Budget padding: Dogara shuns police invitation

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has shunned the invitation of the police Special Investigating Panel over allegations of budget padding.

The PUNCH reliably gathered on Wednesday that the Speaker did not honour the police invitation because the letter was not signed by the Inspector-General of Police, Ibrahim Idris.

The panel had in a letter to Dogara requested him and others mentioned in the petition to appear before it last Friday.

The Speaker, however, did not honour the invitation.  Rather, he met with President Muhamadu Buhari over the budget crisis on Friday.

While Dogara’s accuser and a former House Appropriation Chairman, Abdulmumin Jibrin, appeared before the panel last week Friday and on Tuesday, Dogara and other principal officers shunned it.

Jibrin had accused the Speaker of padding the 2016 budget in collusion with some officers of the House.

Jibrin had submitted a petition against the accused to the police, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission, urging the agencies to probe them.

The lawmaker had also visited the police last Wednesday with documents to back up his claims.

The PUNCH gathered on Wednesday that the police invitation was regarded as an “informal invitation.”

A committee chairman close to Dogara who spoke on condition of anonymity told our correspondents that although an invitation was sent to the Speaker last week by the police, the document was “considered to be informal because it was signed by a low-ranking officer.”

He said, “The Speaker is the number four citizen of this country.

“If you are sending a letter to him, there should be a signature of the Inspector-General of Police on it.”

But a source close to the public panel told one of our correspondents that Dogara’s reason was not tenable, adding that any member of the panel could sign the invitation.

When contacted, Dogara’s Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Turaki Hassan, said he would make enquiries and get back to The PUNCH.

However, as of 9.48pm on Wednesday, Hassan had yet to return the call.

He also did not reply to a text message sent to his mobile phone.

The Force Public Relations Officer, Donald Awunah, said he could not comment because he did not know anything about the investigation.

“I don’t know about the investigation, so I can’t comment,” he said on the telephone.

Police, EFCC probe illegal –Reps

Some members of the House of Representatives took a position on the budget padding allegations by Jibrin on Wednesday, declaring that neither the police nor the EFCC had the power to investigate legislative proceedings.

Findings showed on Wednesday that the majority of the 96 committee chairmen and their 96 deputies considered the 2016 Appropriation Act as a law already in operation.

The development came as The PUNCH learnt that members of the Transparency Group were under pressure to back down on their confrontation with the leadership of the House.

An official of the House said, “The 1999 Constitution (as amended), particularly in sections 80 and 81, spell out the processes for the appropriation of government funds.

“The 2016 money bill did not only comply with the provisions of the constitution, but also followed all other legislative processes of passing bills by the National Assembly.

“The question that has remained unanswered is what the police and the anti-graft agencies want to investigate.”

Investigations showed that the chairmen and their deputies had discussed the issue and resolved that the budget conformed to the provisions of the law.

One of the chairmen, who heads the House Committee on Army, Mr. Rima Shawulu, told The PUNCH that lawmakers considered the involvement of the police and the EFCC in “purely parliamentary processes” as a waste of resources and man-hours.

“The police and the EFCC cannot investigate the internal proceedings of the House. Neither the House rules nor the Constitution of this country gives them the power to do so.

“What are they coming to investigate? That Jibrin said budget was padded? If he said budget was padded, he must bring the original. Where is the original?

“Let him publish the original. What will the police do in this case? That the House did not follow its process before the President signed the budget into law?

“If they are saying the zonal intervention projects are not being executed as passed in the budget, that is criminal, but that is not the case here.

“There is no place in the legislative process for the police or the EFCC.”

The PUNCH gathered that this was the position that the Speaker and the three other principal officers accused by Jibrin would make known to the police and the EFCC when they eventually appear before the security agency.

The others are the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Lasun Yussuff; the Chief Whip, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; and the Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor.

Meanwhile, the meeting of the Transparency Group, a group of legislators backing Jibril, failed to take place for the second time on Wednesday.

Findings showed that the lawmakers came under pressure to stop their attacks on the principal officers of the House.

But the group was said to have insisted that the budgeting process was flawed and must be reviewed.

One of the key members of the group, Mr. Baballe Bashir, confirmed that the group was under pressure.

He, however, denied that the pressure was the reason the group could not meet.

Bashir, who is from Kano State, explained that many members had travelled to their constituencies to attend to pressing demands by their constituents.

He admitted that the group had sought a review of the budgeting process to address the “glaring cases of exclusion” in the distribution of zonal intervention projects.

“Our position is that there is so much that we must address in the budget so that the problems will not repeat themselves,” Bashir added.

He stated that the group had not backed down on the call for investigation into the allegations made by Jibrin.

APC will do the right thing, says Oni

The leadership of the All Progressives Congress, however, urged Nigerians to trust the ruling party in handling the padding crisis.

The APC Deputy National Chairman (South), Mr. Segun Oni, said Nigerians should not rely on body language, but on what the party spoke on the issue.

The former Governor of Ekiti State was asked by one of our correspondents why the APC was handling the alleged padding of the 2016 national budget as a “family affair” when the issue was national and had generated public interest.

He said, “The APC family is also a family of Nigerians because Nigerians have given us the responsibility to run Nigeria. So, if anything affects Nigeria, it affects our family and if anything affects our family, we expect Nigerians to take interest in it.

“Our party has as one of our cardinal objectives, the agenda to wrestle corruption to the ground.

“Nigerians should stop insinuating; they should listen to us.  They should listen to our language as we speak it out. We are not going to contradict ourselves. Nigerians should expect us to do the right thing.”

The ex-governor said the APC had assigned an all-northerner committee, including the Deputy National Chairman (North), the National Vice-Chairman (North-West) and the National Secretary of the party, to handle the party’s intervention.

Both Dogara and Jibrin, who are at the centre of the crisis, are from the North.