Budget Padding: SERAP Asks Court to Compel EFCC to Prosecute Dogara, Others

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As the National Assembly resumes tomorrow, a civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has asked the Federal High Court in Abuja for an order to compel the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate and prosecute allegations of budget padding and abuse of office levelled against the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, as well as the Deputy Speaker, Yussuff Lasun; the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor; and the Chief Whip, Hassan Ado Doguwa.

The suit with number FHC/ABJ/CS/733/16 dated September 15, 2016, was filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN).

It was filed pursuant to Order 34, Rules 1 (1) (A); 2, Rule 3 (1) and (2) (A), (B) and (C) of the Federal High Court Rules, 2009 and the inherent jurisdiction of the court.

SERAP argued that the suit was borne out of the fact that it is the statutory responsibility of the EFCC to investigate and prosecute financial crimes in Nigeria.

It stated that unless the reliefs it is seeking are granted, the EFCC would not investigate Dogara and other principal officers of the House for grave financial and economic crimes.

It averred that the matter is presently generating a lot of public concern and discourse and is presently in the front burner of national discourse thus germane to Nigerians.

The rights group said by the nature of the case, it ought to be heard urgently, adding that it would be in the interest of justice to hear thematter expeditiously.

“Dogara, Lasun, Ogor, and Ado are not immune from investigation under the 1999 Constitution, even though the Speaker has been talking tough, saying that the EFCC cannot investigate him.

“By virtue of Section 6 of the EFCC Act, 2004, the EFCC is statutorily empowered to investigate and prosecute economic and financial crimes committed in Nigeria. The EFCC has failed, and or refused to investigate allegations of budget padding and abuse of office levelled against Lasun, Ogor, and Doguwa.

“By a letter dated  July 26, 2016, and signed by SERAP’s Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, the group requested the EFCC to investigate allegations of budget padding and abuse of office levelled against the affected officers.’

“In the petition to the EFCC, SERAP requested for investigation into the following allegations of grave economic and financial crimes: the approval of N40 billion for principal officers of the House out of the N100 billion approved for members of the House for constituency project; the running of the finances of the House by the Speaker like his personal estate; and the diversion of millions of naira in the name of paying for guest houses and official residence.”

According to the rights group, “Other allegations of economic and financial crimes include: soliciting for inappropriate favours from agencies and multi-national companies; compelling an agency to grant loans; blackmailing a construction company to do some work at the Speaker’s Asokoro, Abuja plot; and designing a scheme to scam members of the House through deductions from their salaries for supposed mortgage arrangements.

“Section 46 of Act which is the interpretation Section in the defines “economic and financial crimes” to mean the “non-violent criminal and illicit activity committed with the objectives of earning wealth illegal either individually or in a group or organised manner thereby violating existing legislation governing the economic activities of government and its administration and includes any form of fraud, embezzlement, looting and any form of corrupt malpractices.

“Section 13 (1) (b) of the EFCC (Establishment) Act empowers the General and Assets Investigation Unit of the commission to arrest and apprehend perpetrators of economic and financial crimes. Mandamus lies to secure the performance of a public duty in the performance which the applicant has a sufficient legal interest. The must show that he has demanded the performance of the duty and that performance has been refused by the authority obliged to discharge it

“SERAP’s letter to the EFCC contained mind-blogging allegations of primitive accumulation of wealth by Dogara, Lasun, Ogor, and Doguwa.

“The heinous crime of fraud, diversion of public funds and unlawful enrichment levelled against Speaker of the House and other is a gross deprivation of the good people of Nigeria’s legitimate wealth and natural resources. The citizens of Nigeria have been deprived their natural wealth and these public officers in question should be investigated forthwith.

“The allegations levelled against them leaders of the House of Representatives are despicable to the highest degree. These leaders must not be allowed to run away from justice. The Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 has provided these accountability channels and has gone further with a provision giving every Nigerian a standing to seek the enforcement of the provisions of the Act in court as provided in Section 51 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007.

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.