By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
It is a chamber that has long prided itself for its passion for the people. Well that was until the eruption of the story of padding, a story that has caused Nigerians from all perspectives to have a second look at the House of Representatives.
Rep. Abdulmumin Jibrin, the erstwhile chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation brought the issue to fore after he raised allegations against four principal officers of the House who he accused of padding the budget to the tune of N40 billion.
Against the background of the allegations thrown up by Jibrin, The Initiatives, a quasi-intellectual tentacle of the House, comprising of academically inclined members of the House, has recently reinvented itself to provide institutional memory on the issue.
With Mr. Eseme Eyiboh as dean, the body at its peak between 2007 and 2011 had taken to itself, the responsibility of giving grace and grit to a legislative body that had been serially scandalised by its lack of reach and right standing.
Suggestions that The Initiatives had completely been overwhelmed by the exit of its charismatic dean, Eyiboh from the legislature were recently reviewed when the body made a bold incursion into the crisis that arose from the alleged padding of the 2016 budget.
Jibrin’s recent activism had in its course given strength to the hands of those who want to invest the executive branch of government with the sole responsibility of dictating the pace and pattern of governance in a democracy. It is a dangerous recourse that The Initiatives sought to address in an interaction with some journalists recently.
Besides Eyiboh, the dean, were also former members of the House including Chris Eta, (Cross River), Abdulrahman Terab (Borno) among others.
Eyiboh while flagging off the discourse was taken aback by the issue of padding saying that the National Assembly’s intervention into lawmaking and budget making defined the difference between a military government and democracy. From time to time he was supported by his colleagues.
“The rule of law primarily is the dividends of democracy and not necessarily the construction of roads or building houses because the military government also constructs roads. What democracy brings is the liberty and the inherent freedom and rights.”
“So, appropriation is part and parcel of that legislative process. It is a law that originates from that legislative power. Even in that, the primary functions of the legislature is, of course, the issues of legislation, appropriation, and oversight.”
“The importance of the legislature is so strong to the point that if the processes are not followed, we are inviting anarchy because the executive will sit down and say that it is going to construct road and the president will cash in on this to construct road in his state or zone; the vice president will put project in his area and the ministers will put projects in their respective areas but for you and I, who may not have the opportunity of having any of these persons, we will have to wait for our turn.
“And if by providence, you end up coming from a minority, you will wait for a longer time. So, the only thing that democracy has brought to us is the issue of constituency projects or zonal intervention.”
He was, however, quick to say that perceptions about the misuse of constituency projects should not lead to the removal of the only way legislators can put projects into the budget of the Federal Government.
On the determination of Nigerians to interrogate the budget as passed by the National Assembly, he said: “You cannot investigate an appropriation act because appropriation in itself is an assumptive document because you can’t 100 per cent execution of these assumptions because it is just to guide government on implementation of it policies and programmes. I think that it is the outcome of that perception problem to single out an individual in an institutional process. The majority of Nigerians are still living with that illusion that there should be no legislature.”
Given the multiple allegations of corruption leveled against Speaker Yakubu Dogara by Jibrin, Eyiboh, and his colleagues rose up with near unanimity to show evidence of the speaker’s propriety.
“Dogara is a humble man to a fault,” he said as he recalled the widely acclaimed story of how the speaker refused a $3 million bribe from some vested interests while he was chairman of the House Committee on Customs in the Sixth House.
“He was the chairman of Customs Committee in 2007 when I was the spokesman of the House. So, most of the times, I was obliged by the then speaker to participate in public hearings, so that I can feed him back.
“In the course of this, there was this issue of waivers for importers of rice and $3 million was brought by one of the companies involved, but Dogara placed it on the table and told members of the committee that the money was brought so that the committee will overlook certain things.
“I also ask: Is this the same man who washed his hands off $3 million and every other member of his committee ran away from the money, and it was returned; is he the same man we are talking about in budget padding?” he asked.
Going forward, how can the House regain its character and integrity which Jibrin has so much sought to bring down, they were asked.
Responding he said: “We must encourage potential leaders because what is going on now in the House will make some Nigerians believe that going into politics will ruin their reputation. Most Nigerians know a lot about this budget padding thing, but they don’t want to come out because of the public’s perception on the issue. Let us take Dogara and Jibrin out of it and begin to look at how we can develop the legislature by educating the public on the relevance of the institution.”
Remarkably, following the interaction, it emerged that Jibrin who had been hauling the allegations had now become the focus of several security agencies on account of his past activities.
He has now sought judicial injunctions to stop the House from taking disciplinary actions against him and against elements of security services from taking action against him.
But that would, of course, be little relief for Dogara who has now been defended by the body of principal officers. Much harm has already been done to the institution of the legislature and hence the need for much more rapid intervention from bodies like The Initiatives.