Zonal Intervention Fund: House Considers Re-Visiting Sharing Formula

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•Namdas: Dogara has minimum of 85% support
•House adjourns sitting over death of colleague

Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
Indications emerged on Tuesday that the House of Representatives might revisit the sharing formula of the Zonal Intervention Funds (also called constituency project funds) in a manner that would ensure more equitable distribution among all members.

The current distribution allocates a chunk of the funds, which are included in annual national budgets to principal officers of the House, a tradition which has helped to fuel the ongoing budget padding crises.

The former Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Jibrin Abdulmumin, had accused the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, Deputy Speaker, Hon. Yussuff Sulaimon Lasun, Chief Whip, Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa, and Minority Leader, Hon. Leo Ogor, of allocating to themselves N40 billion out of the N100 billion allocated to the National Assembly.

Abdulmumin also accused the Speaker, the three principal officers and chairmen of nine standing committees of making fraudulent and senseless insertions into the 2016 budget.

As part of efforts to manage the fallout of the scandal, THISDAY gathered that a proposal is being made to set up a committee to revisit the sharing formula, away from tradition of previous assemblies.

There are however different accounts as to this development.
Abdulmumin, briefing journalists yesterday after a brief plenary session, said Dogara made the proposal after “begging members to forgive him and the other principal officers mentioned for whatever offences they might have committed.”

The Speaker at the meeting of the North-west caucus on Monday, explained the N40 billion distribution, saying he only followed tradition, Abdulmumin said.

“Hon Aliyu Madaki interjected immediately and asked if it’s right for him to have done that without consulting the members…Hon. Soba asked if he (Speaker) would return the money,” Abdulmumin said, adding that instead, the Speaker offered to set up the committee to reconsider the sharing formula.
The committee would be made up of members from each of the geo-political zones, Abdulmumin added.

All the geo political caucuses met on Monday, and the body of principal officers made appearances at all the meetings.

Speaking further on what transpired at the North-west caucus meeting, Abdulmumin claimed that the members decided by a loose consensus, that they no longer had confidence in Doguwa as Chief Whip.

“We were waiting for him as the leader of the caucus, to tell him we no longer wanted him…and if he doubts it, I challenge him to convene a meeting of the caucus in 24 hours, or even one week,” he said.

Abdulmumin also announced that he has formally joined the Transparency group, proponents of the notion that Dogara must step aside to allow for an independent investigation into the allegations levelled against him.

“Let’s have a Speaker pro tempore…It is not that he is gone as Speaker, but he cannot preside over his own investigation,” he said and added that a precedent had been set, in reference to the Hon. Patricia Etteh era in the sixth assembly.

Abdulmumin said the House is divided between proponents of whether the matter should be handled internally, or the Speaker should step aside. He however noted that even if members vote for the matter to be amicably resolved, he would continue to pursue it, in alliance with civil society organisations, and ensure it is not swept under the carpet.

He alleged that Dogara ‘bribed’ the members of the caucus by notifying them that their official cars and office equipment had been sorted out and would be made available soon.

The embattled lawmaker lamented that he was not allowed to speak at the meeting despite indicating that he wanted to.
Another member of the North-west caucus, Hon. Sumaila Suleiman (Kaduna APC) however gave a different account of what transpired at the meeting.

Suleiman confirmed to THISDAY in an interview that Dogara ‘suggested’ that a committee made up of some principal officers and members from each geo-political zone be set up.

“…To look at how best to handle the issue of zonal Intervention funds for members and put the matter to a final rest,” he said.
Sumaila however, refuted Abdulmumin’s claims that there was a resolution to pass a vote of no confidence on Doguwa as the leader of the caucus, adding that such discussion never even came up.

He also described as untrue the claim that Dogara ‘begged’ the members.
“He urged us to play politics according to its rules particularly as it concerns the chamber. He also appealed for calm and addressing issues without resorting to rancour and chaos,” Sulaiman said.

“He did not beg at all, but said in a situation that there are words or actions that do not go down well with anyone at resumption of plenary, we should remain calm,” the lawmaker told THISDAY.

By Suleiman’s account, Soba had asked if the ‘new sharing formula’ would take effect with the 2016 budget.
A member from the North-central caucus, who asked not to be named confirmed to THISDAY that a new sharing formula would be considered.

“It would be tabled before members at an executive session, but there are inherent dangers in revisiting the formula. Dogara would not be Speaker forever, tomorrow anyone of us could become Speaker, and so would you ask that it be revisited again?
But if the committee makes the recommendation, and it’s carried, why not,” the lawmaker said.

The spokesperson of the House, Hon. Namdas Abdulrazak, also described as lies the claims that there was a plan to pass a vote-of-no confidence on Doguwa, or that the Speaker “begged” the members and pleaded for their forgiveness.
“All that Abdulmumin said is false,” he said adding that Doguwa convened the meeting and presided over the meeting.

Flanked by 10 members of the North-west caucus and three members from other caucuses, Namdas said the Speaker and the body of principal officers have at least 85 percent support in the lower chamber.

“This is not the first time Abdulmumin has been talking about bribes without proof. The matter of the purchase of cars or office equipment pre-date this crises…He has petitioned all the agencies, he should allow them do their work,” Namdas said.
He added that the parliamentary procedure would be followed to handle the matter.

Parliamentary procedure in this instance would indicate that the Committee on Ethics would look into the allegations and make recommendations to the House.

Hon. Munir Baba Dan-Agundi, from Kano where Abdulmumin hails from, said Dogara has the support of 21 out of the 24 members from the state, and they all signed a register passing a vote-of-confidence on the House leadership.

Earlier, the House, had adjourned plenary, to today, in honour of Hon. Adewale Oluwatayo who died on July 21, 2016 of cardiac pulmonary arrest.

The brief sitting had gone on without any incident as members exchanged banter before the opening prayer by the Speaker. Abdulmumin had attended the brief sitting and was also observed exchanging pleasantries with several of his colleagues.