Dare Odufowokan, Assistant Editor, in this piece, reports that the crisis rocking the Federal House of Representatives over the alleged padding of the 2016 Budget may be far from over despite the successful suspension of the former chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumeen Jibrin, by his colleagues.
THE lower House of the Nigerian National Assembly, the House of Representatives, is currently not at peace over the controversies that have continued to trail the passing of the 2016 Budget earlier in the year. The House leadership, which had hoped for respite following the equally controversial suspension of embattled former chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumeen Jibrin, by his colleagues last week, may have discovered that it will have to do more to end the rumpus in its House.
The House of Representatives, penultimate Wednesday, suspended Jibrin, a lawmaker from Kano who has been at the centre of the unfolding budget padding scandal, following his face-off with the leadership of the House after he was removed as the chairman of the powerful Appropriation Committee.
His suspension, which is to last for 180 legislative days, in actual terms, will keep him out of the chambers for more than a year. This is because the House seats three days in a week. So, Jibrin, who had severally accused the Speaker Yakubu Dogara-led leadership of the lower House of corruption, promising to provide evidences for their trial, is consequently suspended for 60 weeks and by implication, for 15 months.
After weeks of allegations and counter allegations from the two camps, Jibrin could not stop his ouster from the House when the hammer finally fell. In a motion recommended by House Ethics Committee chairman, Nicholas Ossai, and adopted by the whole House, Jibrin was effortlessly sent packing and in addition, will also not be able to hold any position of responsibility for the span of the current National Assembly.
Jibrin, it would be recalled, had refused to appear before the House Committee on Rules and Ethics, which was directed to investigate his actions and outbursts against the House in general and its leadership in particular, after a member said his publication of the allegations infringed on the privileges of members.
But it appears his suspension, rather than douse the pressure his allegations had put upon Dogara and others, may have opened new vistas in the agitation for a proper scrutiny of the green chamber. While less concerned has been shown for Jibrin’s suspension by his colleagues, with many saying the House has a right to regulate itself according to its rules, much is being said about the need to ensure that the many allegations raised by the suspended lawmaker are not swept under the carpet with his suspension.
Many groups and individuals, including the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR) have alleged that the leadership of the House of Representatives suspended Abdulmumuni Jibrin as a ploy to sweep his allegations of corruption in the House under the carpet. The human rights organisation says any attempt to prevent the allegations from being investigated will lead to a serious face-off between the current administration and the civil society.
“We have watched with awe the macabre dance and ignominious development unfolding In the National Assembly; the allegations of corruption and counter allegations involving Hon. Jibrin Abdulmumini and leadership of the Federal House of Representatives. CDHR is deeply concerned with the failure of the House to investigate allegations of ‘budget padding’ raised by Honourable Jibrin, while the motion on abuse of members’ privileges was raised, debated and referred to ethics and privileges committee of the House for investigation, later resulting in the suspension of Jibrin from the green chamber for 180 days and sealing off his office.”
“Whereas it is within the rules and powers of the House to regulate its internal affairs and sanction an erring member, the imbroglio surrounding the House of Representatives is a national embarrassment that transcends internal affairs of the hallowed chambers. There are fundamental unanswered questions deserving not only investigation by the Parliament, but by also the anti-corruption agencies.
“Honourable Jibrin has admitted to some criminal conspiracies jointly perpetrated against the Nigerian people by both chambers of the National Assembly, under his supervision as the Chairman of House Committee on Appropriation. The self-confessed forgery and abuse of public trust are crimes within the investigative and prosecutorial powers of law enforcement agencies.
“This case is akin to an armed robbery suspect walking into a police station and confessing to several bank robbery over the years uncaught, because he was cheated in the last robbery by his gang members. It is expected of the Police to arrest the disgruntled member of the robbery gang, investigate all the claims, arrest other members of the gang and prosecute them once there are merits in the claims.
“These latest revelation indicts both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The investigation of abuse of privilege of members and subsequent suspension of Honourable Jibrin by the whole House, across party line, is an indication of the House resolution to sweep the matter under the carpet. There can be no better time for Nigerians to return to the street and protest against the harsh economy and huge corruption and legislative robbery going on at the National Assembly than now,” CDHR said.
New group demands probe
The Nation also gathered that a new group has emerged in the House with the mission of ensuring that all those mentioned by Jibrin in his statements before and after his suspension, are investigated by the House and other concerned agencies. According to very reliable sources, the group met last Thursday to decide its modus operandi.
It was gathered that the new group, which may adopt “Transparency Group” as its name, is already membered by more than 70 lawmakers cutting across party lines. Sources at its meeting in Abuja on Thursday said it is being coordinated by a ranking APC legislator from the North-Central and a respected PDP lawmaker from the west.
“At the meeting, it was agreed that a letter be sent to the leadership of the House to remind them of the need to look into the claims made by Hon. Jibrin. As a group of legislators, we also intend to call for external investigations into the allegations with a view of finding out if those named are guilty or not.
“Our take is that if Jibrin said the budget was padded by some people, including himself, it is only right that we look into such allegations deeply. The budget is not the property of the House of Representatives, so we should be seen to be doing what is proper. And with the suspension of Jibrin, there is need for some people or group to ensure the right thing is done.
“We intend to urge the leadership of the House of Representatives to consider the allegations as very weighty and worthy of being investigated internally and externally. We want to ensure that all those at the centre of the controversy answer to all the allegations made against them individually and collectively in line with legal practice and our criminal justice system,” our source said.
The Nation gathered that the group is still reaching out to more members of the House in its bid to ensure that it garners more support before going public with its mission. However, it appears the letter to the leadership of the House will be written, signed by the coordinators and submitted to the Speaker before the week runs out.
“I was at the meeting, so I can tell you what I saw. Not less than 70 lawmakers attended the first meeting held in Abuja on Thursday. And this is not just about PDP or APC. Those in attendance cut across party lines. I can tell you quite a number of our people are no longer comfortable with the happenings in the House and as such, the response to the invitation to be part of a reformed Transparency Group was impressive.
But there is need to get more members to believe in this quest and see it as something altruistic and non-partisan. It is for that purpose it was agreed that while the group will continue its assignment within the House, it shouldn’t go public yet with things like its membership and strength. At the appropriate time, the group will do that,” our source said.
But Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, spokesman of the House of Representatives, while insisting the House did the right thing by suspending Jibrin, said no individual can dictate to the House of Representatives on how to run its affairs.
“Jibrin cannot dictate to the committee how to operate; you cannot go to a court and dictate to the judge, it’s not done. So, we gave him the opportunity and he abused it and the law has taken its cause, it is not vindictive; tomorrow, if somebody does that, it may even be higher, but to prevent that, he should have been well behaved.
“We are elected by the people to come and represent them here, so you should be conscious of what you are sent to do here, not to come and fight people; you are short changing your people, not us. It was very obvious, he was asked to appear before the committee and state his case; if he had apologised before the committee, probably the recommendation would not be in this manner, but because he didn’t appear, and he acknowledged receipt of the letter; he even gave conditions for his appearance.”
Also of concern to the leadership of the embattled House is the festering division amongst members, especially those of the ruling party, over the suspension of Jibrin. While the process leading to his suspension was hitch free and without visible opposition on the floor of the green chamber, members have been singing discordant tunes over the matter to the discomfiture of Dogara.
“The Speaker is disturbed by the comments of some legislators over the suspension. He is worried that a decision that was collectively taken by the entire House is again being faulted by members. In some cases, principal officers and aides to the Speaker, it was gathered, have been interpreting the development to mean opposition to their principal.
The Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, is among those who broke rank with Dogara over the matter. During the week, the Lagos lawmaker said the suspension of former Chairman of the House on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, is unconstitutional.
According to him, suspending a lawmaker means suspending a constituency from participating in the activities of the National assembly.
“The constitution says clearly that, all Federal Constituencies must be represented for four years, and lists, I believe, only 1 or 2 circumstances under which such a constituency can be unrepresented. e.g. by process of recall, etc. Even at that, the vacancy is to be filled immediately. Our constitution does not envisage a situation where a Federal Constituency is unrepresented or underrepresented.
“If, for instance, an issue comes up in a member’s constituency, that requires federal attention or legislative address, who do they go to? We cannot take away a mandate, given by the people or short change a constituency. In law, the seat of a representative is held in trust for the constituency. This is why when a member gets up to speak, he goes through the formality of announcing his name and the constituency he represents. In fact, in other democracies and Legislatures, when a Speaker wants to recognise a representative to speak, he addresses him or her not even by name, but as for instance, “the gentleman from so so constituency”.
“That is the pre-eminence given to a constituency in a democratic setting. So, it is not about Honourable Jibrin, it is about Beweji Constituency. I do not stand in the gap for Jibrin, or is this in any way a defence on his behalf. You may not know this, but Jibrin and I stopped relating as friends and colleagues, since March or thereabout.
“However, I am not one to shy away from the truth and the rule of law. I believe that there are other ways that would be constitutional, if the House wants to discipline any member. On whether this was contempt of court, I believe that you are speaking about the Federal High Court decision in the Melaye case, when the Court said that the House lacked the powers to suspend the members. I do not remember the basis upon which the Court made its decision, but I will definitely look at it again. I suspect it was on the basis of fair hearing, as provided in the Constitution,” he argued.
But Namdaz insists the decision of the House was fair, saying that the time frame of the decision was not limited. According to him, Jibrin fell under the hammer for making petitions outside the House and not because he accused some people of anything.
“It appeared as if he had more confidence in external institutions, which is why he did not approach the House when he felt aggrieved. We have said it repeatedly that we have rules and if you have grievances, you have a right to express them. The House is not concerned with specific allegations made by Jibrin; rather, it is concerned with the fact that Jibrin made those accusations to outside bodies rather than reporting his grievances to the internal bodies”.
Jibrin in court
Expectedly, the embattled former chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriation has described his suspension by the House as completely inconsequential. He opined that the process that led to the decision of the House was a complete waste of time. He is therefore optimistic that the decision cannot stand.
“The matter is in court and it is a matter of litigation. I am in court because the decision to suspend me is completely inconsequential and cannot stand anywhere. I can tell you very clearly. I will never, ever, apologise to anybody in the House of Representatives.
“I did not commit any offense, I didn’t do anything wrong. I have said it repeatedly that in the five years that I have spent in the House of Representatives, I have never abused my office. I have never corruptly enriched myself, so I have no reason to apologise to anybody,” the embattled lawmaker argued.
“It is a non-issue and complete nonsense and it is not going to stand anywhere in the world. As you are aware, the matter is a subject of litigation; I have instructed my lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) to file charges of contempt against Speaker Dogara and of course the House of Representatives and I’m sure the matter will move over to the judiciary and decision will be taken. I’m pretty sure it will be in my favour,” he added.
Apprehensive of the danger ahead, House sources say the Speaker has continued to extend the olive branch to all individuals and groups within the lower chamber, urging them to rally around him in ensuring that the dignity off the National Assembly is not further eroded by the unfortunate scandal initiated by the suspended Hon. Jibrin.
“But it is left to be seen if his peaceful approach is yielding fruits. This is because many of the lawmakers are of the opinion that failure to properly address the many allegations made by Jibrin will do more damage to the integrity of the House than any other step whatsoever. Not a few want Dogara and others to submit themselves for investigation,” our source added.
Source : ThenationonlineThenationonline