- Protesters demand his ouster as Kano lawmaker insists on public hearing
Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
Despite the rowdy session which pervaded wednesday’s plenary at the House of Representatives, lawmakers finally voted that the former Chairman of the Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Jibrin Abdulmumin, should face the Committee on Ethics and Privileges for breaches and sundry acts of misconduct.
If the committee finds him liable, Abdulmumin would be suspended for at least six months.
The development was in spite of the resolution of the Transparency Group comprising Abdulmumin’s sympathisers, to resist any move to refer the matter to the committee over fears that it would lead to his suspension.
Since his removal as the chairman of the appropriation committee, Abdulmumin has been engaged in a war of attrition with principal officer of the House and other committee chairmen, accusing them of altering the 2016 budget for personal gains.
He has also written petitions to the presidency, the police and other anti-graft agencies, asking them to probe the allegations he made against his colleagues, which they have all strenuously denied.
Expectedly, when the House resumed wednesday after the summer recess, the atmosphere was expectedly tense in the chamber.
The procession of the body of principal officers led by Speaker Yakubu Dogara walked into the chambers at 11.12 a.m. Abdulmumin, clad in a white agbada, was already in the chambers. He exchanged greetings with several of his colleagues before making his way to sit next to Hon. Mohammed Zakari, on a seat behind Hon. Herma Hembe.
Zakari and Hembe were included among the nine chairmen of standing committees accused by Abdulmumin of allegedly making insertions into the 2016 budget, running into billions of naira.
Dogara, in his welcome address, already gave a hint that the matter would be referred to the Ethics Committee when he noted that the plenary was “not the appropriate venue to address allegations made against individual members, many of which are criminal in nature as there are constitutional avenues for that.”
The Speaker described Abdulmumin’s actions as a “strange propaganda clearly aimed not only at the destruction of the image of some members, but a systematic destruction of the institution of the House of Representatives and indeed the legislature by portraying it to the public as an irredeemably corrupt institution.”
The allegations over which Abdulmumin demanded the removal of the four principal officers had engulfed the whole House, Dogara noted
“I have bad news for those who think they can pull down this institution of the people. If history is any guide, no one in a democracy has ever succeeded in destroying a democratic institution such as the House of Representatives, although examples abound of such efforts by people both within and outside the institution, ours cannot be different.
“We will therefore not be distracted by any insidious antics however well orchestrated, and falsehoods however cleverly propagated to confuse Nigerians. We remain accountable to Nigerians for our conduct as public servants.
“It is however important to briefly say that nothing warrants the deliberate attempt at destructive public misinformation aimed at discrediting the House as an institution,” the Speaker added.
As Dogara made to continue with the first business of the day, the Chairman of the Committee on Rules and Business, Hon. Emmanuel Orker-Jev, moved to raise a point of order.
He noted that attention of Nigerians was on the House with high expectations that the lawmakers would degenerate into exchange of blows. “Lets disappoint them,” he said.
Orker-Jev then sought permission to move a motion on what he called “breach of privilege of the House, breach of the privileges of the members of the House, breach of practices, precedents and usages of the House of Representatives, and sundry acts of misconduct against the members and institution of the House and the National Assembly by Abdulmumin.”
This was accompanied by shouts of “No” from Abdulmumin’s supporters, but Orker-Jev however continued reading his motion, spurred on by Dogara’s supporters. About the same time, Abdulmumin walked out of the chamber, returning almost immediately carrying a collection of documents and returned to his seat next to Zakari.
Amidst the commotion, the prayer of the motion which sought to refer the above matter and Abdulmumin to the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges for proper investigation, was passed by a majority.
The motion prescribed a punishment of suspension of not less than six months for the various breaches and misconduct by the embattled lawmaker. The committee is expected to submit its report in one week.
Attempt by Hon. Aliyu Madaki, a pro-Abdulmumin House member, to point out certain breaches in the passage of the motion, was shouted down by members after he was recognised to speak by Dogara.
While Madaki made to continue to speak, chants of ‘Dogara’ continued and disrupted proceedings so much that several principal officers had to move round the chambers to placate members.
In the midst of the furore, Abdulmumin walked out of the chamber.
Suddenly, members were observed distributing green silk mufflers with the inscription “#IStandWithDogara” and adoring them round their necks.
Earlier, protesters under aegis of Coalition in Defence of Democracy (CDD) besieged the main gate of the National Assembly to demand the suspension of Abdulmumin who the group accused of maligning the legislature without justification.
The protesters bore placards with different inscriptions such as ‘EFCC – prosecute Jibrin for operating £1.37 million pounds foreign account’, ‘Hon, Jibrin is a professional blackmailer’, ‘Suspend Hon. Jibrin for his failed plot to destroy the legislature’, among others.
The President of the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), Mr. Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, who led the protesters told journalists that they had petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Attorney General of the Federation to prosecute Abdulmumin for maintaining a foreign account.
Ikenga added that the lawmaker violated Section 24 of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act which prohibits members of the House from defaming the House any of its committees unjustly, and should therefore be suspended.
Reacting to the decision of the House, Abdulmumin wednesday said he would only appear before the Ethics Committee if the hearing is made public, and the press, civil society organisations, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), and the general public are allowed to witness the proceedings.
In a statement, the embattled lawmaker accused Dogara of deploying “legislative tricks and theatrics” to ensure that the motion referring him to the Ethics Committee was passed.
In a separate statement, Abdulmumin disclosed that he has sued two leaders of the NYCN, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere and Ifeanyi Okonkwo, over claims that he operates a foreign account with a balance of 1.5 million pounds.
Ikenga and Okonkwo had circulated a document alleging that the Kano lawmaker has a foreign account with a United Kingdom bank.
Abdulmumin accused them of being Dogara’s hatchet men.
According to the statement, he is seeking an order compelling the defendants to pay N1 billion as damages for defamation and libel, N20 million as cost of the lawsuit, and the publication of detailed retractions in five national dailies.
In another development, Hon. Timothy Golu (Plateau PDP) has said Abdulmumin can avoid suspension if he apologises to the House for the embarrassment he has caused in the last two months and retract his allegations.
Speaking with journalists, Golu noted that Abdulmumin ought to have reported his grievances to the House, and then go public if he nothing was done to address them.
“If Jibrin shows remorse and apologises to the House, I can assure you that members will forgive him. We are all human beings, but he has to tell Nigerians that all that he said were lies. I advise him to quickly do that,” he said, noting that Abdulmumin would have to abide by the decision of the Ethics Committee.
“The display by most of us today was a natural thing to show our support for Dogara. No single member had any issue with the Speaker. What happened was a disappointment to Jibrin. He only had five members behind him,” Golu said.