BOMBSHELL!!!Femi Falana Blast APC, 'If you ever try, it will be to cover the budget padding'.
A senior Nigeria advocate and human rights activist, Femi Falana, said any attempt by the ruling All Progressives Congress to cover up the budget crisis in the House of Representatives could be dangerous to the country's democracy.
Last week, the APC leadership held a meeting with former Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, Abdulmumin Jibrin, and urged him not to make any public statement on the matter.
Jibrin had last month accused Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and other key officials in the House of altering the 2016 budget in favor of them and their constituencies. Dogara had since refuted the claim.
Speaking to Sunday Punch on Saturday, Falana said Dogara should be given the benefit of the doubt, adding that the issue of prosecution does not arise at the moment.
“Abdulmumin Jibrin has filed a petition with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offenses. Until the investigation into the allegations is completed, the issue of prosecution will not arise. The allegations are serious. In addition to padding the budget, there are other allegations of corrupt practices.
“However, it is doubtful whether the anti-graft agencies will be allowed to investigate Jibrin’s allegations as there are dangerous attempts to resolve the matter as a family matter 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 in the belief that it had been properly passed by the National Assembly.
“But it has now emerged that ten legislators led by the Speaker are said to have amended the budget by inserting 2,000 items worth N100 billion, known as constituency projects. When it emerged that only Jibrin had allocated N4bn to his constituency, the House moved to impeach him. The other members kicked Jibrin on the grounds that there were 359 members left to give the remaining N96 billion its own share. Jibrin had alleged that the chairman and nine others had taken up projects worth about N40 billion in their own constituencies.
If it is established that the changes were chosen after the budget was passed by both houses, the issue goes beyond just padding. A clear case of conspiracy, fraud and forgery can be established against the suspects.
Padding occurs when lawmakers decide to rewrite the budget by introducing new items that fall outside the estimates that the president has prepared and presented to them,” the lawyer said.
He explained that the controversy over budget padding had been put to rest with the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007, which enabled the Minister of Finance to obtain inputs from certain institutions, including the National Assembly, during the preparation of the budget.
“That is when negotiations and horse trading with the executive branch are allowed by legislators. But neither the law nor the Nigerian Constitution has given members of the National Assembly the power to rewrite the national budget to include constituency projects whose costs are determined by lawmakers. Article 81 of the Constitution gives the president exclusive power to ensure that the budget is prepared,” Falana said.