BUDGET PADDING: These Our Arrogant Legislators

If the Speaker’s role in all this was reprehensible, that of the Whip, Ado Doguwa, was not only off putting, it was so tear inducing you begin to ask yourself how Nigeria came to this sorry pass.

Last time around, it was the crudity of the 8th Senate we showcased on these pages. When that happened, little did we realise we were soon going to have the mother of all insults from the lower chamber. But listen to any of these our so-called representatives/senators speak, no talk down to us, and you would think they own us – so ‘Trumpian’, you would feel like puking.

Such has been the disdain with which the leadership of the House has treated Nigerians these past two weeks. You would have thought it was shameful enough to be caught attempting to steal from the public coffers, but no, not with our current National Assembly members.

I had first noticed their condescending put down when, in responding to questions arising from this selfsame shameful budget padding, long before Nigerians came to know its full extent, Abdulmumin Jibrin had said things that were so repulsive I couldn’t help writing about it when I quoted him here as saying: “It is true that there are projects allocated to my constituency just like other members did. Just because I’m the chairman of the appropriation committee, my constituents should not get projects? Are my constituents not Nigerians? Every member has one project or the other in his constituency, so I don’t think I did anything wrong by having some projects in my constituency.”

You would hardly believe that these do-gooders’ projects for their beloved constituencies were such mundane things as tricycles, town halls, classrooms; solar street lights, rehabilitation and construction of roads in Kiru/Bebeji, pedestrian bridges, and now we have been told of bore holes for the Speaker’s farm. Of the four against whom Jibrin alleged fraudulent dealings – Speaker Dogara, Chief Whip Alhassan Ado Doguwa, Minority Leader Leo Ogor and Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun, the first two had taken time off to poke their fingers on our faces. As if it was not insulting enough that on the very grounds of the Presidential Villa, Dogara had come out from a meeting with the president posing, and grandstanding, telling Nigerians there is nothing like padding and sending journalists on errand to begin researching the word, he has since returned to lecture us all. ‘We cannot be tried,’ he declared magisterially. 

It was at the Civil Society Dialogue Session on one year of legislooting, sorry, legislative agenda organised by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, Abuja, that he told Nigerians that “no member of the National Assembly can be investigated or charged to court for performing his constitutional responsibility of law making including passing the budget.” According to him, only the legislature has powers to scrutinise the revenue and expenditure estimates submitted by the president. He then went on to tell us about how Section 80(4) of the 1999 constitution further reinforces that.

Reading through Speaker Dogara’s submission and similar ones by his colleagues, you have a feeling these people are deficient in the Use of English. As Dr Tunji Abayomi once taught the Chairman of the House Committee on Publicity, where in Dogara’s above submission is the word ‘add’? By his own words, the legislature can only SCRUTINISE the president’s budget estimates. According to Abayomi, preparing that budget estimate is an EXECUTIVE function, never that of the legislature. Indeed, he went further to explain that it is solely in the case of passing the budget that the constitution makes very specific provisions as to who does what. 

And it stands to reason that a body that has the constitutional duty of passing the budget can NEVER have that of MAKING (Preparing) it. By that token, they CANNOT add any new item of expenditure. Also the Speaker couldn’t have known what he was saying when he declared as follows: “On constituency projects, it is the only means through which lawmakers can attract federal projects to their constituents. This is necessary because the process of selecting constituency projects lacks integrity as it is always lopsided against most federal constituencies.”

Trying to further justify this bunkum, he added: “If you come from a constituency like mine for instance, right now, we don’t have a permanent secretary anywhere, we don’t have a director anywhere, so if you look at the 2016 Budget, if you were to go as proposed by the executive, there is no single federal funded borehole, even if it is N50, there is no N50 meant for any project in my three local governments. Why? Because I don’t have anybody where they are preparing, SHARING (emphasis mine) or making allocation.” Just look at those bellyaching about injustice. Even if all he said about his constituency were true, is it remotely possible that only his constituency is in that position in Nigeria? Who are those other Speakers who will conjure bore holes for their farmsteads? Why does he think the constitution prescribes a minimum of one minister from each state? 

And, anyway, is he or any of his colleagues allowed by the constitution to take over the functions of the executive? I sincerely hope that in no distant date, a ‘Mr Khizr Khan’ would pull off, from his inner pocket, a small version of the Nigerian constitution and gift it to these mostly absentee legislators so they can read, know and internalise the functions prescribed for them by that grundnorm. And by the way, can somebody please tell Mr. Speaker that the only tidy way to get a project sited in his constituency is to liaise with, and lobby the appropriate department in the executive. Also, if what they are quarreling with is the word padding, Nigerians will then change their offence to that of not only sexing up, but egregiously forging the president’s budget estimates which forged document they subsequently passed as the Appropriation Law.

If the Speaker’s role in all this was reprehensible, that of the Whip, Ado Doguwa, was not only off putting, it was so tear inducing you begin to ask yourself how Nigeria came to this sorry pass. I had tuned on to Channel’s TV only to see this arrogant, small man, in some outlandish Babariga, literally telling Nigerians to go to hell. Having gone through their usual routine of saying there is nothing like padding the budget, he now began to regale Nigerians with how he had been a legislator for 24 years – a period which he thinks, no actually said, entitled him to just about anything in the House, though this time around, he got only a paltry N1.8Billion locked up for him and his constituency. So damn nauseating!

I think all these things should actually accelerate the move towards restructuring in Nigeria even though I verily believe that President Buhari’s immediate, urgent duty now, and into the next one year, is to fix the Nigerian economy which is currently hobbled beyond description. As I said on these pages last Sunday, things are now so bad with oil rich Venezuela that far beyond the crippling hunger and crime, relatives can no longer claim the corpses of dead relations from the morgue. Their only sin, like ours, was the failure to diversify their economy when petro dollars were gushing in and former President Chavez even arrogantly offered to give Americans petrol free. We have had enough of these legislators that at restructuring, we just must adopt a single chamber legislature and hope to be able to manage/handle even that.

Source: The Nation