Posted by News Express | 5 August 2016 | 2,156 times
I have followed the drama and intrigues being played out by the sacked Chairman of the House Appropriation Committee, Hon Jibrin Abdulmumin with restrained but keen interest. I have also looked at the gamut of documents and records (that actually are injurious to collective privilege of the House under the law). I found nothing criminal or corrupt on the face of them, to warrant the total dedication of media focus and the interest of the Presidency and, indeed, the security agencies as has been exhibited in the past week. I am at a loss to understand under what powers the Department of State Service (DSS) can enter and seal up the National Assembly (NASS) in a democracy. Yet, the vocal forces are urging them on without regard to the detrimental effect of such lawlessness on the foundation of our democracy. In listening to lawyers, experts, commentators and sundry analysts, I continually fail to get a clear understanding of the criminal misconduct or breach of the Constitution in the popular ‘budget padding’ – over which everyone is asking that the internal processes of the legislature be overridden – so that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), DSS, the Police and maybe the Army, may be unleashed on the legislature to tear it down. Because all I hear is that projects that were not proposed by the President were alleged to have been introduced (not implemented) by some leaders of the House. of Representatives and, later, eight other members by a man who signed off the same budget in April as perfect while serving as chairman, Appropriation Committee; wrote members to defend it against any attempt by the executive to the contrary; was found to have added too many projects behind his colleagues into the budget for which the President withheld assent; got removed as chairman in July and, suddenly became a ‘Robin Hood a week later, accusing every foe of wrongdoing while still concealing his own projects in the final budget. I am certain that after this opinion, I will also become the ninth accused member with the release of an additional set of ‘records and documents’ indicting me. So, I kept looking out for something that clearly states the ground of the popular call for the persecution and prosecution of members of NASS, but found none credible or even coherent, given the provisions of the Constitution and legislative precedent.
Then I stumbled upon a chart published by the online medium, Premium Times, entitled: ‘How To Pad The Nigerian Budget (a.k.a) How To Steal Our Money.’ Then it became all clear to me as either a genuine misunderstanding of the roles and limits of the powers of the NASS, a conscious avoidance of that understanding, a deliberate blackmail or a programmed push for leadership change in the House, using a populist story twisted out of context. Using the Premium Times ‘definition’ of ‘budget padding’ as displayed, and seeing the level of ‘collaboration and partnership’ across causes and interests, it became even clearer that the agenda is far from what is presented. Tell me, where is the criminality therein at the level of the NASS as an institution, if the alleged ‘cash loot’ happens within the executive branch where all projects are implemented? Of course, if anyone has any evidence of movement of funds without contract implementation or undue influence in the course of contract award, it's for that person to furnish relevant security agencies with the information to deal with, in accordance with extant laws. But, to now attempt a blanket blackmail of the NASS not to undertake its constitutional role of law making (appropriation inclusive) is unconstitutional, criminal and inherently unacceptable.
If any member of the House is prepared to merely ‘rubber stamps’ executive proposals in the name of ‘not being corrupt’ or ‘not to be accused of corruption’. I am not; and I believe that the majority of members are not.
Which court has ruled against the constitutional power of the NASS to ‘amend, reduce from or add to’ the estimates proposed by the executive? Is it not of concern that no one - including the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) - wants to approach the courts (which OBJ did during his time, but later withdrew anyway) to test those powers or even to seek Supreme Court interpretation of the combined effects of sections 4, 59, 80 and 81 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) with respect to the inherent powers of the legislature to amend budgetary estimates proposed by the President? No one should, therefore, lend oneself to the use of anti-democratic forces whose wishes are far from what they pretend to preach in this matter. Indeed, any member of the House or group of members can as well take this matter to court rather than undertaking the ignoble or opaque roles of ‘bulls in a china shop’ or agent provocateur. If Hon Jibrin, I or any group of members have any axe to grind with Dogara, and anyone else, it's alright to do so personally. It’s not fair to purposefully and contemptuously ridicule the institution of the legislature the way it’s being done at the moment, in the hope of a forced leadership change, arising from open blackmail and media trial. I choose to stand against such criminality on behalf of the constituency I represent. However, if any act of criminal misconduct is established against the House leadership or anyone of them, I would similarly stand for responsible account and sanction as may be necessary.
However, I would wish to be schooled in the ‘fire-proof’ safeguards preventing executive-initiated projects from being ‘executed’ in a similar or worse manner as the pictorial display in Premium Times depicted. Or, that indeed, that has not been the manner of implementation of those programmes for which abandoned projects worth trillions of naira abound. What exactly is angelic and saintly about the executive that totally lacks in the legislature that all projects initiated by them are free from the ills of non-implementation or ‘cash looting’, as against legislators’ constituency projects? Now, what is really criminal about the so called ‘constituency projects’ or better stated, ‘zonal intervention funds’? That is, a fund that is proposed in the budget estimates by the executive and allocated on a standing formula to all members of the National Assembly; then implemented by the executive to the total exclusion of the legislature? Supervised by either the defunct MDG on the same parameters as its own hundreds of billions of naira in similar projects or more recently by the Ministry of Special Duties, reporting directly to the President?
Why should the executive hold the NASS responsible for its own failures, if truly the projects are manipulated in the course of implementation by executive branch agencies? What is the guarantee that if those heads of MDAs can so corruptly manipulate the constituency projects, that the larger chunk of the annual capital budget (mandate projects of the MDAs) are not similarly manipulated on a yearly basis? Recall that the constituency project fund since 2012 has been N100 billion or about 5 per cent of 2016 capital appropriation. Why are we not seeking a holistic reform of budget implementation (as different from preparation) to ensure effective, efficient, value-for-money and wholesome outcome? It may be of benefit to know that over 21 other jurisdictions have one form of constituency project funds or another, including the USA and Kenya. Why exactly is it important for the All Progressives Congress (APC) government to blackmail the Nigerian legislature out of its own model that is implemented wholly by the executive itself?
If on the other hand members of the NASS want a change or review of the existing distribution formula that obviously favours the leadership, is it not for them to do so through existing internal mechanisms, as envisaged by section 60 of the Constitution and the Senate and House rules.
It is my hope that this brouhaha that’s being so viciously promoted by the same forces that wanted ‘an executive leadership’ for the NASS to tarnish and blackmail the legislature into fear and timidity will rather unite members more to seek greater independence and jealously guard that independence, in the interest of our maturing democracy. For, should they succeed in forcing a leadership on us, this government will completely unitarise our democracy and complete the push for a repressive and totalitarian brand of ‘democracy’ hitherto unknown to literature.
I am, therefore, much more enamored going forward, to defend the constitution by insisting on the long-established ‘powers of the purse’ of the legislature, unless and until the constitution is amended or upturned by the Supreme Court. And, I will stand by the leadership of Dogara and his team in that regard. It is my hope that many more members will do the same. The veiled attempt at leadership change in the House of Representatives will definitely fail, because pro-democracy members will remain on perpetual alert to defend what is just!
God help Nigeria.
•Hon. Linus Okorie, FCA, whose photo appears alongside this piece, represents Ohaozara/Onicha/Ivo Federal Constituency of Ebonyi State in the House of Representatives.
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