The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project and some eminent lawyers on Sunday called on the Speaker, House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, and other principal officers of the House, who were alleged to have compromised the integrity of the 2016 budget, to step aside for proper investigation to be carried out into the allegations.
A former House Committee Chairman on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, who was removed as the committee chairman two weeks ago, had alleged that the four principal officers requested the inclusion of N40bn projects in the 2016 budget.
Aside Dogara, other principal officers named in the budget padding saga are the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Yussuff Lasun; the Chief Whip, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; and the Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor.
A human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), in an interview with The PUNCH, said leaders of the House, who had been implicated in the budget padding scam, should step aside from their positions in order to give way for thorough investigations.
Falana had, earlier in a statement on Sunday, urged the police and the nation’s anti-graft agencies to take over the investigations into the alleged scam from the Department of State Services.
He also told one of our correspondents on the telephone that all those involved in the scam should step aside the same as Jibrin, who was also accused of padding the budget with N4bn projects for his constituency in Kano State, was removed.
“Since Jibirn has stepped down. It is logical that others, who have been implicated in the scam, to step down,” Falana said.
But the human rights lawyer, in his statement, said the DSS lacked both “the moral and legal rights” to carry out the probe.
He said the DSS had, by its recent acts, could not be trusted with such responsibility.
He cited the DSS recent arrest and detention of the principal officers and administrative staff of the Zamfara State House of Assembly for attempting to commence impeachment proceedings against Governor Abubakar Yari on the grounds of alleged corrupt practices
He noted that there was no legal backing for the DSS to embark on such investigation as the agency, according to the Senior Advocate of Nigeria, by virtue of the National Security Agencies Act, is strictly limited to the “preservation and detection within Nigeria of any crime against the internal security of Nigeria.”
He also said the police as well as other anti-graft agencies should be allowed to get to the roots of the scam and bring the culprits to book.
Falana said, “Curiously, the State Security Service (Department of State Services) is alleged to have usurped the statutory duties of the police and the anti-graft agencies by taking over the investigations into the padding of the budget.
“Having regard to the recent activities of the SSS and the clear provisions of the relevant laws on investigation of corruption and other economic and financial crimes, the SSS lacks the moral right and legal powers to interfere in the investigation of the criminal allegation of padding of the budget in any manner whatsoever.”
Falana also demanded that the investigation should be extended to an alleged diversion of over N300bn in the name of constituency projects by past and serving federal legislators.
“At the end of the investigations, all the suspects, who are indicted, should be charged to court while the funds allegedly stolen by them should be recovered.
Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Adeniyi Akintola, said even though it was the “honourable” thing for the affected lawmakers to do, there had been no public officer, who had, on his or her volition, decided to quit an office over corruption allegation in Nigeria.
In an open letter to the Speaker, SERAP asked Dogara to step aside to allow investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and other agencies.
The letter, dated July 29, 2016, was signed by SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni.
It stated, “Following confirmation received by SERAP from the EFCC that it has taken up and looking into SERAP’s petition to the body on the allegations that the leadership of the House of Representatives padded the 2016 budget to the tune of N481bn, SERAP is now writing to request you to immediately step aside from your position as the Speaker of the House of Representatives pending the outcome of the investigation.
“We also urge you to ensure that other principal officers of the House, suspected to be involved in the alleged padding, step aside from their positions to allow for the investigation by the EFCC and other agencies to go ahead unhindered.”
According to it, the case deserves a thorough, transparent, independent and effective investigation by the EFCC and other agencies.
The Publicity Secretary of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, believed that the current budget padding scam in the House, had also underscored the belief that corruption had become deep-seated in the country.
He said “Unfortunately, the budget has been signed, which makes it a law that cannot be investigated. There is, however, a moral burden over the weighty allegations that require coming clean by the leadership of the House.
‘‘People are, however, not oblivious of the fact that until we deal with the architecture of corruption, the scourge will be dancing from one spot to another and we will only be screaming when the symptoms manifest.”
Speaker won’t step aside –Minority Leader
The Minority Leader of the House, Ogor, dismissed the call by SERAP and other eminent Nigerians, saying it would appear that there was a “hidden agenda” in asking the Speaker to step down over a “dead horse.”
Ogor said he did not see how Dogara would step down over “lies fabricated by a pathological liar by name Abdulmumin Jibrin.”
He added that Jibrin had no case and had not really substantiated any of his allegations.
Ogor, who is one of the four principal officers accused by Jibrin, added, “What allegations has Jibrin made? He has not said anything. Is it that the National Assembly should no longer do its work of appropriation?
“What is the investigation about? Is it the zonal intervention projects, which have been the convention since 1999 that every principal officer gets, just like every member does?
“Are they saying that the Speaker should step down so they can investigate the same budget that Mr. President first refused to sign because it was mutilated by Jibrin?’’
House spokesman, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, could not be reached on his mobile on Sunday for his reactions.