Heads To Roll In NASS Over N481bn Budget Padding

More trouble that may worsen the frosty relations between the executive and legislative arms of government appears to be looming as the Federal Government moves to punish the brains behind the insertion of illegal projects worth N481 billion by the National Assembly into the 2016 budget.

Although President Muhammadu Buhari grudgingly and belatedly assented to this year’s budget, the executive is settled that the fiscal document would not be fully implemented, given the ‘padding’ of the budget with a significant amount of money, which it claims had seriously distorted its permutations.

Vanguard learned from competent sources that the Presidency is still seething with anger over the distortion of the first budget presented by President Buhari by a cabal within the NASS and that it was determined to wield its sledgehammer against the masterminds. To unravel the culprits for appropriate punitive actions, the Presidency has directed 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.

Acting on the President’s directive, the Office of the AGF has tapped a senior police officer to carry out the probe of top National Assembly officials believed to have conspired among themselves to pad the budget and report back within a short time for necessary disciplinary action, including criminal prosecution. The top police officer, an Assistant Inspector General of Police, AIG, described as a no-nonsense police spy, is said to have silently swung into action by holding series of meetings with some officials of the National Assembly without divulging the motive of the interactions.

Contacted last night, the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami, confirmed raising of the probe team, saying the Federal Government was determined to stamp out all corrupt tendencies in its budget process in order to achieve success. The AGF, who declined to give details of the probe team, said the aim of the investigation was to ensure that the masterminds were brought to book to serve as a deterrent to would-be corrupt officials in the country.

Malami said the panel would determine the criminal roles played by those involved in the action and how much money was hidden away and the agencies of government involved in the budget scam.

Major issues to be determined by the probe include who got what and for what projects; how much the leaders and members of the Senate and House of Representatives pushed into their respective MDAs to be ‘warehoused’ for them and the agencies involved. Vanguard learned that the embattled former Chairman of the Finance and Appropriation Committee of the House of Representatives, Mr. Abdulmumuni Jibrin, might be summoned to brief the probe panel. It was further gathered that it was in a bid to extract vital documents and information from Jibrin and give him adequate protection from possible harm that some top police officers went to his home in Abuja and Kano, early last week, but did not find him.

A top police source confirmed to Vanguard, last night, that the AIG-led probe team would work closely with Jibrin and other NASS officials to get to the root of the budget padding scandal in the interest of the nation. On the involvement of MDAs in the scam, the AGF promised to deal with the heads of the agencies found culpable. Malami said: “The Federal Government is interested in fishing out and punishing all those heads of parastatals who allowed themselves to be used by influential persons in the executive and legislative arms of government by importing non-existing projects into successive budgets and allegedly making away with large sums of money budgeted for them.

“You will recall that over time, there has been this criminal conspiracy among some levels of government resulting in budget padding by many of the parastatals and the money diverted and shared by some powerful individuals to the detriment of majority of Nigerians, who have been denied vital services. “The present administration has taken note of the painful antics of a few powerful elements and we have decided to fish them out and punish them for others to see that corruption is not in the interest of anybody in Nigeria.”

Meanwhile, Jibrin has vowed to release, on a daily basis, alleged deals of Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara. Jibrin, who started releasing details of the alleged budget scam involving Dogara and three other principal officers, Lasun Yusuf, Alhassan Doguwa and Leo Ogor, last week, alleged, yesterday, that Dogara diverted a federal water project to his farm in Nasarawa State.

Giving reasons he had to wait till now to speak out, he said: “Those who keep saying why now should realize that for every situation like this to occur, there must be a trigger, however, it looks! “I woke up mid night yesterday (Wednesday) to pray and suddenly realized I have become an accidental activist. This is noble and there is no going back!

“I am a product of the establishment but something in me has never been comfortable. I’m so glad that by September 9, my 40th  birthday, everybody would have known where I stand for the rest of my life; rural agriculture and fight against corruption, especially in the NASS.” In his statement yesterday, Jibrin said he would continue to make daily allegation of abuse of office against Dogara and his “senior cabal” until the “law catches up with them”. Jibrin, who raised 20 questions of corruption against Dogara on Wednesday, same day he dismissed the threat of court action from the speaker, hoped that  Dogara and other principal officers will be removed, as a consequence of his allegations.

“When a new speaker emerges and the other principal officers are replaced, I will write to the presiding officers of both chambers to commence a radical internal reform in the entire NASS beyond budget to cover performance assessment, running cost and allowances, investigations, etc. “If the reform so done in NASS is not made public latest by December, I shall take it up and lay before the general public even if I am alone. The idea is to do a clean up, flush out corruption and corrupt members so that in 2019 only corrupt-free people who want to serve will come in. God Almighty knows I am not perfect but as I approach 40 years in September, I have always wondered what is it that I can live and die for.”

When Contacted, Special Adviser to the Speaker on media and public affairs, Turaki Hassan, declined to react to the fresh allegations. However, the  Gombe State caucus of the House of Representatives, yesterday, stated that the allegation of budget padding against Dogara and three other principal officers of the House was being fuelled by external forces. Addressing journalists in Abuja, spokesman of the caucus, Ali Isa said that lawmakers from the state were not part of what he described as evil group trying to cause disaffection and instability in the House. The group also accused Jibrin of embarking on “campaign of calumny” against the leadership of the House and the House in general.

They said: “We of the Gombe State caucus of the House of Representatives wish to categorically and publicly declare that we are not part of any evil group trying to cause disaffection and instability in the House of Representatives, and we in like manner dissociate ourselves from any conspiracy and attack against Speaker Yakubu Dogara and the entire leadership of the House. “We are aware that the current impasse is generated and orchestrated by Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin through his wild goose claim that the 2016 federal budget was “padded” by the Leadership of the House, and we are appalled and shocked that Hon. Jibrin only came out with this accusation just after the House has duly sacked him as Appropriation Committee Chairman over the offence of unlawfully inflating the budget in his own favour…

“And talking about the budget itself, we want to say that in the real sense of the law, the National Assembly cannot be accused of padding the budget.  Section 80 subsection 4 and section 81 subsection 1 of Nigeria’s constitution have expressly given the National Assembly powers over the entire budgetary process, which also means the lawmaking body can make additions or subtractions on any budget document. It is, therefore, unfair and uncharitable for anyone to accuse the National Assembly of padding the budget.”

Similarly,  it was gathered, yesterday, that President Buhari was angry over the insertion of the Kano film village in the budget, which has pitted him against Muslim clerics.

The film village project, which is one of the revelations in the ongoing budget padding saga in the House and sited in Bebeji where Jibrin hails from, is said to be generating ripples between Kano clerics and President Buhari.

 

 

Credit: Vanguard

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