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Dogara under fire for saying padding not corruption

Prominent groups and individuals have berated the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, for claiming that budget padding is not an offence. In separate interviews on Friday with Saturday PUNCH, they said that the Speaker’s statement showed that he was not sensitive to the suffering of Nigerians. 

Dogara, after a closed-door meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday, said that he would not resign over the budget padding allegation levelled against him and 12 others by a former Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin. The Speaker also said that budget padding was not an offence under the law.

In an interview with journalists after the meeting, which  lasted for 30 minutes, the Speaker said, “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.”

It is criminal—Falana, Afenifere, others         
Condemning the Speaker, a human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), insisted that the alleged padding of the Federal Government’s budget by some members of the National Assembly constituted a criminal offence.

He explained that the offence of padding the budget was not a “once-and-for-all” like murder.
The senior lawyer said it started as conspiracy while planning it and concluded when it was used to draw money fraudulently after the budget had been passed. Falana had also said that it was logical for those implicated in the scam to step down because Jibrin had done the same. 

He said, “The act violates Fiscal Responsibility Act. Section 13 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act prescribes that relevant agencies, including the National Assembly, make input into the budget. Relevant government agencies are required to do the costing for the projects to be included in the budget.

“It is expected that negotiation and costing of projects should have been concluded while the preparation is going on. Budgeting is a process. Budget is money bill, which must necessarily originate from the executive. Section 81(1) of the Constitution says the President shall cause the budget to be prepared and lay it before the National Assembly. The National Assembly cannot cause the budget to be prepared and lay it before itself.

“What the National Assembly can do after the budget is laid before it is to reduce the amount if it is convinced it is inflated. “So it is conspiracy when they increase the amount or insert projects into the budget. The criminal act is concluded when they now draw from the funds they have inserted.” Another Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Robert Clarke said the appropriate thing for the Speaker to do is to resign first and face investigation.

He said, “As for Dogara, morality beckons on him to resign and face investigation. When there are allegations of such against a public officer, that’s the appropriate thing to do. But that only happens in civilised societies. Nigeria too is a civilised society, but it’s unfortunate we’ve never seen something like that happening.

The following encounter took place between the Speaker and reporters:

Reporter: What informed your visit to the Presidential Villa this Friday?
Speaker: You mean I can’t come and see my President? Do I need any reason to come and see my President? It was a private visit.
Reporter: Was the issue of alleged budget padding discussed?
Speaker: What is budget padding?
Reporter: The language emanated from your chamber
Speaker: 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?
Reporter: Your former chairman of Appropriation Committee is saying you padded the budget. What is your reaction to that?
Speaker: Ask him. He who alleges must prove; that is the law in Nigeria.
Reporter: Are you not going to defend yourself?
Speaker: Am I before a court?
Reporter: There are people saying you should reconvene the House before September resumption time and step aside for thorough investigation to be carried out. What is your reaction to this?
Speaker: We have rules and regulations. This is not a mock institution, we operate by rules and we will follow the rules.
Reporter: Will you resign?
Speaker: Resign for what? For what?
Reporter: On this allegation.
Speaker: What is the allegation?
Reporter: That you and some members of the leadership padded the budget.
Speaker: 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
Reporter: Are you worried?
Speaker: Worried for what? Worried over nothing? Why should I be worried? As far as I am concerned, I am not worried over anything.
Reporter: Will there be sanctions for Jibrin?
Speaker: I am not the Chairman of Ethics Committee of the House so I wouldn’t know and I don’t know what padding means.

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