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Budget Padding is a Misconstruction of Legitimate Insertions Tailored to Constituents’ Needs, Says Daramola

Hon. Bimbo Daramola represented Ekiti North federal constituency 1 in the House of Representatives from 2011 to 2015. In this interview with some journalists, covered by Anayo Okolie, Daramola bares his soul on the budget padding saga rocking the lower chamber. Excerpts:

What is your reaction to the current budget padding saga rocking the House of Representatives?

The attitude of Nigerians to the parliament is very stereotypical; it’s even made worse by the social media sometimes because a professor of science or law would rather take whatever they read on Facebook sometimes as gospel. So no matter what anybody else is saying to offer another factual perspective, for an opportunity to get a better diet of information from which informed decisions can be taken from, such persons would have shut their minds.

Now coming back to the matter, I have given this background to achieve one thing because the media is also intrinsically taken along by the mob sentiments. What is the role of the legislature? The legislature is supposed to do three things, to oversight, represent and prepare your budget. That is clear, it’s in the constitution like that, section 82 I think, and the constitution is the grand norm. If the constitution says we must walk with our heads, anyone who does anything to the contrary is against the constitution.

The intention of the drafters of the constitution is that we will have a set of rules that encapsulates all and we are duty bound to subsume ourselves to the spirit and letters of the constitution. The constitution says that the president shall cause annual estimates of expenditure to be prepared and brought to the National Assembly. That’s clear. People have suddenly forgotten the fact that even in euphemistic sense, seniors do not take spending estimates to juniors, neither do subordinates oversight superiors; it is the superior who oversights the junior.

What I am saying is that the constitution expressly says Mr President Sir, whatever you are planning to spend in health, education, water resources, infrastructure and whatever, you will cause the estimates to be prepared as you best deem fit at that level, put it together, bring it and lay it at the National Assembly.

In the wisdom of the drafters of the constitution, the estimation is that 109+360 will most likely give a better judgement than 50 people in the driver’s seat of the executive arm. So there is a corollary, when the president, the number 1 citizen, comes to the National Assembly, and he lays the annual estimates with a bow, it is also indicative of the fact that “I respect the authority of the legislature”, from that level the indication is that National Assembly will now begin the critical evaluation of those annual estimates.

Mr. President practically has about 40 ministers and there are 360 constituencies and 109 senatorial districts. Who best can talk about what is happening in Oye and Ikole local government areas than the representative of that area; is it the minister, president or vice president? That is the intention of voting them in.

The constitution says what Mr. President will lay is annual estimates? For instance if Mr. President is saying, I want to build a film institute in Oye Ikole and the representative of the area disagrees and says it is hospital that we need, whose decision should take the pride of place? If the man says we want to build airport in Ekiti, and the representatives say no we need schools; the intention of Mr. President may not be wrong ab-initio to want to build an airport, but the representatives know the place more. For equitable representation you need the people who have also evolved from those constituencies generically to speak to their needs. So what is my take on it? I do not agree that there is anything called budget padding,

For instance, in the Deputy Speaker, Rt Hon Sulaimon Lasun Yussuff’s constituency there is a 52 years old mono lane bridge called Ojutu Bridge; a bridge that is as old as Nigeria. Oncoming, cars would have to pull over and wait for the one on the bridge to go through, three motorcycles cannot go on the bridge side by side at the same time; the bridge is still there now. Governments have come and gone yet the bridge remains, so you have a representative from that constituency, who now says it is time to change.

Further compelled by being the Deputy Speaker, he now has the opportunity to attract the needed attention, and now ensures that it gets into the budget, you say he has padded the budget? Or that is a senseless insertion? In the fit of confusion, the earlier used word, padding, has metamorphosed into senseless insertion! Are you saying the people from that constituency are not Nigerians? So, what they do most times is to approach leadership and appropriation chair and committee chairmen that are relevant for lobby.

When they say budget padding, has Dogara collected one Naira? No! It’s not as if money has exchanged hands. When they put the projects there, they sent it back to Mr. President; he signs and sends it to the ministries who will eventually prequalify, tender and then award. So where is the budget padding? Has anybody really asked what the job of the National Assembly is? If a mechanic uses spanner to lose a bolt in your car, will you ask him why he is using a spanner. The man realised it and he quickly said “no no I don’t mean padding, I mean insertion”, he now said “senseless insertion”.

Are there constitutional amendments that can be made to properly capture these controversial insertions, now called padding, by legislators?
That you are still saying budget padding, what you have succeeded in doing is to venerate the claims of Jubrin. You are putting integrity behind his claim and that cannot be sustained. Even by himself, he said it is not budget padding, rather he said it is senseless insertion. I believe that we cannot completely legislate on every issue; it is not possible to have a situation where everything is legislated upon in this country.

Somebody says there must be a reason for a baby to be crying, thus, all we need to do is to get a copy of the petition and see what can be learnt from it. I know Yakubu Dogara reasonably well; I was in his committee on house services at the seventh assembly. Not many people know that at the sixth assembly, I learnt reliably that Yakubu Dogara was approached with huge bribe as chairman, customs, he refused. This same Dogara that they are saying is corrupt and all that nonsense, they offered him a huge sum of money, running into millions of dollars and he declined. The Speaker will be approached for favour because he is the number four man in Nigeria. It is the man who has head that can have head ache, or have you seen a headless man say “I need panadol?”

What can be done to save the situation currently?
There is this Yoruba saying which is interpreted as “if you don’t finish removing the lice in your hair, you will continue to have blood on your thumb”. Jubrin triggered an alarm that has unsettled all and that has to be taken care of. I’m not saying negatively. And in dealing with this, they have to make him realise that he has constituted himself into an obstruction/distraction in the way the administration of the National Assembly should be run.

People are now distracted. How many of them have had reasons to look at the constitution amendment process that should be going on now?. Even the so-called projects have not been executed because of all this brouhaha going on. So what I believe we should do at this point in time is to say, “Mr. Jubrin, we have heard you. We don’t want any more of this rubbish going on, which is beginning to distract everybody; you have submitted your petition, so subject this issue to the internal process of the house; let the ethics and privileges committee look into it.” Give him a fair hearing, if he is not satisfied let him explore all opportunities available to him and if need be, let them escalate it in the House and let the business of the House go on. I am told that the man said to some people that he would stop at nothing until he brings the House down; is that how to be a crusader for justice?

What do you think should be done to Jubrin?
Unfortunately, I am not in the House anymore, there are provisions to deal with errant individuals and abhorrent actions and activities. Today, what is the worth of a parliamentarian? Any representative that is going on the street, people would say, “look at them budget padders, armed robbers, ole”. So how do you expect that man to function with the right frame of mind, when you already called him an ole for putting the project that will affect his constituency positively in the estimated expenditure profile of the nation? So, what should be done to him? I’m no longer in the House. If I were still in the House, I know what I would have done, because I will come by way of privilege, that the man has assaulted my reputation; and I did that a few times when I was in the House.