Femi Falana, a senior advocate of Nigeria and human rights lawyers, said any attempt by the ruling All Progressives Congress to cover up the budget crisis in the House of Representatives can be dangerous to the nation’s democracy.
Last week, the APC leadership held a meeting with former chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin and urged him to desist from making any public statement on the issue.
Jibrin had last month accused the House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, and other principal officers in the House of altering 2016 budget to favour them and their constituencies. Dogara had since refuted the claim.
Falana told Punch on Saturday, August 7, 2016, that Dogara should be given the benefit of the doubt, adding that the issue of prosecution does not arise at the moment.
“Abdulmumin Jibrin has submitted a petition to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences. Until an investigation into the allegations is concluded the issue of prosecution does not arise. The allegations are grave. Apart from budget padding, there are other allegations of corrupt practices.
“It is however doubtful if the anti-graft agencies will be allowed to inquire into Jibrin’s allegations, since there are dangerous moves to resolve the matter as a family affair by the APC. But unfortunately for the party, the cat has been let out of the bag. A cover-up is no longer possible at this stage,” Falana said.
He noted that President Muhammadu Buhari signed the 2016 budget believing that it was properly passed by the National Assembly.
“But it has now emerged that 10 legislators led by the Speaker allegedly altered the budget by inserting 2,000 items worth N100bn, otherwise called constituency projects. When it emerged that Jibrin alone allocated N4bn to his constituency the House resolved to remove him. The other members kicked against Jibrin on the ground that 359 members were left to share the remaining N96bn.
“On his own part, Jibrin had alleged that the Speaker and nine others inserted projects worth about N40bn in their own constituencies. If it is established that the alterations were elected after the passing of the budget by both houses, the issue at hand goes beyond padding. A clear case of conspiracy, fraud and forgery can be established against the suspects. Padding takes place when legislators resolve to rewrite the budget by introducing new items outside the estimates prepared and presented to them by the President,” the lawyer said.
He explained that the controversy over padding of budget was laid to rest with the enactment of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007, which allowed the finance minister to source input from certain institutions including the National Assembly during the course of preparing the budget.
“That is when negotiations and horse-trading with the executive by the legislators is allowed. But neither the Act nor the Nigerian Constitution has empowered the National assembly members to rewrite the national budget by including constituency projects whose costs are fixed by the legislators. Under section 81 of the Constitution, the President is given the exclusive power to cause the budget to be prepared,” Falana stated.