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Budget padding scandal: Why we can’t probe Dogara, others – House Ethics Committee

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The House of Representatives Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions says it is awaiting a petition from a former chairman of House Appropriations Committee chairman, Abdulmumin Jibrin, who has accused the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, and other members of massive corruption.

The chairman of the ethics committee, Nicholas Ossai (PDP-Delta), told PREMIUM TIMES by phone on Friday that it would need a petition to investigate weighty allegations of budget fraud against Mr. Dogara; deputy, Yusuf Lasun; deputy majority leader, Ahassan Doguwa; and minority leader, Leo Ogor.

He however said it was wrong for Mr. Jibrin to claim that lawmakers “padded” the 2016 budget. He said the budget was merely “amended”.

Mr. Jibrin, who was removed from his position last week, said the speaker, Mr. Dogara, and the other three principal officers, inserted layers of fictitious projects worth N40 billion into the budget for fraudulent reasons.

He has called for their resignation.

“In legislature, you don’t talk about padding,” Mr. Ossai said. “Budget is an appropriation bill and is like other bills that you amend. You know in bills you talk about clauses. Every head in the budget is a clause. So legislators have power to amend it.”

He said lawmakers were allowed to introduce constituency projects as “effective representatives” of the people.

Pressed on Mr. Jibrin’s claim that besides constituency projects, chairmen of 10 committees “padded” over N284 billion through 2000 projects, into the budget, Mr. Ossai said he could not comment because “that is part of investigations”.

“We are waiting for petition and I know pages of newspapers are not petitions,” said Mr. Ossai. ”The ethics committee looks forward to receiving petition. No petition has been brought before the committee; the committee must receive petition before it dabbles into any issue.”

Asked whether his committee could not act proactively given the seriousness of the allegations, Mr. Ossai said a petition would still be better.

“Petition formalises everything. Without recourse to letter that comes from the House (after it received petition), the ethics committee can move into and investigate the matter but it is better empowered if a petition is forwarded to it,” he said.

EFCC can’t probe

Mr. Ossai faulted calls for investigation of Mr. Dogara and other lawmakers involved in the scandal by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and related offences Commission.

“Anything done at plenary or premises of the House cannot be investigated by external bodies. The House can regulate itself using its rules and procedures. Nigerians are yet to appreciate what the legislature is. We have mechanisms to discipline ourselves,” he said.

He said external investigation can only happen after the house ethics committee probe.

“In its report it can recommend prosecution by relevant security or anti-graft agencies. The constitution gives the House the power to solve its problem,” he said.

He said the House could convene for an emergency sitting in wake of the scandal on one of two conditions: if one-thirds of the members petition the Speaker or leaderships of majority and minority parties make the demand.

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