Budget padding: 324 members back Dogara – Rep

Respite appears to be coming the way of Speaker House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, as over 90% of the House, representing about 324 members, are strongly backing him amidst overwhelming allegations of budget padding, Chairman, House Committee on Public Petitions, Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, has disclosed.

With this support, the lawmaker said, the vocal minority, representing 10%, has paled into irrelevance.

The leadership of the House sacked Abdulmumin Jibrin as the Appropriation Committee chair over alleged budget padding, a development that angered the Kano-born lawmaker who countered and released all manners of allegations against Dogara and some principal officers.

But while admitting that the Speaker was human, “and so cannot please everyone in a 360-member parliament like the House,” he said, people should be wary when such calls ensued, especially against the backdrop of what happened to former Speaker, Patricia Etteh, who was removed over allegations of graft, only to be cleared of any wrongdoing years later.

Fielding questions from newsmen in Abuja yesterday, Nkem-Abonta said he had not seen any register where about 260 members reportedly signed to pass a vote of no confidence on the Speaker.

He said: “I am sure that less than 10% are the ones against him, meaning that 90% or more stand with Dogara,” arguing that going by feelers from members, that could be confirmed.

Further corroborating his position, the lawmaker said, “Looking at the output of the 8th Assembly of the House, you can understand that majority of members enjoyed, and are still enjoying the leadership style of Dogara, notwithstanding our differences at take-off. Until the so-called padding, Dogara had no issue in the House.

“I am from Abia state; I have not seen the register, but can say authoritatively that no member would sign against him (Dogara) from Abia, we all love Dogara. It is true he is human, he may have his shortcomings, but we all love him.”

“Dogara has maintained a cool level-head leadership, so, no need for change of leadership. He cannot please 360 people, and nobody is perfect. Those who are aggrieved should use the in-house mechanism to address issues. He cannot place everybody where they want be. The whole idea of the parliament is lobbying, and that signatures may purportedly be collected as a tool of bargaining, which anybody or group can do.

“When people begin to cry out ‘step aside,’ be wary. Anybody can investigate him, but let him remain as Speaker. Those clamouring for his resignation over alleged padding should let him be,” Nkem-Abonta further contended.

Meanwhile, the Chairman, House Committee on Legislative Compliance, Hon. Abiodun Olasupo, yesterday described ‘budget padding’ as a “constitutional responsibility of the legislative arm of government.”

The lawmaker, representing Iseyin/Itesiwaju/Kajola/ Iwajowa Federal Constituency in Oyo state, said this while inspecting some zonal intervention projects and federal government projects in his constituency in Oke-Ogun area of the state.

Olasupo, who pointed out that the House did not err in the current ‘budget padding’ controversy, noted that Sections 80 and 81 of the constitution, give the lawmakers the powers to alter the budget proposals.

He stressed that budgets presented by the executive arm of government do not often reflect true federal character, hence the need for ‘padding’.

”If you look at the Nigerian Constitution, what Hon. AbdulMumini Jibrin referred to as padding is tantamount to what the constitution defines as the function of a member of House of Representatives because the constitution guarantees the three major functions of making laws, appropriation, and oversight.

“In appropriation, it is either for us to add, subtract or change, and what Hon Jibrin has been trying to say is that we are changing, inserting and adding.

“So, if that is what he calls padding. Then that is what the constitution expects the House of Representative to do,” Olasupo further explained.

The lawmaker maintained that as an active member during the budget defence, he was involved in the budgeting system of up to six ministries and agencies like FERMA, Navy, health institutions and many others.

According to him, the entire budgeting system makes it possible that if one is elected as a member of the National Assembly and not ready to do what Jibrin called padding, then such a person is a failure.

He added: “Basically, the budget that is been brought to the National Assembly does not reflect the principle of federal character as guaranteed by the constitution”, saying, all projects and employments from the executive, should be done in a way that they reflect all parts of Nigeria.

“I am not saying somebody is wrong or right, but I do not see what is bad in attracting projects to my constituency. For the first time in the history of this country, a budget presented by the executive was reduced. It means that we are shifting away from impunity, and corruption that has characterised the government of the past,” Olasupo further clarified.