Since his removal as Chairman, Committee on Appropriations, he has been at loggerheads with the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and some principal officers of the House.
He was later suspended from the House for 180 legislative days over the 2016 Budget and was also barred from holding positions of responsibility till the end of the 8th Assembly.
In this interview in Abuja to mark ‘ 100 days of the 2016 Budget Padding controversy’, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin bares his mind on what happened, the 8th Assembly, the 2016 Budget, the role he and others played in the budget saga, among other issues.
When you were making those revelations, did it occur to you that you will be suspended?
I actually didn’t think about suspension then because, in my thinking, it will be ridiculous for the House to suspend me. I never thought that some members of the House would choose to act in a very reckless manner. I have never seen such impunity in my life because, while I was dishing out the allegations, my thinking was that by the time we resumed from recess, my colleagues will do the right thing which is insisting that the House investigates the allegations and collaborate with the anti- graft agencies, the police and the Department of State Security ( DSS), which had already commenced investigations into the matter.
But to my surprise, when we resumed, a motion was raised and it was referred to the Ethics Committee and my first impression was that the House was referring the issue in its entirety to the Ethics Committee so that one could go there and discuss the allegations that were raised only for me to read the Order Paper and the motion properly and I discovered that the only item they were taking there is that I breached the privileges of the House and its members. That is why I declined participation because it made no sense to me.
Let me give you an analogy, it is like the case of someone shouting in the market square: ‘Thief, thief , thief’. Rather than the people following the track where the thief was running towards, they went and apprehended the person who raised the alarm and started beating him up. Obviously, the aim was to silence the man who blew the whistle.
You have been part of that ‘cult’ that you were going to expose and you thought they were really going to allow you get away with it?
A couple of persons have asked me that question: ‘ Didn’t you see this coming?’ Well, as an insider, because the facts were out in a way that it has never happened in this country, I would never have thought that they would decide to turn the other way rather than focus on the issues.
The difference from the case in the past is that you could have issues coming up like speculations. Like somebody from outside the system alleging that the running cost is being mismanaged or there was budget padding. In that kind of instance, you could quickly look at a case of connivance or a gang-up by the House to defend itself. But in a case where I said that some principal officers did this and I clarified the issues one after the other, there was no way I thought there was going to be a gang-up except under one condition.
While you were making the allegations, there were groups in the House that appeared to be supporting your cause, but, all of a sudden, we no longer heard from them, even after your suspension. What happened to these groups?
I am happy that you asked this question. Now, I am going to open up because this question gives me leeway to do it. Nigerians are surprised about what has happened and some are asking: ‘Is it that there is only one person that has conscience in the House of Representatives?’ At least, during the recess, you had the Transparency Group, you had the Integrity Group talking. Soon after resuming, they continued to talk, but immediately after the suspension, they fizzled out. They went quiet.
There is one issue, and I have said it repeatedly, that unites the House and that is the issue of the running cost.
What happened is simple. Many members are still angry about the budget crisis and other issues in the House.
But the night before our resumption, that was a Monday, the Speaker arranged a caucus meeting. I attended the meeting. When the Speaker came in, the first thing he said sent everybody into shock. He said: ‘Look, the issue Jibrin is raising is not going to bring down Dogara, Lasun, Leo Ogor and Alhassan Dogowa; it is going to involve the whole House because if they start this investigation, it will get to the issue of running cost’.
Since I mentioned the issue of running cost and called figures people have been collecting and everything, nobody has come out to refute it. Out of 359 members, has anyone come out to say Jibrin is lying? It is one hundred days today (penultimate Saturday), nobody has come up to say Jibrin is lying.
Meanwhile, I have heard members who come to me to say, ‘Look, can you go ahead with this issue without including running cost?’ If it is about interest of just taking down Dogara, Walahi, I will not even talk about running cost because I am smart enough to understand that, but I said that I am going all out even if I am alone.
Was it the same in the last session when you were the Chairman, House Committee on Finance?
Well, as Chairman, Finance, I dealt essentially with the revenue aspect of the budget not the expenditure aspect of the budget. So, I am more competent to talk about what happened to the budget during my time as Chairman of Appropriations Committee.
Did you also take this running cost you talk about?
Of course I took running cost. I have said it before that I received running cost.
What has happened to all the petitions you submitted to the anti- graft agencies. Are you shocked that one hundred days after you started this crusade, the EFCC and ICPC have not deemed it fit to invite the accused persons for interrogation?
Well, I am not because, in fairness to the anti- graft agencies, I am the one who submitted the petitions and I have been following up on the petitions. I submitted petitions to the Nigeria Police, EFCC and ICPC and, contrary to the thinking of some Nigerians, they have been carrying out their investigations. You might be surprised to know that, like the DSS, how long had they been following up on the judges cases before they eventually burst into their homes. So, I believe that we will get to that point. I am very very optimistic that we will get to a point where there will be a strike.
They are doing their work; they have invited me severally, I have gone there and presented my case. They’ve interacted with me countless times and I know that investigations are on and at the various stages. There have been massive discoveries – all the teams at the EFCC, ICPC and the AIG in charge of the investigations at the police headquarters. I know they are doing their work and I have had a lot of assurances that we will get to the point where every Nigerian wants to see – where, of course, Speaker Dogara and others in the House of Representatives will be arrested and prosecuted.
How can we avoid budget padding in the future?
Follow the rules. When the MTEF comes, take it straight to the first reading. Don’t start going here and there pretending to be consulting stakeholders because it is usually a tool of blackmail on the executive. After the first reading, take it through to the second reading and after the debate you refer it to the committees. Allow the committees to do their job. Allow the Chairman of Finance and Chairman of Appropriations to do their job. After that, they will engage the relevant ministers. It is not you the Speaker, you can’t leave your own job and start doing committee work with the Minister of Budget.
Where you have issues, it is with the President. When you dabble into issues with ministers, you will get the issues messed up and, in the process, you mess up the entire House.
When the budget comes, follow the same rules. The only thing that will be added to remove all the confusion is that after the second reading, the budget is referred to the Committee on Appropriations which, in turn, will refer it to the various committees. They now engage the MDAs after which they bring back their reports to the Appropriations Committee where these reports are collated. After this exercise, then you go into the delicate period.
Why do you call it a delicate period?
The tradition is that when the Appropriations Committee finishes its work, it will take it to the Clerk of the House. But before that happens, there has been a tradition which is faulty- the estimates go back to the floor without the details. This is where the problem comes because it is these estimates without details that the House passes. Then, the Appropriations Committee takes its time to work out the details. When this is done, you as Chairman of Appropriations will take it directly to the Clerk and that is the budget.
Now, the delicate period is from that period where the Appropriations Committee finishes its work and when the budget goes to the Clerk. That was the period in the 2016 Budget process that Speaker Dogara took over my secretariat twice and that was where the padding was done. That was where the padding was committed in the name of harmonization of the budget. Remember that the Harmonisation Committee was headed by Deputy Speaker Lasun. They frustrated the budget process because they wanted harmonization. They took over the secretariat from me and all the insertions were made. I have taken all the evidence and given it to the anti- graft agencies. I am not lying when I said the Speaker and three others inserted N20billion worth of wasteful projects, when I said that they wanted to force me to put in N30 billion worth of projects. All the insertions they made, how they took N40billion out of the N100 billion Zonal Intervention Fund for the entire National Assembly. They shared it among themselves. The records are there. But we will get to that point where arrest and prosecution start.