• Businesses Of NASS Is Entirely Padding, Ozekhome Insists
Embattled Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, yesterday brushed aside calls for him to step aside following allegation by the former chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumini Jibrin, that he (Dogara) was involved in the padding of the 2016 budget to the tune of Billions of Naira.
The Speaker, who met behind closed doors with President Muhammadu Buhari for about 30 minutes at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, played down the allegations by Jibrin claiming that he did not know what padding meant, while at the same time claiming that padding was not an offence under any law in the country.
Jibrin had alleged among other allegations that Dogara, alongside some Principal Officers of the House of Representatives, allegedly influenced the padding of the 2016 budget, leading to calls for the Speaker and other Principal Officers to step aside to allow for unfettered investigation into the allegations. However, emerging from the meeting with Buhari yesterday, Dogara, who was accompanied by the Senior Special Assistant to the President, (SSAP) House of Representatives, Suleiman Sumaila Kawu, said he does not know what padding was and challenged reporters to educate him on what the words meant.
When reminded about what the former Appropriation Committee Chairman Jibrin has been saying about their alleged padding of the 2016 budget, he said the onus lied on Jibrin to prove the allegations, even as he ruled out any possibility of reconvening the House to deal with the matter, saying the House operates under a rule. When asked if he would resign as being demanded by the public, Dogara fired back at the suggestion, saying there was no reason for him to resign. He said: “Resign over what? Resign over nothing.” The Speaker would not disclose if the House would sanction Jibrin, claiming that he was not the Chairman of Ethics and Disciplinary Committee.
The following dialogue ensued between Dogara and reporters at the forecourt of the President’s office:
What informed your visit to the President on a Friday?
“I can’t come and see my President? Do I need any reason to come and see my President? It’s a private visit.”
Was the issue of alleged budget padding discussed?
“What is budget padding?”
The language emanated from your chambers “I don’t know, educate me, I am a lawyer and the Speaker and I have never heard of the word padding, what does padding mean?”
Your former Chairman of Appropriation Committee is saying you padded the budget.“Ask him, he who alleges must prove, that’s the law in Nigeria”
Are you not going to defend yourself?
“Am I before a court?”
Some people are saying you should reconvene the House before September resumption time and step aside for thorough investigations?
“We have rules and regulations, this is not a mock institution, we operate by rules and we will follow the rules.”
Will you resign?
“Resign for what, for what?”Over these allegations
“What is padding? You haven’t told me, ask Jibrin what is padding. For me, I studied Law and I have been in the legislature and all this period I have never heard of the word padding being an offence under any law, if I don’t know, you are the media, research the law and let me know.”Are you worried?
“Worried for what? Worried over nothing, why should I be worried? As far as I am concerned, I’m not worried over anything.”
Will there be sanctions for Jibrin?
“I am not the Chairman of Ethics and Disciplinary Committee of the House, so I wouldn’t know and I don’t know what padding means.”
REACTING to Dogara’s statement, constitutional lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), said there is nothing called padding of budget in the National Assembly.
Ozekhome explained that the business at the National Assembly is padding.“I have read the constitution, particularly Sections 59, 80, 81, 82, 83 and 162. The business of the National Assembly actually revolves around padding; they cannot do any other thing than padding. “When Buhari, under Section 81, placed a budget before both houses as estimates of income and expenditure for the coming year, it is taken that estimates simply mean guess work of what is expected from crude oil, agriculture, resources, etc that will be gained as income and how the money will be spent.“The constitution, using the doctrine of separation of powers, ably espoused as far back ago as 1748 by a French Philosopher Baron, insists that it is the National Assembly that constitutes the purse, that can allocate funds, not the executive.
“And in allocating funds, the National Assembly must augmentatively look at the various heads and sub-heads of income and expenditure as given by Mr. President and begin to re-jig, re-engineer, add, subtract, multiply, amend and alter.“This amounts to padding, by whatever name it is to be called, except the word padding will be decided to be ascribed to criminality.”
The SAN further explained that the budget proposal amended several times by Mr. President is already padded. The question, he said, is: “When the sub-heads are varied, constituency projects are added and monies are appropriated, were these brought before the plenary sessions of the committees, such as the finance committee, the appropriation committee, and were they debated at the plenary sessions and passed?
“If they were so debated and passed, then the issue of padding can never come in. The only scenario where I see the issue of padding come in is after the budget proposals have been agreed upon by the plenary sessions and the Speaker and the Senate President had signed, and if between the journey of the signed documents from the National Assembly to Aso Villa, which is less than 10 minutes, something else is added or smuggled in. That is when we could say padding has occurred.
“I do not see padding as meaning that a budget proposal by Mr. President has been added unto or subtracted from or multiplied by or amended or ordered. That can never be padding. “In that regard, I will agree with Mr. Speaker that there is nothing like padding in the National Assembly.“In fact, I dare say that the business of the National Assembly in reconstructing the budget proposal of Mr. President is actually padding.”
National Chairman of United Peoples Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, said it appeared Nigerians overrated Dogara before now. Okorie said: “There are so many Nigerians who would be disappointed with him over this assertion. For anybody to say that budget padding is not an illegality is not only criminal, but also scandalous.
“If Dogara said budget padding is not illegal, is he aware that constituency project is not in the country’s constitution, but National Assembly members always smuggle it into the budget annually?
“Why do they remove it from the budget and hide it before the President signs the budget? For this singular statement, it is obvious to Nigerians that Dogara lacks morality to continue as Speaker of the House.” Bur presidential candidate of National Conscience Party (NCP), Mr. Martin Onovo, noted that there was nothing wrong in what Dogara said, stressing that there is nothing like budget padding, let alone whether it is illegality or otherwise. Onovo described calls for Dogara to resign as trivial and distractive.
“Anybody who believes Dogara has breached the constitution can take him to court. Politicians should not divide Nigerians for their selfish interests,” he stated.Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Kenneth Odidinka added that by the country’s constitution, Dogara did not commit any offence over the budget issue. Odidinka said: “The whole noise about the budget padding is mere politics. If not, those after Dogara should tell Nigerians the section of the constitution he has flouted.”