By Emmanuel Aziken,
Political Editor Auwal Ibrahim Musa, popularly known as Rafsanjani, is the Executive Director of the Civil Society Advocacy Legislative Centre, CISLAC, arguably the country’s longest civil society organisation devoted to building capacity for the legislature in Nigeria. In this interview, Rafsanjani responds to questions arising from the alleged budget padding scam in the National Assembly and gives the way forward. Excerpts:
What is your reaction to the alleged budget padding in the National Assembly?
The recent revelations by the erstwhile Chairman of the Appropriation Committee of the House of Representatives is further exposure of the institutional fraud that has characterized the National Assembly over the years, is quite unfortunate. It is on this note that we express disappointment at the belated revelations and allegations coming from the ousted Chairman as it has become an afterthought and renditions from a disgruntled and outplayed lawmaker who was at the forefront of defending the House when the allegations of budget padding were first made. This calls to question his credibility, patriotism and loyalty to the Nigerian people who remained silent when he had the opportunity to blow the whistle and now only spoke because he has lost out from benefiting from the process.
In your years of interaction with the National Assembly, is it something that you have encountered before? And how?
We as civil society understand that such practices have been going on for a long time as the National Assembly has been known, in the past, to in addition to padding the budget at the point of defence, made dubious inclusions of Constituency Projects as well as have demanded and received inducement for sectorial allocation, the Fabian Osuji case calls to mind. They are also known to have, at some time, allegedly received or demand for gratifications in exchange for ministerial confirmation and extorted money from MDAs under the guise of oversight functions.
Where do you stand in the debate on the propriety of legislators altering the budget as presented by the executive branch of government?
It is simply betrayal of public trust. We call on the National Assembly to take advantage of this latest revelation to undertake self-introspection and urgently rise up to cleanse itself and make efforts to redeem its image and reputation which is presently in its lowest ebb. We also call on them to revisit the issue of having members adhere to the Code of Conduct for members as a means of self-regulation of behaviour within their ranks.
So, what do you think of the concept of constituency projects?
By implications of relevant Constitutional provisions, the legislators’ functions are law-making, oversight, representation, financial control, confirmation of appointment, and constitution amendment. The legislators lack constitutional power to implement the law which is strictly a function of the executive arm. Judicious administration and utilisation of the Constituency Project Allowance for the purpose which it is meant has hitherto raised serious questions as the constituencies endlessly await development which keeps escaping them. We find the practice of Constituency Projects unnecessary, in conflict with the principle of Separation of Powers and a channel for legislative corruption and distraction which can be avoided by simply strengthening relevant institutions and systems for project implementation and service delivery.
Whereas National Assembly members do not collect the money for constituency projects, it has been reported that some states legislatures give out the money for constituency projects to legislators. Is it proper?
As I said earlier, Constituency Project is unnecessary. The State legislatures giving out to legislators for Constituency Projects, is unconstitutional. More importantly, instead of assessing the legislators’ performance based on the level of infrastructure facilities they have provided for constituencies, given the constitutional responsibility of the legislators, they should rather be appraised on their level of participation in legislative activities.
What is your prescription for making a transparent and people oriented budget?
Transparent and people oriented budget should allow full-fledged participation and involvement of the people in the budgetary process and implementation. It must consider efficiency in allocating resources and achieving goals through rationalizing spending and eliminating waste of resources such as inappropriate line items, and Constituency Projects. It must allocate resources from low priority programmes to high priority ones; justify duplication of efforts among organisational units; and ensure greater participation of personnel in formulation and ranking processes.
Given CISLAC’s role in building the capacity of Nigerian legislatures and Rep. Jibrin’s confession that he is a born-again activist are you ready to welcome him into the civil society movement?
Civil Society is an open participatory space where sincere volunteerism with demonstrated integrity is highly welcomed. All what we as civil society preach is positive change to uphold the nation’s democratic values.