liberty we have today. To say that we should do away with the legislature means that we no longer cherish our liberty.
“Are we now saying that members of the legislature should go? We will be weakening our rights of expression if we do that. We must preserve the institutional integrity of the National Assembly, particularly the House of Representatives. While the Senate is the representation of the states on equality basis, the House of Representatives is about population and anything that affects the House, affects Nigeria,” he said.
Drawing inference from Section 4, sub-section 1 of the Nigerian constitution, where the concept of rule of law is domicile, he noted that it was what differentiates a military government from a democratic experience because the latter comes with liberty and the inherent freedom and rights. That is to mean that without the rule of law, there can be no democracy, as vested in the legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in a National Assembly consisting of a Senate and House of Representatives.
So, as the issue of budget padding rages on, Eyibor, contends that “Appropriation is part and parcel of that legislative process. It is a law that originates from that legislative power. Even in that, the primary functions of the legislature is of course the issues of legislation, appropriation and oversight. The constitution intends for the people to participate in consonance with Article 25 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights.
“Participation is very key. And how does the constitution or democracy encourage participation? It is encouraged by making the legislature to be at its best. For example, no law should be passed without going through the legislative processes like first, second and third readings as well as committees stage and public hearing”.
According to him, the rationale behind all the readings, committee stage and public hearing is to allow the people to participate. The peoples’ input is part of the legislative process. So, the responsibility of lawmaking can never be complete without the peoples’ participation. When the budget proposal is brought, the executive will engage the legislature and the legislature, through its various committees, will reach out to the people.
“The importance of the legislature is so strong to the point that if the processes are not followed, we are inviting anarchy because the executive will sit down and say it is going to construct road and the president will cash in on this to construct road in his state or zone; the vice president will put project in his area and the ministers will put projects in their respective areas.
“But for you and I, who may not have the opportunity of having any of these persons, we will have to wait for our turn. And if by providence, you end up coming from a minority, you will wait for a longer time. So, the only thing that democracy has brought to us is the issue of constituency projects or zonal intervention,” Eyibor stated.
Reacting to calls in some quarters for an investigation into the budget scandal, the House of Representatives member said it was out of place to suggest investigating an Appropriation Act.
“You cannot investigate an appropriation act because appropriation in itself is an assumptive document, because you can’t 100 per cent execute these assumptions; it is just to guide government on implementation of its policies and programmes. I think it is the outcome of that perception problem to single out an individual in an institutional process.
“I have heard by way of speculation that the anti-graft agencies – Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) are stepping into the matter. But by the last law I read about the EFCC, it is statutorily empowered to deal with economic and financial crimes, while that of ICPC deals with public officers. I don’t have any problem with the powers they have, but under the Legislative Houses Powers and Privileges Act, can a legislator in the course of exercising his responsibilities as empowered in Section 4(1) be investigated and prosecuted?
“If the answer is not in the affirmative, it means that there are questions over the involvement of the EFCC, ICPC and even the police, whose budgets are in this appropriation, in this matter. If we allow the legislature to be disabled, we will go back to democratic-dictatorship and nobody knows where the shots would be called from. We are insisting that democracy must survive and the only way it will survive is by making sure that we preserve that institution called the legislature,” he stressed.
On the character and person of the Speaker, Dogara and his ability to lead the House, Eyibor described him as a “humble man to a fault”, adding that “The Nigerian House of Representatives requires character, depth and somebody, who has a reformed minded pedigree; somebody who can sit back and do a proper assessment of his person and the institution and now device a means of adding value to the institution.
“And if you ask me, even when I am not a member and may not be a Dogara fan because I am quite aggressive, while he is humble to a fault, I will tell you that he has capacity and has actually added value to that institution. And I think we are making a mistake by not encouraging that development initiative.
“We must encourage potential leaders because what is going on now in the House will make some Nigerians believe that going into politics will ruin their reputation. Most Nigerians know a lot about this budget padding thing but they don’t want to come out because of the public perception on the issue. Let us take Dogara and Jibrin out of it and begin to look at how we can develop the legislature by educating the public on the relevance of the institution.”
Vouching for Dogara as an incorruptible leader, Eyibor was in company with four other colleagues of his in a group called The Initiatives. They are Hon. Kamal Akinlabi, Christopher Eta, Terab Abdulrahman and Chinedu Obi, lead consultant to the group.
According to him, “He was the chairman of Customs Committee in 2007, when I was the spokesman of the House. So, most of the times, I was obliged by the then speaker to participate in public hearings, so that I could feed him back. In the course of this, there was this issue of waivers for importers of rice and $3 million was brought by one of the companies involved but Dogara placed it on the table and told members of the committee that the money was brought so that the committee will overlook certain things.
“He (Dogara), however, washed his hands off the money and asked whoever wants to take it. So, when I read in the papers about Dogara’s involvement in corruption and all that, I said to myself that fraudulent attitude is lifestyle which one gets into when one lives a lifestyle beyond one’s means. But Dogara is not a man I know for that.
“I also ask: Is the same man who washed his hands off $3 million and every other member of his committee ran away from the money and it was returned; is he the same man we are talking about in budget padding when every member of the House has the statutory responsibility to contribute to and by the provisions of the constitution, that input includes to add, subtract, increase, decrease or even delete.
“I am not speaking on behalf of the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara or the former chairman of the Appropriation Committee, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, I am talking about the institution. If we allow an individual to bring down an institution that protects and preserves my right and your right, my liberty and your liberty; we have ended up at denying ourselves the opportunity to participate in governance.”
He maintained that when appropriation takes place, the executive does the implementation. But if a project is appropriated for and its implementation fails, then an offence has been committed. The question would be: Why was fund allocated for the project and it was not executed? That comes to the principle of law that says that for a crime to be committed, the intention and act must be in marriage.
To him, however, “The Nigerian public is having poor perception of the legislature.”