- Senate, House give conflicting timelines for passage of Appropriation Bill
Omololu Ogunmade, Damilola Oyedele, James Emejo and Paul Obi in Abuja
After the Nigeria Police initially issued a strongly worded statement thursday morning denying that they carted away the report on the 2017 budget and related documents from the residence of the Chairman Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje during a raid on his residence, the police succumbed to subtle arm-twisting from the National Assembly forcing the Force to return the items.
According to THISDAY findings, the police were forced to fold after the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris, was confronted by the legislature with evidence of alleged misappropriation of police funds under his watch.
Goje at plenary on Wednesday had said his personal laptop and 18 files, some of which were related to the 2017 budget, were taken away during the raid which occurred last week, thus affecting his committeeâ€™s capacity to meet the deadline for the laying and passage of the budget immediately after the Easter recess.
He also disclosed that the sums of N18 million, $19,000 and 4,000 Saudi Riyals, were seized.
Reacting, the National Assembly had blamed the raid on Gojeâ€™s residence for stalling the passage of the 2017 budget, following which it ordered the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris to return all the items in less than 24 hours.
Summoned to the National Assembly immediately, Idris had met with the leadership of the Senate on Wednesday evening behind closed doors, where THISDAY gathered that he claimed that the raid was informed by â€œcredible informationâ€ about huge sums of illegal monies in Gojeâ€™s home.
Idris had allegedly said that the police was reliably informed that Goje had collected huge sums of money to make some inputs in the 2017 budget.
Sources further informed THISDAY that at a separate meeting with the leadership of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Police Affairs, also on Wednesday evening, Idris was confronted with facts of alleged misappropriation carried out under his leadership of the police force.
â€œRemember that after the House Police Committee summoned him several times he refused to appear, until the House at plenary summoned him in January this year.
â€œHe was confronted with the misappropriation of the 2016 budget for the police after he used N1.2 billion approved for the purchase of 10 armoured personnel carriers (APC) for the purchase of 64 Toyota Hiace commuter vehicles without approval from the National Assembly for virement,â€ the source said.
The House last January had also accused Ibrahim of diverting N6 billion appropriated for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of 102 police stations to other uses without approval by the National Assembly.
â€œThese are criminal offences which constitute a breach of the Appropriation Act, violation of the Fiscal Responsibility Act and the Public Procurement Act.
â€œThe investigations were tabled after he eventually appeared and the House leadership of Wednesday let him know that they were ready for him, if that was the route he wanted to go,â€ the source added.
After the meeting with the leadership, the source explained that Idris was forced to back down and directed his men to return all the seized items, including monies to the senator at his home at about 11 a.m. yesterday.
The Special Adviser to the President, National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, confirmed that the seized items had been returned in a statement.
The statement said: â€œFurther to the visit of the Nigeria Police Force to the residence of Senator Danjuma Goje in the course of the routine duties wherefore certain items were taken by the police, and issues subsequently arising, I am to inform all that the items taken in the course of routine police duties have been returned to the Distinguished Senator at his house by the Nigeria Police.
â€œFurther to state that all other issues relating to the subject matter are being addressed with a view to positive resolution. Meanwhile, we sincerely appreciate the Senate and the House of Representatives for the enormous work that they have put in to ensure the timely passage of the 2017 Appropriation Bill.â€
Police: Goje Lied
But before the items were returned, the police yesterday had issued a statement alleging Goje had lied, adding that the 38 files that were taken from his residence had nothing to do with the budget.
Police spokesman, CSP Moshood Jimoh maintained that there was no iota of truth in the statement by Goje.
He said: â€œThe attention of the Nigeria Police Force has been drawn to reports in the media credited to Senator Danjuma Abdullahi Goje captioned, â€˜Blame the Police if 2017 Budget is not Ready – Senator Goje.â€™
â€œThe report in its entirety is false, misleading and capable of misinforming Nigerians about the statutory roles and duties of the Nigeria Police Force as provided under Sections 4 & 28 of Police Act and Regulations, which includes prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders, the preservation of law and order, the protection of life and property and the due enforcement of all laws and regulations, and authority to enter any house or premises to execute a search warrant.
â€œIt is pertinent to set the record straight and inform Nigerians of the facts of the matter.Â A search warrant duly obtained from a court of competent jurisdiction was professionally executed in the house of Senator Danujma Goje on 20th April, 2017 at No. 10 Haile Salasie Street, Asokoro District Abuja which was subsequent upon an intelligence report at the disposal of the Force that large sums of money suspected to be stolen public funds and other incriminating items were about to be moved out of the said house.
â€œThe Nigeria Police Force sees the report in the media credited to Senator Danjuma Goje as a deliberate distraction to cast aspersions on the police investigation to pervert the end of justice.
â€œMembers of the public are hereby implored to disregard the report, as the search warrant which was professionally executed in the house of Senator Danjuma Goje had nothing to do with 2017 budget.â€
Jimoh explained that on arrival of the police team at Gojeâ€™s house, the housekeeper, Ango Usman informed the senator of their presence and mission of the team and he promised to come home but later switched off his phone.
â€œThe search warrant was successfully executed in the presence of three close relatives of Senator Danjuma Goje who were residing in the house and the recoveries were made in their presence.
â€œThe three relatives listed below opened the house and took the police team round the building and endorsed their signatures after the completion of the search as required by the procedure of law on the search warrant which contained the money, documents and laptop recovered, and none of the items included 2017 budget documents. This is available for inspection by any interested members of the public.
â€œDanjuma Mohammed, a Masterâ€™s degree holder from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and a Chartered Quantity Surveyor is a nephew to Senator Danjuma Goje; Ango Usman, housekeeper to Senator Danjuma Goje; Aisha Umar, alias Iklima, a step daughter to Senator Danjuma Goje were at the house,â€ he said.
Jimoh disclosed that the items recovered included N18,056,000, $19,850,
9, 400 Saudi Riyal, 38 files and six envelopes containing documents.
He maintained that the documents contained information on a variety of issues, but not the 2017 budget.
He stressed that there was no single document relating to 2017 budget sighted or removed by the police team that executed the search warrant and there was a video recording of the execution of the search warrant.
â€œThe Inspector General of Police honoured the invitation of the National Assembly on 26th April, 2017 to explain the legality of the search warrant that was executed in the house of Senator Danjuma Goje on the 20th of April, 2017, while further investigation is currently ongoing into the matter,â€ he said.
Senate, House Give Conflicting Timelines
But just as the dust was settling over the items carted away from Gojeâ€™s house and the blame game over the delay of the budgetâ€™s passage, the Senate and House yesterday gave conflicting information on when the Appropriation Bill will be passed and transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari for his assent.
Whilst the Senate said it would pass the budget next week, all things being equal, the House said its passage would be delayed by at least two weeks due to files taken from Gojeâ€™s residence.
Speaking on the issue the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan said the upper chamber would pass the 2017 budget and begin the screening of ministerial nominees next week.
Lawan, who made the statement while answering questions from State House correspondents after visiting the president, said he was very hopeful that the Senate would have concluded its entire work on the budget next week and consequently pass it for onward transmission to the president.
Lawan further explained that following the parliamentâ€™s inability to pass the budget in March, as initially conceived, it had rescheduled its passage to this month, a move he said was stalled by the sudden raid on Gojeâ€™s house.
However, he said the chamber was currently working assiduously to ensure it makes up for the lost time and passes it within one week.
â€œLet me say that there is nothing to worry about. The National Assembly had intended to pass the budget in March but because of some parameters that we didnâ€™t have control over, we couldnâ€™t pass it.
â€œIt was our design and desire to pass it within this month, April, but somehow, something happened.
â€œOne of our colleagues, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Gojeâ€™s house was raided by the police after a whistle blower gave information and when parts of those documents were taken away, it was reported that parts of the budget papers were included.
â€œThis and other things that happened and essentially the trauma that Goje went through, affected the process of budgeting.
â€œWhen we were going on Easter recess, members of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, including that of the House, did not go on recess.
â€œThey stayed back because that was the arrangement, so that by the time we returned on April 25, that was Tuesday, they should have laid the report of the budget.
â€œUnfortunately, that wasnâ€™t possible because of what happened. But the good news is that we are doing everything possible to ensure that we catch up for lost time.
â€œSo, by the grace of God, Iâ€™m thinking that by next week, we should be able to finish our own work and pass the budget for Mr. president to sign,â€ he said.
Lawan who also said the Senate might screen the two ministerial nominees whose names were recently sent to it by the president next week, added that other nominees sent to the Senate for screening and confirmation might also be considered.
â€œCertainly not this week because this is the last legislative day of the week but I have the feeling that the Senate may be looking at that and indeed others, by next week insha Allah (by Godâ€™s grace),â€ he stated.
Lawan also said he had visited the president in his capacity as the Senate Leader because it was his responsibility to get the president acquainted with Senate bills and other requests.
He said he has a duty to ensure adequate engagement of the president with a view to ensuring that he performs his duty creditably as the Senate Leader.
However, in the House, its spokesman Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas thursday warned that except documents relating to the 2017 Appropriation Bill which were reportedly carted away from Gojeâ€™s residence by the police were turned in, the budgetâ€™s passage could be delayed by at least two weeks.
Speaking to reporters during the weekly media interaction, Namdas, who was possibly unaware that the so-called budget documents allegedly taken from Goje had been returned, said should the police be unable to produce copies of the seized documents, both appropriation committees of the House and Senate would have no option than to attempt to reproduce the missing portions of the budget, stressing that this could take some time to accomplish.
He said: â€œI want to tell you that we still stand on our resolution that there are documents in the possession of the police and we expect that if those documents are with the police, they should be able to make them available.
â€œOne thing that Iâ€™ve come to confirm is that even the police agreed that they took a laptop from his house and whoever has taken a laptop also knows that there are documents.
â€œBut the truth I must tell you is that this is the word of Goje against the police. You should understand the fact that the police invaded the house of Senator Goje and took some documents and certain things.
â€œAnd Goje himself said documents relating to appropriation had been carted away by the police. So I want you to understand that itâ€™s Goje’s word against the police.
â€œBut what I want to let you know is that if the police are unable to produce these documents, personally I would say we will have to go back and try to reproduce this report and that would take us backwards certainly close to about two weeks. Weâ€™ll have to reproduce some of the documents that are missing.â€
When Namdas was asked to give reasons why the committee would have to resort to reinventing the wheel to reproduce the documents when it was expected that the House Committee on Appropriation in particular should have a separate copy of the alleged missing documents.
He responded: â€œYou are all aware that the House and the Senate have been working together and that anything that is produced at the House, if we donâ€™t send it to the Senate for concurrence it doesnâ€™t become law.
â€œAnd you all know that when we did a public hearing on this 2017 budget, it was planned along with the two chairmen of the appropriation committees. So whatever thing they do, they do jointly.
â€œSo, the missing documents will jeopardise the 2017 budget in terms of timelines. It is common knowledge that the police had invaded his house and he said the documents were missing. So if the police say it is not missing, it is Gojeâ€™s word against the police.
â€œBut for us, if heâ€™s unable to lay his hands on these documents, it means all committees have to sit down to rebuild these documents and itâ€™ll take some time and thatâ€™s why Iâ€™m saying it will delay us.â€
He also defended the rationale behind taking official documents home, stating: â€œGentleman, letâ€™s be fair, we are public officers and if you are in the office, the kind of attention people demand of you sometimes makes it difficult for you to conclude your job.
â€œSo if you work on a document and you feel tired and want to go home with some of the documents and still work on them thereâ€™s nothing wrong with that because of pressure in the office,â€ he pointed out.