Budget padding: Plot to remove Dogara thickens
There was a palpable tension in the House of Representatives on Monday over an alleged plot to remove the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, over the budget padding allegations made by a former Chairman of the Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin.
It was gathered that many members were ruffled, forcing a large number of them to rush from their vacation spots to meetings in Abuja where the alleged plot was discussed.
Findings showed that the Majority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, however, doused the tension among factions by urging members to have faith in the leadership of the House under Dogara.
The All Progressives Congress lawmaker from Lagos State has kept sealed lips over the budget crisis since it started on July 21.
Gbajabiamila had refused to speak openly in support of Jibrin or Dogara, and the three other principal officers whom Jibrin had accused of padding the 2016 Budget.
The others are the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Yussuff Lasun; the Chief Whip, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; and the Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor.
It was learnt that some persons in the House in a text message that members of the House received on Monday accused Gbajabiamila of siding with Jibrin to remove Dogara because of his silence.
“This group circulated a text message among members, giving the impression that there would be a leadership change in the House.
“They attempted to re-open the old Dogara-Gbajabiamila rivalry and create mayhem,” a senior legislative official told The PUNCH in Abuja on Monday.
The source of the text message was unknown as of the time of filing this report.
It read, “Plot to destabilise the leadership of the House of Reps has taken a new dimension as the Attorney-General of the Federation, working with Gbajabiamila, Jibrin and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, has drafted charges to arraign and detain principal officers of the House so that the Transparency Group, who recently met with Tinubu’s wife, will effect a leadership change with Gbajabiamila as Speaker and Jibrin as the Deputy.
“This is why Jibrin did not mention Femi (Gbajabiamila) in his allegations. The 8th House won’t be anybody’s rubber stamp. We will resist them like the Senate resisted them.”
The PUNCH gathered that, alarmed by the message, Gbajabiamila wrote members to calm them, urging them to disregard the text.
He also explained that he had kept silent to avoid his comments being mistaken for taking sides.
Gbajabiamila told members that he chose to break his silence because the text message gave the wrong signal.
The PUNCH also obtained Gbajabiamila’s communication to members, which was sent via text message.
It read in part, “Since the budget controversy that engulfed the House about a week ago, I have pointedly maintained a dignified silence. I did this for the sake of the institution that I represent and which I have laboured hard to grow and protect, knowing that whatever I say could be impactful both within the House and outside it.
“I was determined to keep in place the glue that holds an otherwise fragmented House, protect its integrity and at same time avoid eroding the little confidence and vestiges of hope Nigerians have in us.
“Unfortunately, the controversy has now taken a different turn following the rather strange text making the rounds among members about my complicity in this rather sordid matter. I am being dragged into an arena I tried very hard to stay out of for the good of the House.
“The speakership election has come and gone. The election was divisive and acrimonious, but I have worked hard to heal the wounds, some of which still fester among members on both sides. It is my responsibility to bring together all tendencies in the House and I have worked well with the Speaker and all other principal officers in the interest of the institution and the country.
“The text message, which desperately seeks to finger me in some macabre plot to destabilise the House, is a throwback and echoes our dark post-speakership election history. The resurfacing of the faceless text messengers will not help us as a House, and let me quickly add that it will fail.
“My strongest critics and biggest political adversaries in the House cannot deny the fact that my commitment has always been to strengthen the legislature and its processes and our democracy as a whole.
“I consider everyone a friend and colleague and urge that as we collectively work towards a stronger legislature and strive to deepen our democracy, we do not pull back the hands of the clock or lose sight of the enormous responsibility placed upon us by providence as members of a critical arm of government.”
On Jibrin’s budget padding allegations, Gbajabiamila noted that judgment could not be passed on any official based on mere allegations.
He stressed that before the law, an accused remained innocent until proven guilty.
“It is clear that our budget process needs radical reform. Allegations have been made, but I strongly believe that judgment should not be passed based on allegations.
“We operate a constitutional democracy and we must at all times submit to its dictates and ethos. All parties are innocent until otherwise proven.
“This should be our guide. I plead with all members; the mudslinging must stop,” Gbajabiamila added.
When contacted, the Minority Leader of the House, Mr. Leo Ogor, stated that the alleged plot against Dogara should be discarded.
Ogor said people were taking Jibrin’s allegations too seriously and forgot to ask him basic questions.
He expressed shock that Jibrin, who was sacked for allegedly “mutilating” the budget could be taken seriously when he “cooked up lies just to cause confusion everywhere.”
He said, “Ask Jibrin, why did President Muhammadu Buhari first refuse to sign the budget when he (Jibrin) produced it without the details?
“Are zonal intervention projects part of the budget process since 1999? Why has it become a crime today that the National Assembly passed zonal intervention projects in the budget?
“The N4bn he put for himself; how did he get it?”
Ogor stated that nobody should “dream of the idea” of removing Dogara because the House was not thinking in the direction.
“There is fair hearing. Someone made allegations that have no basis, then the next day, you say remove Dogara.
“Any smokescreen to remove Dogara is a failed project even before it starts; a completely failed project.
“Disregard that text; it has no basis”, he said.
A source said that Dogara and Gbajabiamila had been working together since the crisis started.
“It will appear that some overzealous persons are desperately trying to knock their heads even when the truth is that they are together,” the source added.
Jibrin had alleged that the four principal officers requested the inclusion of N40bn projects in the 2016 budget, besides sundry projects in sums ranging from N20bn to N30bn.
He claimed that his refusal to oblige the four principal officers and his opposition to several financial infractions were responsible for his sacking by Dogara on July 20.
Jibrin has since petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission; the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission and the Department of State Services.
The House had said the allegations would be investigated internally by the Committee on Ethics and Privileges after members reconvened on September 13 from their annual recess.