August 3, 2016

Budget padding: House caucuses move to end crisis

Budget padding: House caucuses move to end crisis

By Emman Ovuakporie & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA — Intrigues over alleged “padding” of the 2016 budget of the Federal Government thickened, yesterday, as  different caucuses of the House began to take positions towards a quick resolution of the crisis.

Among the caucuses were the zonal caucuses which met at different locations around the federal capital.

Vanguard learned, last night, that the zonal caucuses were being used to mobilise signatures on a state by state basis to demonstrate confidence in Speaker Yakubu Dogara.Budget-padding

The confidence boosting measures nonetheless, Abdulmumin Jibrin, erstwhile chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, who provoked the crisis, remained unyielding in his campaign to force out the Dogara leadership.

Meanwhile, security operatives monitoring events in Jibrin’s office, have left the office but remained at the Secretariat of the Appropriation Committee.

Vanguard was told that majority of members of the opposition parties, especially, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, have vowed to be with Dogara in case of any attempt to impeach him.

Jibrin, yesterday, briefed the APC national leadership on the issue and also submitted a petition to the police in which he demanded the probe of the speaker and three other members of the leadership.

Jibrin, who first submitted a petition to the Police on Monday, was again at the Force Headquarters, yesterday, where he volunteered a statement against the four principal officers and 10 committee chairmen he fingered as culprits in his petition.

He arrived the Police headquarters at about 12 noon, yesterday, with his lawyers in toe and made for the Office of the Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Special Investigations.

A source said he wrote a statement to back his allegations on the alleged padding or violation of the budget to the tune of about N40billion.

A source close to the investigation team told Vanguard  that for now, the police would concern itself with Jibrin’s statement and the evidence produced to ascertain how budgetary allocations were tampered with and changed before other actions may follow.

In the course of investigation, Vanguard was told that invitation to persons fingered in the budget padding allegations may be made but that such invitations would be necessitated to clarify issues.

“If persons are deemed important to the investigation, they will be invited to give their statements and after that, they will be allowed to go continue their duties, pending the conclusion of the investigations before other actions as may be recommended by the Police,’’ he said.

Asked if Hon. Jibrin, having made a statement, would be off the hook, the source said “No, anytime we need things to clarify or further statement, we will send for him.”

Following his call at the police headquarters, Jibrin proceeded to the national headquarters of the APC where he met with senior party officials for three hours and ten minutes.

The APC officials, Vanguard learned yesterday, had earlier met with Speaker Dogara before meeting with Jibrin. Both meetings were behind closed doors.

The APC meeting with Jibrin was presided over by the party’s deputy national chairman, North, Senator Lawali Shuaibu, and had some members of the National Working Committee, NWC, including party scribe, Mai Mala Buni, national treasurer Bala Gwagwarwa, national vice chair (North East), Inuwa Abdulkadir in attendance.

Speaking with journalists shortly after the meeting, Jibrin, apparently keeping to instructions not to talk to the media, constrained himself to the purpose of the meeting.

“I am here on the invitation of our great party, the APC. We discussed extensively on the crisis in the House of Representatives. We will continue to discuss and engage ourselves, I will continue to honour the invitation of our party, and I am sure that whatever it is we decide, you will know in due course,” he said before making a quick break for his waiting vehicle, a black land cruiser numbered, Abuja, BWA 768 AM.

Shuaibu on his part, said the meeting was part of the party’s consultations directed towards a quick resolution of the crisis.

“I that summoned him, the national secretary of the party and the national vice chairman of his zone sat down to discuss, there is nothing like passing any judgment on any member of the party, we only play our role as the umpire in this matter to see how we can create some atmosphere of peace and unity among our members.’’

Affirming that Jibrin was not summoned to face a disciplinary hearing, he said:  “We are discussing with them, and it is an ongoing consultation, we are not done with them, we sat with the speaker, we just finished sitting with him and we would continue to sit with him.”

Meanwhile, a scheduled meeting of the PDP caucus expected to hold yesterday, failed to hold. However, members were yesterday taking strong position, with many of them inclining themselves towards the speaker.

However, a PDP member, Rep Linus Okorie, PDP, Ebonyi, gave a strong rebuttal to Jibrin’s crusade, describing it as foul and in bad taste.

“If Hon Jibrin, I or any group of members have any axe to grind with Dogara and anyone else, it’s alright to do so personally but not to purposefully and contemptuously ridicule the institution of the legislature the way it’s being done at the moment in the hope of a forced leadership change arising from open blackmail and media trial.

“It is my hope that this brouhaha that’s being so viciously promoted by the same forces that wanted “ executive leadership” for the NASS to tarnish and blackmail the Legislature into fear and timidity will rather unite members more to seek greater independence and jealously guard that independence in the interest of our maturing democracy.

‘’For should they succeed in forcing a leadership on us, this government will completely “unitarize” our democracy and complete the push for a repressive and totalitarian brand of “democracy” hitherto unknown to literature.’’

One member from the South-South affirmed the strong position of Dogara yesterday, saying “Nigerians should first and foremost appreciate the fact that there was a harmonisation committee that looked into the whole budget, not just Jibrin.”

“It is glaring that no matter how he (Jibrin) continues to mudsling and no matter any attempt to remove Dogara, it will hit a brick wall.

“Jibrin has said the institution he represents is corrupt and by extension, he is also corrupt.”

Rep Zakari Mohammed, APC, Kwara, before moving into an APC caucus meeting holding in Dogara’s residence last night, dismissed the agitation saying “it is a settled matter as any attempt to remove Dogara will be fiercely resisted by members.

“The truth is that all his allegations are unfounded as he engineered the process of ‘padding’ via a letter he wrote to all chairmen and their deputies to make inputs.  He solicited for co-operation not knowing that he had a hidden agenda.”

The letter which was in form of a text message from Jibrin to members, read thus:

“To: all Hon Chairmen & Dep. Chairmen of Standing Committees: As you are aware, we have transmitted details of budget 2016. After consultation with the Leadership of both chambers, the reports of all standing committees were sustained in the details. Though all items submitted by Committees were retained, you will see additional inputs that were necessary to be accommodated via little cuts. You are, therefore, enjoined to be prepared to justify reports both in media and elsewhere; in case the executive arm disagrees.

‘’We are already justifying your reports, but you must join in doing so, especially in the media so that Nigerians will understand the justification for the adjustments you made; particularly on new projects. You can always count on our support. Thank you very much and best wishes as always. I can be reached on O8O3613OOO7. Hon Abdulmumin Jibrin.”

“This letter was authored by him, and many of us thought he had good intentions, not knowing that he had a hidden agenda.’’