Scandal in the House by Jide Ayobolu

1136, Scandal in the House, By Jide Ayobolu

The 2016 budget has generated a lot of controversies; at a point the issue with the budget was that, it was not very well prepared, and later it was that the budget was missing, when it was eventually discovered, the newly found budget was discovered to have been heavily padded.

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The accusation was laid at the doorstep of the technocrats that prepared the budget, while the national legislators maintained their innocence and feigned ignorance of any untoward budgetary manipulations.

In fact, when so ministers came to defend their budgets, they said pointedly that, the budget details they submitted were different from the one’s they were asked to defend.

The confusion and polemics that surrounded the budget defense in the national assembly was so much, to the extent that, not only did the economy suffered, the general perception about the government then was that, it was ill-prepared for governance, as the opposition lampooned the president and his party.

If not, for the resolve, resilience and will power of the present administration to brave all odds, and excel; no matter the situation on ground. The budget challenge would have torpedo the trajectory of the present administration.

However, with the removal of the House Committee chairman on Appropriation by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, perhaps the truth about the nature, extent and dimension of padding in the lower chamber of the national assembly would probably have never been known.

But the embattled committee chairman that was wantonly removed felt betrayed and decided to spill the beans on what transpired in the House of Representatives, before, during and after the budget preparations.

He also went ahead to invite the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to come and do a thorough investigation to really unearth the hidden facts and details behind the budget padding in the green chamber, however, the leadership of the House, through the spokesperson of the lower chamber, has cleverly insinuated that, it is an internal affairs of the House, which will be handled domestically.

However, the point must be made that, this is no longer a matter to be left to the legislators alone, as it affects destiny and future of the country as well as her people. Hence, the matter cannot be treated a family affair and it cannot also be swept underneath the carpet.

The House leadership must submit itself to public scrutiny through the instrumentality of the EFCC, this is because the allegations and counter allegations are nothing but corruption, and the present government is very well known for its anti-graft stance even far beyond the shores of this country.

Now, if this type of deliberate manipulation can happen at the lower chamber, in spite of their very high salaries, emoluments, remunerations and allowances? When the national minimum wage is just N18,000, a National Assembly member earns a total package of N29, 479,749 or $181,974,000 per month and a total of N353,756,988 per annum.

It will take an average Nigerian worker 1,638 years to earn the yearly salary of a Nigerian senator.  Perhaps one can imagine what would have happened in the upper chambers of the legislature as well as with their collaborators in the executive.

Without any iota of doubt or contradiction, the EFCC should embark upon a holistic investigation of the 2016 budget brouhaha and make its findings public.

Corruption is a form of dishonest or unethical conduct by a person entrusted with a position of authority, often to acquire personal benefits.

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Corruption may include many activities such as bribery and embezzlement, use of powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain, trading in influence; prebendalism etc. even, PMB insists that, corruption is the greatest form of human right violation.

Corruption is efforts to secure wealth or power through illegal means private gain at public expense; or a misuse of public power for private benefit, corruption also involves all forms of nepotism, favouritism, conferring improper benefits on undeserving people, extortion etc, hence, PMB has a lot to do to really sanitize the polity of all manners of corruption, including but not limited to the public and private sectors.

Corruption wastes skills as precious time is often wasted to set up unending committees to fight corruption. It also leads to aid forgone; some foreign donors do not give aid to corrupt nations.

It leads to social revolution, riots and violent take-over of governments. Corruption causes a reduction in quality of goods and services available to the public, as some companies cut corners to increase profit margins.

Corruption affects investment, economic growth and government expenditure choices. Corruption discourages honest effort and valuable economic activities, and it breeds inefficiency and nepotism. Corruption leads to information distortion, as it cooks the books and it also makes public policies ineffective.

Corruption upsets ethnic balance and exacerbates problems of national integration in developing countries, corruption is destructive of governmental structures and capacity, corruption can destroy the legitimacy of a government , corruption is inimical to growth and development, as it foster poverty and suffering on the generality of the people.

Without a credible anti-corruption war, the present administration cannot put in place, an enduring and comprehensive socio-economic and political plan of action that can resolve the prevailing contradictions in the polity and galvanize the country to greater heights in all areas of human endeavour.

This is simply because of the fact that, corruption is a pandemic that is slowly but steadily bleeding the country to death, there are too many leakages and loopholes in the system, that is, hemorrhaging the country ad infinitum.

If all efforts are not geared towards nipping corruption from its cancerous spread, it will grind the country to a halt ultimately. It is for this reason that PMB has repeatedly stated that, “if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria”.

Corruption in Nigeria today is a hydra-headed monster that must be properly killed and buried.

In a country like China, before anybody thinks of stealing or misappropriating public funds, they would think twice, because the penalty for graft in China is death sentence. China has reduced corruption to the barest minimum, and her economic fortunes and dynamics are looking up, this is exactly what Nigeria should emulate at this stage in her history and development.

Nigeria can ill-afford to treat the issue of graft with kid gloves; every rent-seeking mentality in the system must be blotted out. All forms of corruption, from economic to political, social, and electoral in both public and private sectors must be fought vigorously to a standstill.

Nigeria cannot be an exception to the rule, we cannot continue to celebrate corruption, and neither can corruption continue to be an acceptable way of life to us as a people, the best thing to do is to adhere strictly to international best practice on corruption by having zero tolerance for graft under any guise.

And, it should not be accommodated for any reason. Corruption has distorted a lot of things in the polity which must be corrected, at a time; Nigeria was a pariah nation that was ostracized amongst the comity of nations just because of the issue of graft.

Therefore, the administration of PMB should be applauded and not vilified for trying to rid the polity of all rancid rot that stinks offensively.

It would be recalled that, in the aftermath of the removal of Hon. Abdulmumin Jubrin, he issued a press statement where he stated that, “I am compelled again for the purpose of emphasis to state categorically clear that my allegations are against the quartet of Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun, House Whip Alhassan Doguwa and Minority Leader Leo Ogor not the Honourable House as an institution nor other members of the body of principal officers.

“The other members of the body of principal officers were to the best of my knowledge completely excluded from decisions on the 2016 budget and the budget inputs inserted on their names were exclusively carried out by these QUARTET. I have to state this very clearly because these QUARTET have resorted to desperate moves to drag the entire House of Representatives into the case of gross abuse of office I have levelled against them as individual Presiding and Principal officers of the House. This is clearly a mischievous move to set me on collision with the entire house.

“They have also recruited four from the VERY FEW members of their cabal to use some elements of the Nigeria police to kidnap, harass, blackmail and intimidate me into silence. Until yesterday, the police were laying siege by my house blocking the entrance and exit shouting that they want budget documents. They embarrassed my entire family with a nursing mother and a seven-month old baby that cried all night. The game plan was to arrest me and dump me in police net while a heavy media propaganda will be carried out to mislead the world that I have been sacked and police have picked me up as a culprit in 2016 budget.

“Whenever I am released, an irreparable damage would have been done to my person and that will stick for life.
As God Almighty will have it, I had travelled out of town before they could execute their evil plan. God is always with the innocent. The members in the thick of this plot are Hon Jagaba Adams, Hon Jika both chairmen interior and police affairs respectively, Hon Muhammed Bago, Hon Muhammed Zakari and the last one I need not to introduce him to Nigerians, you know him better and know what he is best remembered for. He is the one who threatened my life and the police are yet to take a single action on him. He is now the Leader of the Dogara cabal. He calls the shots in the House. He makes all the decisions of Mr Speaker. He talks down on members and gets away with it. He has SUDDENLY began living such an expensive life style. Lately, a former influential principal officer of the House complained bitterly that it is only Dogara that will hand such a committee to a person like Hon Herma Hembe of this world, chairman FCT. They have been running from pillar to post looking for evidence in their wild dream to nail me. I made a huge sacrifice to leave, shouldn’t they just leave me alone?

“I therefore urge my Hon. colleagues and the general public to call on Speaker Yakubu Dogara and the 3 other principal officers to stop their desperate attempt to drag the entire House of Representatives into this matter. They should also stop using the House Spokesman Hon Namdas to issue statements in respect to these allegations because it is a deliberate attempt to mislead the public into believing that they have the backing of the entire House on this matter. They should come out and defend themselves and prepare for the investigation that will be instituted by the House on this matter. At least the Minority Leader and Whip have attempted some response which are at best lame!

“The House of Representatives as an institution must live above board and will continue to survive beyond people who abuse public trust like Mr. Speaker and his 3 cohorts. Let me make further revelations in addition to the ones I have already made which are in public glare.

“ONE: During the budget period, when they discovered that I was not the kind of a person they could use to perpetrate their illegality, Mr. Speaker and the 3 other principal officers took away the entire Appropriation Committee Secretariat to a secret location where all sort of insertions were made into the budget. The blackmail has always been – “Abdul people will laugh at you if anything goes wrong between you and Dogara because of the lead role you played and the many toes you stepped on to get him elected”. It’s been a painful experience.
Again the secretariat was taken away from me on Speaker Dogara’s instruction for the second time to a location I don’t know and all sort of insertions into the budgets were made and returned to me for signature. I said over my dead body! It was a massive crisis behind the scene until the early morning of the Friday that Mr President assented the budget. It was Sen Danjuma Goje that brokered a compromise that since the Deputy Speaker leads the harmonization committee, he should also sign such that the harmonization committee will share responsibility with us. Senator Goje pleaded with me so hard all night and later shouted heavily on me reminding me that he is not talking to me as a Senator but as a father. I cried heavily all night.

“TWO: When the budget harmonization committee headed by Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun gave out 80% concession across board to the executive demands during the harmonization negotiation, it was agreed that the remaining 20% should go to the entire NASS. The Deputy Speaker excused himself that he wanted to go and consult with Mr Speaker. He came back after few hours and in an unprecedented display of greed presented to me a hand written note distributing the remaining 20% to only principal officers. 70% of the 20% was reserved for Mr Speaker and himself while the remaining 30% of the 20% goes to other principal officers. I am sure he will recognize the hand writing when he sees it. My colleagues didn’t know all of these.

“THREE: Mr. Speaker also directed me to create what I advised him will be a controversial line item under service wide vote to introduce about N20 billion project using the name of NASS. He directed me to see a highly placed PDP politician which I did and collected the documents. I advised him repeatedly against it but he kept pressuring me until I bluntly told him I will not!

“FOUR: When the Appropriation Committee received all the budget reports from standing committees, an analysis was conducted. We discovered that about 10 only out of the 96 Standing Committees of the House introduced about 2,000 (two thousand) projects without the knowledge of their committee members amounting to about N284, 000, 000, 000 (Two hundred and eighty-four billion naira). I was alarmed. But I was cautious because at our pre-budget meeting with the committee chairmen, I was clearly warned not to touch their budgets. I reported the matter to the speaker. He did nothing about it obviously because he was working behind the scene with the committee chairmen. That was the beginning of the whole budget problem from the side of House and the whole exercise had to go through several versions before it was passed.

“So, is it Abdul that introduced 2000 projects into budget worth N284 billion? But I quietly bore the pain and abuses from all over the country and continued to defend the committee inputs as a show of loyalty to the institution I represent which I so much love and still have many great minds in there. Apart from Chairman Agriculture Hon Mongunu who owned up and explained his inputs at the only executive session I was allowed to attend, the other few chairmen who loaded the budget kept quiet and watched me bashed from every angle by angry Nigerians.

“People have asked why did I wait this long to open up, so much was happening behind the scene. I fought the battle of my life to raise these issues internally and get Mr. Speaker to address them to no avail. I pushed so hard that I got frustrated and depressed. All my attempts met brick walls. That was why some members were always raising their voice against me because they do not have the facts. I later on realized that the Speaker enjoyed that so much and colluded with his cabal to dump everything on me. I am sure not too long some members that knew what I went through will come out and testify. I also have evidence to show my internal struggles.
In any case, under circumstances like this, and for young people like us that are lucky to have accelerated career growth, the system scares you from becoming a whistle blower. They will tell you that if you do such, nobody will trust you or have confidence in you again. They will scare you that it is not good for your image and it will affect your career progression. Many young people in different sectors are faced with such frustrating situation. Even at the moment, if I take the advice of some people, I will get deeply scared and just keep quiet, so that I can grow career wise? My usual response to them is that, isn’t that selfish? Your only luck will be if a trigger occurs then you open up. This is one such trigger! In any case, I would have opened up anyway. I have written so much about these issues and more on NASS. I posted over a month ago on my Facebook page that I will release the piece as part of my 40th birthday in September. Well, I never knew it will come  earlier. Some people are also saying I kept quiet while it was good and now I am talking because things have gone sour. Many members of the House and Nigerians will be shocked to know that there have NEVER been good times between myself and Speaker Dogara. It took few weeks after his election as Speaker for me to realize I never really knew him well. I was hasty to judge him by his innocent looking personality. We practically disagree on everything. From when he started conducting himself like a lord, wanting everybody around him to just say yes sir and go, shutting and looking down at his colleagues, playing double game between the executive and legislature, drafting of a new house rule, senseless splitting of committees which raised the numbers of committees to 96, appointment of committee chairmen, Chairmanship of NILS, issues of bills and allotment of sponsors, chairmanship of budget consultative committee, budget process and house inputs, the PIB, his divide and rule approach, his frequent dealings with heads of MDA’s as if he is a committee chairman and so many other issues. In all of these issues, there is none that has not remained controversial till date.

“All these forced me to stay away from him except on official assignment. I can count how (many) times I have been to his office or home. I stayed away completely. It was such a frustrating and depressing period for me. Who will I complain to? How do I face the world and say I got it wrong after playing such a lead role in his emergence? When you see a house you sacrificed everything to build is falling apart and the driver believes he is firmly in charge because he has 8 votes advantage, you are left with no choice than to tie your seat belt for obvious eventuality.

“I must admit I made an error of judgement. I don’t know to whom and from where I will start apologising for not heeding to wise counsel. There is nothing I am saying now that I have not discussed or warned speaker Dogara on the few occasions that I sorted and got private audience with him. But he has been hijacked and surrounded himself with a small cabal of sycophants, corrupt, mediocre, money hungry, vindictive, envious, self-serving small minds who have already done an irreparable damage to his person and office.

“Speaker Dogara has completely derailed, remains clueless, keeps on with an unmatched ego and surely leading the House to the biggest scandal it may ever experience. He has failed to live above the fog in public duty and private thinking, a direct opposite of what my favourite American Poet Josiah Gilbet Holland prayed Lord to grant us in leaders.
All I am asking for is my right to be heard by my colleagues which they denied me. I am calling on my colleagues to plead with Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Deputy Lasun, Whip Doguwa and Minority leader Ogor to stop obstructing justice and allow me my right to be heard by the House. It is the House that will institute a special investigation on this matter to allow me testify and provide evidence before any other external action.

“I will make a more detailed statement in due course.”

The allegations are too weighty and damning to be disregarded or treated with kid-gloves, it requires immediate investigation by the anti-graft agencies to ascertain the authenticity and veracity of the claims. They are too real to be called the figment of someone’s imagination; hence, the whole country is waiting patiently to know what will become of the case, more so, that it affects top officials of the ruling party.

This is therefore, a litmus test for the crusade against corruption in the country. It would be recalled that during the year 2015 electioneering campaigns, one of the cardinal programmes and campaign promises that General Muhammadu Buhari, now President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) reeled out consistently was to fight corruption to a standstill. Corruption has been the bane of Nigeria’s development, and past administrations especially that of former President Goodluck Jonathan gave corruption a field day, under his watch, stealing was not corruption; indeed corruption was ubiquitous; it stinks to high heavens, even in very high places in government.

Corruption was the order of the day, as it was treated as a family affair and corruption was more or less the official policy of the government then. In the last five years, the government of Dr. Jonathan protected and defended government officials that were accused of corrupt practices and fraudulent conducts, the government did not allow the anti-graft agencies to function optimally.

This made corruption to fester uncontrollably in all facets of the country’s public life. In fact, it led to a terrible situation whereby the generality of the people lived in absolute penury and want; while a tiny few at the corridors of power lived in unqualified opulence and extravagant luxury, feeding fat on the sweat of the people and collective patrimony of the nation, as the commonwealth was wantonly shared amongst a kleptocratic few. It is therefore germane to vividly underscore the fact that, corruption more than anything else, is responsible for the systematic development of underdevelopment in Nigeria.

This is undoubtedly a very serious matter that cannot be glossed over; the whole budgetary padding shebang must be properly investigated and those who are directly or remotely involved must be duly prosecuted in a court of competent jurisdiction.

Jide Ayobolu, a social commentator based in Lagos writes this piece

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