A House on Fire, By Dele Agekameh
If after the whole House had vetoed and passed the appropriation bill, a privileged few met and made fresh imputations into the bill without the knowledge of the entire House, then that is padding and an illegality. It cannot go by any other name.
Since the Muhammadu Buhari government took over the reigns of leadership on May 29, 2015, it has left nobody in doubt that it is all out to wage a titanic war against corruption. Today, many Nigerians who had hitherto thought that corruption was a way of life are learning the hard way that it can no longer be business as usual. While many of them have since gone underground for fear of being apprehended by the anti-graft agencies, others have simply voted with their feet in order to escape the long arms of the law. Relatives of those who are already in the net are running from pillar to post to secure reprieve from the captors of their loved ones.
Many people have said that the on-going corruption war is like scratching the surface rather than dealing decisively with the root of the epidemic. Arguments have been advanced back and forth on this issue. It is for this reason that the on-going padding or no padding crisis currently rocking the House of Representatives presents an interesting scenario. What started like a smoke has now metamorphosed into a wild fire.
Not even the recent moves by the All Progressives Congress (APC), the party that controls the leadership of the lower house, to resolve this budget padding crisis is yielding any fruitful result. The reason for the failure of the party to successfully step into the issue at this moment is that Abdulmumin Jibrin insists on the investigation of the petitions he submitted to security agencies. Jibrin is the immediate past Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, who triggered off the whole crisis when he squealed against the leadership of the House shortly after he was removed from his plum job. The party was said to have held a meeting with Jibrin last Tuesday, but all appeals to him to withdraw his petitions from the security agencies so that the crisis could be handled as “a family affair” did not yield any result.
But a lot of Nigerians may have been taken aback when Yakubu Dogara, the Speaker of the House and the man at the centre of the entire crisis emerged from a closed-door meeting with President Buhari last Friday and shamelessly declared that padding was not a known offence in law. The Speaker’s latest position tallies with the opinion of some senior lawyers who have been labouring to win the brief from him in case the matter ends up in the law court. So, the Speaker’s position is not totally surprising. The only thing is that since Dogara, who himself is a lawyer, said padding is not a crime, it is now left for the appropriate security agencies to do their job by promptly investigating the matter without further delay. Of course, Jibrin appears to be more than eager to pursue the case to its logical conclusion.
Over the years, many Nigerians have been of the opinion that the National Assembly is an assemblage of some very corrupt and, in fact, rotten Nigerians. Take a look at our budget proposals over the years, especially since the advent of this democracy in 1999. What you notice is that in spite of the huge budgetary allocations year in, year out, Nigeria has been stagnant
From the onset, my thought had been that this sort of matter can never be purely a party affair, reason being that the issues it raises are very critical and fundamental. The issues have more to do with the institutional integrity of the House of Representatives and the National Assembly as a whole. If we are really serious about fighting corruption in this country, this issue is simply not one to be buried alive on the altar of party politics or a so-called family affair. Over the years, many Nigerians have been of the opinion that the National Assembly is an assemblage of some very corrupt and, in fact, rotten Nigerians. Take a look at our budget proposals over the years, especially since the advent of this democracy in 1999. What you notice is that in spite of the huge budgetary allocations year in, year out, Nigeria has been stagnant. It is like motion without movement as all development indices in the country indicate miserable retrogression. There are infrastructural deficits, while the few available are allowed to depreciate badly. Yet, every year, on paper, money is allocated for all these.
All the Assembly members do is to inflate project costs and collude with contractors and officials of MDAs to share the money. Many times a minister will be invited to defend his/her ministry, department or agency’s budget. You will be surprised that what they do there is not budget defence at all. Rather, it is usually an avenue for the Assembly members to smuggle more allocations into the budget. These allocations are then shared according to the understanding reached with the government officials.
Of course, if you confront any member of the National Assembly or state assemblies with these allegations, they will deny them. But that is what goes on in the ministries, departments and agencies, albeit now on a reduced scale, perhaps. This is not to talk of when they carry out their so-called oversight functions, which is essentially an avenue to breathe down the necks of officials of ministries and parastatals who are made to cough out money to earn favourable reports.
Also, the constituency projects usually allocated to each member of the assembly are a window to encourage corruption in the system. Most of these projects are either not done at all or are haphazardly done. It is the individual (dis)honourable member that nominates contractors, usually relatives and cronies, who are then milked dry or starved of funds until the contracts are abandoned or executed below standard. All you notice is the changing lifestyle of the assembly members, their harem, fleet of exotic cars and fantastic buildings springing up in highbrow areas of the country. In addition, their children are sent to school abroad while their constituents wallow pitifully in a slough of ignorance, poverty, bondage and disease.
By the way, how is a top member of the leadership of the House financing the seven-floor, ultra-modern, highrise hotel that may be the first of its kind to use an elevator in the whole of Osun State, which he is currently putting up in Osogbo, the State capital? This and many more are the reasons the current imbroglio in the House must not be swept under the carpet.
It is a good thing that Jibrin has spilled the beans but I don’t consider him a whistle-blower. Otherwise, why did he need to keep quiet all along before he started singing like canary? While the going was good, he enjoyed every benefit of the inherent corruption in the system, only for him to turn round to betray his partners-in-crime. From my point of view, such a person can never be called a whistle-blower. If at all, he became a whistle-blower by default. Put bluntly, he is an accomplice who suddenly made a U-turn and claimed to be born-again. It is like the story of a kettle calling the pot black!
As for Dogara and his clique in the National Assembly, while we await the result of investigations into this monumental fraud, one thing is certain and that is: if after the whole House had acceded to and passed the appropriation bill, a privileged few met and made fresh imputations into the bill without the knowledge of the entire House, then that is padding and an illegality. It cannot go by any other name. It becomes more serious and criminal if the funds so added are meant for the exclusive use of the coterie. In that case, it would be too early for the Speaker to thump his chest and say padding is no crime in law. All the hue and cry about this padding shows that Nigeria is now getting to the root of corruption in the society.
By the way, how is a top member of the leadership of the House financing the seven-floor, ultra-modern, highrise hotel that may be the first of its kind to use an elevator in the whole of Osun State, which he is currently putting up in Osogbo, the State capital? This and many more are the reasons the current imbroglio in the House must not be swept under the carpet. It cannot and must not be treated as a family affair. This is an issue that cannot be easily wished away. Not by fiat!
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