By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
The House of Representatives witnessed relative peace after the acrimonious election that brought the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, to power on June 9, 2015. But some persons described the situation as peace of the grave yard especially with the interest the leadership of the All Progressives Congress, APC, had showed in who became the presiding and principal officers of the nation’s green chamber.
Meanwhile, it was clear on Wednesday that the peace in the House was, indeed, one of the graveyard after the Speaker announced the removal of the Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, representing Bebeji/Kiru Federal Constituency of Kano State, and replaced him with his kinsman and former House Committee Chairman on Housing, Mustapha Bala Dawaki, who represents Dawakin Kudu/Warawa Federal Constituency of Kano State.
Jibrin, prior to the emergence of the House principal officers, last year, was a loyalist of one of the contestants for the position of speakership and current Leader of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, who was the APC’s preferred candidate, before he was poached by Dogara to swell his camp. Jibrin’s support for Dogara contributed to the emergence of the Speaker. Dogara is believed to have compensated Jibrin with the headship committee of the Appropriations Committee, seen as a juicy appointment in the House.
However, since President Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2016 Budget to the National Assembly, it has been one controversy after the other with accusing fingers pointed at the two Chairmen of Appropriation Committees in both chambres. First, Jibrin was accused of ‘smuggling’ about N4 billion worth of projects for his constituency into the budget. He was also said to be behind the controversy surrounding the Lagos-Calabar railway project as he was said to have had an understanding with the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to include the project during budget defence, but never did.
The alleged padding of the budget with constituency projects and non-submission of the budget details to the Presidency made Buhari to reject it until he was furnished with the details. But reacting to development, Jibrin accused the Presidency of being ungrateful if it refused to sign the budget because of the non-provision of the details.
Jibrin, while briefing journalist, said, if such allegation came from the Presidency, it showed that it was not thankful to the National Assembly despite the alleged Herculean tasks faced while cleaning the budget document which he said had serious errors. He said he was sure the statement did not emanate from the Presidency because former President Olusegun Obasanjo assented to budgets during his administration without the details.
Maintaining that it was not abnormal for Buhari to sign the Appropriation Bill without the details, he said, “We have instances of President Olusegun Obasanjo signed the budget without the details, we came to Yar’adua who always preferred to see the details. “So, if President Muhammadu Buhari prefers to see the details before assenting to the bill, I don’t think we should make a big deal out of it. It’s absolutely normal.
“For us in the National Assembly, we are trying to make sure that we do not make the same mistake the executive arm made. I can recall that myself and Senator Goje actually advised the budget team because of our own experience in budget session we have been involved in and I said to them, because of the hasty manner in which you prepared the budget send us the estimates and take a week or two to prepare the details.
“But the budget team wanted to do otherwise. The budget came subsequently we have multiple budget versions in the National Assembly. But we don’t want to make the same mistakes, we carefully worked on the estimates and we sent back the estimates to Mr. President and the estimates on the budget has been passed. Despite what was said to be the grandstanding of the Jibrin committee, Buhari refused to assent to the budget. Later, it it was alleged that the leadership of Appropriation Committee inserted projects worth several billions for their constituencies, while some members of the House had nothing tangible.
However, when the allegation came into the open, on the quantum of money for Jibrin’s constituency, majority of House members said he should be removed but because of the role he played in the emergence of Dogara, the clamour was said to have been ignored. Then the Speaker’s alleged over protection of Jibrin allegedly started bringing bad blood among House members. Before he quit, the former Appropriations Committee Chairman was embarrassed during the debate on the proposed immunity clause for presiding officers of the two chambers of the National Assembly.
It was gathered that when Jibrin discovered that the principal officers had concluded to remove him, he went to the Speaker at the plenary to inform him of his decision to step aside. Consequently, Dogara announced his replacement with Dawaki. But little did Dogara know that the battle had just begun between him and Jibrin. Just after plenary, in a media briefing, Jibrin said there were issues he will be discussing in due course.
Jibrin, on Thursday, made good his promise when he, in a statement, entitled, “My resignation”, alleged that the House principal officers tried to allocate to themselves N40 billion out of the N100 billion allocated to the National Assembly in the 2016 Budget. Consequently, he asked the principal officers to resign.
“I strongly believe with every conviction that in cleaning up the budget system and considering what transpired during 2016 budget which I have all the facts documented, Speaker Dogara, Deputy Speaker Lasun, Whip Doguwa and minority Leader Leo Ogor should resign”, the embattled former House Appropriation Committee Chair said. .
“These members of the body of principal officers were not comfortable with my independent disposition and my refusal to cover up their unilateral decision to allocate to themselves 40billion naira out of the 100billion allocated to the entire National Assembly. The four of them met and took that decision. “In addition to billions of wasteful projects running over 20billion they allocated to their constituencies. They must come out clean. My inability to admit into the budget almost 30billion personal requests from Mr. Speaker and the 3 other principal officers also became an issue.
“I wish I could but where will I get such money in a tight budget year like this? I have every documented evidence to this effect. After the submission of the first version of the budget which was returned by Mr President, I briefed members in executive session and told them as agreed at our pre budget meeting with chairmen and deputy chairmen of standing committees, we simply adopted their reports with little amendments.
“No body faulted my submission. Members insisted they must know how the 100billion was allocated. I told them the truth. Since after that meeting, Mr Speaker with the support of the three other principal officers effectively blocked me from briefing members, ensured I was not at the last executive session and refused to investigate issues I raised that I believe must be addressed if we intend to build a better budget system for the House.
“I gave Mr. Speaker statistics of 2000 new projects introduced into the budget by less than 10 committee chairmen without the knowledge of their committee members he did nothing about it because he was part of the mess yet he is talking about improving the budget system. I did nothing wrong. “I worked within the rules of the House and instructions of Mr. Speaker. During the budget period, Mr President graciously granted myself and Sen. Goje audience. It was a very good meeting. Speaker Dogara took it extremely personal that we saw the president without his knowledge and went on to scuttled all our efforts to help the President during the budget process because he wants to be seen by the President as the only good man”.
But Dogara, in his reply to Jibrin’s allegations, told the public to ignore what he described as an after thought. He also debunked the claims by Jibrin that he was removed because he did not support the immunity proposal in the House for presiding officers of the National Assembly.o The Speakeer, in a statement by the House Committee Chairman on Media and Public Affairs, Abdulrazak Namdas, wondered why the former Appropriation Committee Chairman waited for a long time to make the allegations.
“Most of the allegations on the 2016 Budget process and his opposition to immunity of presiding officers are non-issues and mere afterthough manufactured simply because the House relieved him of his position. “If he had all these ‘facts’ before ,why didnt he make them public? Why is he doing that now?”, he said. “Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, like any other member of the House, knows that there are conventions and precedents as it relates to budgets and projects for principal officers of the National Assembly . Why is he making it an issue now? In any case, he is entitled to his opinion as a Nigerian and as a legislator while acting within the laws ol Nigeria and rules of the House.
“We must make it abundantly clear that he was not removed because of his support or otherwise on immunity bill. Afterall he is not the only one who opposed the bill. “The bill is still pending before committee on review of constitution and it has to be voted upon by each and every member of the House, get Senate concurrence, endorsed by two-third of the 36 State Houses of Assembly and be assented to by the President. It is a cheap blackmail on the part of Hon. Jibrin to even insinuate that he was removed because he opposed immunity bill.
“He should not distract the House from giving legislative support on important issues facing the government concerning the revival of the economy, insecurity in the country, pursuit of anti-corruption measures, poverty alleviation, infrastructural development etc”. The House Minority Leader, Ogor, also described Jibrin’s allegation as a mere blackmail that was not worth responding to.
As the situation stands, the fight between Dogara and Jibrin has just started and it might lead to realignment in the House. The House will be an interesting place when the National Assembly resumes from its vacation on September 13, but all the intrigues and closed door meetings will continue till then.