with Yemi Adebowale; email@example.com
Abdulmumin Jibrin, the former chairman of the Appropriations Committee of the House of Representatives was a pitiable sighton Thursday while responding to the decision of the House to suspend him for 180 legislative sitting days, over an alleged breach of the privileges of his co-legislators. The breach in question was about the budget-padding allegation he made against the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara and some other principal officers. Jibrin was also barred from holding positions of responsibility throughout the life of the 8th National Assembly. Poor Jibrin. The 180 legislative-day suspension will unerringly come to one calendar year.
Jibrin obviously got a full dose of his own medicine. He was so childish in this misadventure. For me, his budget-padding allegation was a charade. I don’t have the slightest pity for this beleaguered lawmaker. For several months, Jibrin went about creating an unnecessary diversion from the myriad of problems facing this country, which the lawmakers ought to be responding to. He did not even start his so-called budget-padding war until he was removed as the chairman of the Appropriations Committee; the obvious vindictiveness with which he went about the media war was also appalling. It is disheartening that the belligerent Jibrin failed to show up when the matter was assigned to its Ethics and Privileges Committee for further investigation, even when his demand that the sitting be thrown open to the public was met by the committee.
One of the lawmakers, Emmanuel Orker-Jev was on point when he remarked: “The image of the House has never been worse than this before. Jibrin was reckless and the allegations were false. He knew that the allegations were false and scandalous and he had no regards at all to whether the allegations were true or false.”
It is even more painful that Jibrin reduced everything around the budget to propaganda. Nigerians need to know the truth; that constitutionally, power over the budget rests with the National Assembly. The President only lays a proposal. When the ministries, departments and agencies come forward to defend their budgets, the lawmakers can amend, add or subtract. Otherwise, there will be no need for budget defence. When the lawmakers are satisfied, it is brought forward as a bill, passed and sent to the president for assent. It is preposterous for somebody to now turn around and say that these same people with power to amend, add or subtract from the budget have “padded” it.
The powers of the lawmakers on appropriation are clearly spelt out in Sections 4, 59 and 80 (4) of the 1999 Constitution. Section 59 confers on the lawmakers the final say on the budget. Section 80 (4), which confers on the legislature absolute power of control over public funds, states: “No money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund of the Federation, except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly”. The word Manner confers absolute legislative discretion.
The statement issued by Dogara at the outset of this saga should be of interest to genuine patriots. It is apropos for us to reflect on it this morning because it settles most of the funny points raised by Jibrin. The Speaker remarked: “When therefore, the National Assembly appropriates funds in the budget, it can never under any circumstances or guise be deemed or regarded as tinkering or padding. The legislature is therefore constitutionally incapable of padding the budget. What the Executive submits are mere estimates and proposal as stipulated in Section 81 (1). It is obvious that the Constitution uses the word ‘estimates’ advisedly. Consequently, it is therefore an exhibition of crass ignorance, abuse of language, outright mischief and or blackmail for a legislator especially one who chaired the Appropriations Committee to use the word ‘padding’ to describe the action of parliament on the budget.
“The removal, introduction of projects or the amendment of Mr. President’s estimates in the Appropriation Bill cannot and should never be construed as an act of corruption or impropriety because it is at the core of appropriation powers of the National Assembly as aptly enshrined in the 1999 Constitution. It is therefore clear, that no crime or wrong doing can be legitimately imputed on the actions or conduct of Mr. Speaker, the leadership or members of the House of Representatives before, during and after the passage of the 2016 Appropriation Bill.”
On this one, I am with Dogara and the angry lawmakers. Jibrin was extremely childish. I urge him to drop his court cases and seek ways of reconciling with his aggrieved colleagues.
Nigeria’s Rising Debt Profile
The rising debt profile of governments at both the federal and state levels should be of concern to patriots. Of course, I am not averse to debt, but I can’t see anything tangible on the ground to justify this massive figure in the last 14 months. The latest statistics from the Debt Management Office (DMO) showed that domestic and external debt by the federal and state governments had risen to N16.29 trillion, an increase of N4.17 trillion in the first one year of this administration – July 2015 to June 2016. The domestic debt status of the federal government alone is now N10.6 trillion as at June this year as against N8.4 trillion as at the same time, last year, meaning an increase of N2.21 trillion. The domestic debt of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory, as at June this year, was N2.6 trillion. It was N1.69 trillion in July 2015. Yet, most of these state governments can’t point to tangible projects. Further borrowing not tied to projects that can help reflate this economy signals a bigger danger for an economy already in decline. Lawmakers at all levels must take steps to check splurge borrowing by governments at all levels.
What Next for the Jagaban?
I have always insisted that the decision of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu to liquidate his Action Congress of Nigeria, for the merger that gave birth to the All Progressives Congress, APC, was a misadventure. He ought to have remained a king maker at the regional level. My third eye does not deceive me. Ahead of the 2015 general election, my conviction then was that Jagaban should retain his ACN and go into an alliance with the mega-party that will result from the merger. His structure would have remained untainted, while he would substantially determine the terms of the alliance because he was the most beautiful bride then. The distribution of political offices would have been clearly spelt out and Jagaban would only fill in the gaps as the day progressed. If there emerges a major issue as currently being experienced, this former Lagos State governor would simply retreat to his beloved ACN. But Jagaban got it all wrong. He threw virtually everything he had worked for all his life into the merger and sacrificed his adored ACN.
It is obvious that the APC has fallen apart, with Tinubu demanding for the resignation of the National Chairman of the party, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, who he claimed had derailed from the path of progressives. He also wants the Ondo APC gubernatorial primary cancelled. Jagaban is clearly asking for the impossible. Oyegun has already aligned with the cabal running the Buhari government. They have guaranteed Oyegun’s chairmanship as long as he does their biddings. What the cabal has simply been telling Jagaban all the while is that he can go to hell. The bitter truth only few people are courageous to tell Jagaban is that the cabal members don’t trust him. It is even more interesting to note that some of Tinubu’s cohorts have jumped ship and teamed up with the cabal. The solid blow from the likes of Odigie-Oyegun and Muiz Banire over the Ondo issue testifies to this.
Tinubu had never for once been given his due respect as deserving of a national leader of the party. The hawks in the APC would never allow this. They have very little regard for him and keep running away from the fact that Jagaban almost single-handedly gave victory to APC in the 2015 Presidential election. Asiwaju could not even influence the choice of ministers that emerged from his beloved South-west. The cold war has been on since June, 2015. The controversial gubernatorial primary in Ondo State exacerbated it. For Jagaban, Oyegun sabotaged the will of democracy in Ondo State by overriding the decision of the appeal panel that recommended a fresh governorship primary following investigations that showed that the delegates’ list used had been tampered with.
Tinubu further stated that Oyegun’s action in allegedly subverting the will of the people was not of his doing, saying that for a man of the age of the national chairman to have done what he did, then “he must have been under the influence of a “powerful and sinister arm at work.” Jagaban, who said that the APC was now under threat of being suffocated by anti-democratic forces pretending to be progressives, added: “The APC, a party born of the quest for democratic good governance, is under critical threat by those who managed to be in the party but never of it.”
Well, Jagaban no longer has the luxury of simply removing cohorts that have gone astray. This talk about removing the APC chairman is dead on arrival. For me, Jagaban has to press a tough restart button. It will be a tough one because the Cabal will do everything possible to destroy him; but the Jagaban I know looks good to wriggle out of this. The days ahead will be interesting as Asiwaju shows his defining colours.
Still on Planned Sale of National Assets
Opposition to the planned sale of our national assets as a measure for reflating our recessed economy got massive boost for most of the week, with the Senate, labour leaders and genuine patriots rising up against those who want to destroy ourtomorrow. It is a big shame that some governors teamed up with Vice President Yemi Osibajo in the National Economic Council to sanction this planned looting of our commonwealth. Clearly, President Muhammadu Buhari and his cohorts in the APC are no longer in agreement with the wishes of the people. The truth be told: The policy choices of the Buhari administration have put this country in crisis. The incompetent reactions to falling oil prices, Naira devaluation and fuel subsidy removal all combined to put this country in this economic mess. Again, Nigeria has never experienced this much garbling in exchange rate in all of our 56 years of nationhood. We should not create a bigger crisis by selling out assets.
I urge the Buhari administration to deeply reflect on the addendum of former central bank governor, Charles Soludo to this debate. He said: “It is our considered view that the proposal is based on a false foundation. Our thesis is that in extreme, exceptional circumstances, sale of certain assets could be a last resort option but that Nigeria is currently not near that threshold and the institutional framework for its effective use is also not in place. Furthermore, we argue that any sale of assets now amounts to chasing pennies when by acts of omission or commission, we are losing pounds. Such a hasty auction of national assets can only benefit a privileged few with cash and access while jeopardising Nigeria’s long-term economic interests. It will be a historic mistake for the reasons stated below.
“If we sell assets and lodge into the reserves under the current policy framework, I am willing to take a bet that in a few months’ time, it will be frittered away and we will be in even a bigger mess as economic agents know that we have nothing else to resort to. Sale of assets is the easy short-term option to earn peanuts while ignoring the hard work to earn the sustainable revenue required for moving the economy forward. Oil and gas, solid minerals and other depleting national assets belong to present and future generations of Nigerians in perpetuity.” Let’s continue the discussion on Twitter and Facebook @yemiadebowale.