Dogara-and-Jibrin

Parliamentary Criminality 101 In Four Sectors

The Attorney General of the Federation is correct in ordering the EFCC to carry out investigations into criminal activities in the National Assembly. We must thank Speaker Dogara and former Chairman Jibrin for their fight to finish, which are opening doors to shed a little more light into parliamentary criminality in Nigeria… the level of mega-looting in parliament is so high that governance has been sacrificed for the sole aim of the self-aggrandisement of these thieves.

The on-going fight to finish between the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and his team, and his former close ally and outgoing Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, over the padding of the 2016 budget has once again dramatised the cess pool of mega-corruption existing in the National Assembly. The crisis was ignited by the Speaker pushing out Jibrin from his “lucrative” chairmanship. It is revealing that some committees are considered powerful and lucrative while others are apparently lean and hungry. Since then, both parties have been revealing the dirty underside of the budget-making process in general and the illegalities inserted into the 2016 budget. Mr. Jibrin alleges that Speaker Dogara, his deputy Yusuf Lasun, Chief Whip Ado Doguwa and Minority Leader Leo Ogor attempted to pad the 2016 budget with about N40 billion, while they argue that he was the one who padded the budget with over N4 billion. The current situation is extremely important in addressing parliamentary criminality, which has grown massively in the domains of padding, constituency projects, executive oversight and slush funds. Let’s take up these four issues briefly; padding, oversight, constituency projects and the slush fund.

Padding, in contemporary Nigerian English, refers to the exercise of legislative might to create new estimates for budgetary expenditure outside the estimates proposed by the Executive. The Constitution gives the Executive the power to propose budget estimates while the Legislature considers and approves them. The assumption is that estimates are based on national programmes and plans carried out by ministries, departments and agencies, which have information on revenues and have developed and costed projects that fit into the general plan. The National Assembly has however developed an attitude that since they approve the budget, anything they insert therein is legitimate and it is on that basis that padding, i.e. the insertion of projects that have been neither planned nor had their costs estimated, occurs. There are two forms of padding – the “corrective” and the criminal.

“Corrective” padding refers to an assessment made by the legislators that there is a lack of balance in the allocation of projects and they decide to design and add projects on their own, purportedly to correct the mistake. The problem however is that this “correction” becomes a devise to channel all sorts of projects to their own “homelands”. Criminal padding on the other hand is the insertion of phantom projects in collaboration with like-minded MDAs with the intention of fraudulently collecting the amounts allocated and sharing the money. Both corrective and criminal padding make nonsense of governance because they create a huge divide between governmental programmes and the budget, which gets completely distorted by insertions and subtractions and empty it of its intended objectives. We recall the shock of the Presidency on receiving the 2016 budget and finding out that the lawmakers had added new projects and removed critical items proposed by the Administration.

Over the past few years, these committees have completely subverted their powers and they routinely blackmail MDAs to pay them huge amounts of money or else they will reveal to the nation the criminality discovered in the said MDAs. Committees that have been acting in this way have directly copied the methods of the mafia and other criminal gangs that engage in research with the sole objective of extortion through blackmail.

Padding has a long history. In 2000, former President Olusegun Obasanjo refused to sign the budget passed by the National Assembly claiming it had been padded with about N2 billion added to the National Assembly budget. The president, at that time, also identified 15 other areas, which he said had not emanated from any MDA and had simply been inserted into the budget and therefore refused to sign. The National Assembly basically threatened to remove the president through impeachment and since Obasanjo succumbed to the blackmail, the amount of padding had been growing exponentially. Late President Yar’Adua also had the same problem when he refused to sign the 2008 budget due to excessive padding but eventually reached a modus vivendi in which the padding was reduced, not removed completely, before he agreed to sign.

Oversight is the second sector. The National Assembly has powers of oversight and review of the work of MDAs. It is for this purpose that parliamentary committees are constituted in parallel with governmental structures so that such committees can closely monitor the work of these offices and ensure that they operate in accordance with the principles of good governance and the interests of the citizen. Over the past few years, these committees have completely subverted their powers and they routinely blackmail MDAs to pay them huge amounts of money or else they will reveal to the nation the criminality discovered in the said MDAs. Committees that have been acting in this way have directly copied the methods of the mafia and other criminal gangs that engage in research with the sole objective of extortion through blackmail. Of course they are able to transform oversight into extortion precisely because there is a lot of criminality in the MDAs, which they then join rather than control.

The third sector is that of constituency projects. The National Assembly has bamboozled successive presidents into accepting that each and every legislator has the right to a constituency project. The idea is to impress their constituents that they have brought projects to their home base. While in other jurisdictions, powerful legislators are able to influence the allocation of projects to their constituencies, the practice has been to do so through the party and through the executive. It is not normal that each legislator must have his or her personal project. Their function is lawmaking and legislative oversight, not project design. The most worrying aspect of the issue however is that while the constituency projects are supposed to be carried out by MDAs, the legislators have been able to force their way to the execution stage by insisting that contracts for “their” project be given to companies that they bring. By personalising the process, a lot of the projects are actually not implemented and the monies are simply pocketed.

One of the most important revelations from the on-going scandal is that members of the Appropriation Committee were not allowed to engage in the work of the Committee… What that means is that most legislators are actually kept out of the real decision making processes of the National Assembly. By combatting the high level criminality that has developed, we can create conditions in which all members can enjoy their constitutional right of being true representatives carrying out the duties they had been elected to do.

Maybe the most serious element of criminality in the National Assembly is the slush fund. Over the years, we have witnessed the emergence of a huge slush fund for the leadership of the National Assembly. The greatest secret in contemporary Nigeria is the detailed budget of the National Assembly, since they became self-accounting and get their allocation directly without having to go through the Ministry of Finance. They make their budget and spend it without any element of accountability. It was during the Jonathan Administration that the National Assembly budget, which had been growing since 2000 took a great leap forward. In 2011, the National Assembly increased its budget from about N120 billion to N232.74 billion while working on the N4.48 trillion budget presented by the former president. No one could work out what costs had suddenly escalated the budget by over 132 billion. President Jonathan refused to sign the budget, prompting a series of meetings for negotiations. Eventually, both parties settled for N150 billion as allocation to the lawmakers. The National Assembly has since then refused to allow anyone access to its detailed budget. The general view is that at least half of the budget of the National Assembly is not for any known line item expenditure. It’s simply a huge slush fund that the cabal running the National Assembly uses as they please. What is most unacceptable is that most legislators themselves are not allowed to see the budget breakdown and do not necessarily benefit from the slush fund.

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The Attorney General of the Federation is correct in ordering the EFCC to carry out investigations into criminal activities in the National Assembly. We must thank Speaker Dogara and former Chairman Jibrin for their fight to finish, which are opening doors to shed a little more light into parliamentary criminality in Nigeria. Not all members of the National Assembly are thieves but the fact of the matter is that the level of mega-looting in parliament is so high that governance has been sacrificed for the sole aim of the self-aggrandisement of these thieves. Former President Obasanjo had in 2012 described our legislators as “rogues and armed robbers”. We cannot deepen our democracy if our parliamentarians are focused on extortion and theft rather than lawmaking.

One of the most important revelations from the on-going scandal is that members of the Appropriation Committee were not allowed to engage in the work of the Committee. The Chairman “singlehandedly” took decisions on the budget. Of course since he got the position because he was very close to the Speaker, we can assume that the cabal running the House took the decisions. What that means is that most legislators are actually kept out of the real decision making processes of the National Assembly. By combatting the high level criminality that has developed, we can create conditions in which all members can enjoy their constitutional right of being true representatives carrying out the duties they had been elected to do.


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