Photograph — News of the People

Commotion ensued yesterday as members of the House of Representatives clashed over the motion to suspend recently sacked House Chairman on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin. Those in favour of Jibrin’s suspension wore and distributed green scarves with the inscription ‘I stand with Dogara’ boldly written in white, in a show of solidarity with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara. The gesture was in support of the House Speaker who was accused of doctoring the national budget by Jibrin earlier in August. Despite the show made by its supporters, the “I stand with Dogara” demonstration in the National Assembly is contrary to the Presidency’s anti-corruption agenda, as the demonstration implicitly lends support to an action that led to corrupt practices.

A brief background

Shortly after Abdulmumin Jibrin was sacked by the Speaker of the House for allegedly padding the budget with N250bn, he claimed that Speaker Dogara, three other principal officers, and 10 committee chairmen illegally inserted 2,000 projects totalling N248 billion into the 2016 budget. Jibrin further demanded that Dogara resigns as Speaker. Amidst calls for Dogara’s resignation, the speaker infamously retorted that budget padding was not an offence under the Nigerian criminal law to the astonishment of many Nigerians. Against this backdrop, the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Emmanuel Orker-jev, raised the motion to suspend Jibrin from the House on the grounds that he breached privileges of the Nigerian House of Representatives and intentionally sought to destroy the image of the legislature by portraying it to the public as an irredeemably corrupt institution.

An anti anti-corruption campaign

It can be argued that budget padding is a normal process in the formation of budgets. That civil servants pad the budget in anticipation of some amounts earmarked for projects getting slashed. Or perhaps to avail them to funds when projects are approved while the budget is being implemented. However, budget padding in Nigeria is synonymous with abuse of power and precipitates corrupt practices.

“Budget padding in fact is corruption, as it is implicit in corruption offences such as abuse of office, attempt to embezzle, divert, and misappropriate public funds, conspiracy to act corruptly, and illicit enrichment, which are recognized under the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party, and included in national legislation such as the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Establishment Act and the Fiscal Responsibility Act”, said the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP). The accountability group further stated that a prima-facie case of corruption is established when elected officials are allegedly influenced to act contrary to their obligations of office by the prospect of financial gain to themselves.

The internal campaign in support of the accused speaker is in support of an activity that is known to illicit abuses of power and is at best unethical.

The anti-corruption fight may be selective after all

The Presidency directed the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation to set in motion an impassioned team to probe how the N481 billion was added to the budget, and who spearheaded the action. Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, said the panel would determine the criminal roles played by those involved in the action and how much money was hidden away, as well as the agencies of government involved in what he called a budget scam.

However, as soon as the House Speaker was implicated in the scandal the government seemed to ease up on its firm stance. In fact, Dogara declared that Nigerian law allowed budget padding soon after a meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari. After initially launching a crackdown on budget padding, the presidency suddenly seems to take an acquiesce stance on it. Perhaps their investigation produced the ‘wrong result’?

Similarly, taking a stance against budget padding, Dogara himself sacked Jibrin over budget padding allegations. But when the tables were turned was quick to dismiss the action as technically legal.

Democracy undermined

Democracy can’t work unless Nigerians have faith in those who govern. The allegations of abuse of office directed at the Speaker and principal officials of the House of Representatives has the House’s integrity further into question. The House of Representatives function as a watchdog and credible guardian of the public interest will be compromised if the presidency and the House do not take the allegations of budget padding seriously.

Rather than look for ways to punish the individual who made known to Nigerians the transgressions of the house, the Speaker should recognise his duty to explain to Nigerians the role he played in the alleged budget padding and abuse of office if the growing public perception of corruption is to be addressed.

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