BY JOSEPH GEORGE
After months of suspense and seeming inertia, the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) has begun probe into the budget padding allegations labelled against the Speaker Yakubu Dogara and three other principal officers by his estranged associate Abdulmumin Jibrin.
Sometime last year, Jibrin who was house committee chairman at the time alleged that this quartet padded the 2016 budget to the tune of over N40 billion.
The others are the deputy speaker, Mr Yusuf Lasun, the chief whip, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa and the minority leader, Leo Ogor. He had also alleged that up to 10 committees of the house introduced projects worth about N284 billion into the budget.
The house suspended Jibrin, a member of the All Progressives Congress from Kano state, after its internal investigation submitted that he “abused” the rules of the legislative house by making the padding allegations.
In a letter dated June 9, but delivered to the suspended lawmaker on Monday, the anti-graft agency stated that it had opened an investigation into the matter.
However, it noted that Jibrin’s presence was needed for the lawmaker to clarify the allegations.
The invitation letter read in part, “The commission has commenced investigation into the petition of corruption and corrupt practices and abuse of office reported on August 1, 2016 by Hammart & Co (Tafida chambers) on your behalf against Yakubu Dogara, Yusuf Lasun, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, Leonard Okuweh Ogor and others.
“In furtherance of the investigation and due to unfolding findings, it has become imperative to request that you attend another interview with the team through Ibrahim Ahmed on June 13, 2017 at the 3rd Floor Block A, No 5 Fomella Street, off Adetokunbo Ademola Crescent, Wuse 2, Abuja, by 10am to clarify some issues to enable us to conclude investigations.”
The letter was signed by Michael Wekas, acting head, extractive industry fraud section, on behalf of the commission’s chairman, Ibrahim Magu. The house suspended Jibrin for “181 legislative days” in September last year.
Since then Jibrin had run from pillar to post armed with documents to prove that Nigerians are being short changed by a barefaced thieving group in the lower chamber of the National Assembly. Most citizens see the nation’s parliament locally as a cesspit of corruption.
Each time it is in the news, it was always for all the wrong reasons mostly bordering on corruption or forgery. It was therefore, not, altogether, surprising that Dogara and his band of fellow travellers in the budget-padding saga will now be investigated. This is certainly a welcome development especially after the President Buhari has assured that this year’s budget will not be padded.
Regrettably, there are whispers that the recent budget signed into law by the acting president Yemi Osinbajo was padded. Babatunde Fashola stridently denied one such allegation of N2billion in the works and housing ministry.
Even Jibrin has, again, alleged padding in this year’s budget. He said “In due course, I will expose a lot of other issues in the 2017 budget that will shock Nigerians whether the authorities decide to act on it or not.”
The fact that the anti-graft agency has started to probe his allegation nearly after a year, vindicates Jibrin and informed citizens that Dogara and co have several questions to answer. Despite outward grandstanding, budget padding especially under the current speaker is fast becoming a norm. Posers raised by Jibrin in the past and even recently will have to be answered and convincingly too, before a very dissatisfied citizenry.
Jibrin may be sour grapes but his conviction in the massive padding of the budget is increasingly resonating each time the lower chamber is in the news. The suspended parliamentarian’s several missiles aimed at his erstwhile associate have largely remained unanswered.
At the renewed investigation, Jibrin feeling upbeat, expressed optimism that the anti corruption agency will soon strike gold in its investigations. “I have maintained several times that I have full confidence in the EFCC under the chairmanship of Ibrahim Magu. One can only but pray that the EFCC does a thorough job of sifting the chaff from the grain. One also prays the agency resists political pressure to discontinue the inquisition into this unending and yearly scandal. Even if the probe comes to naught, it is one nightmare that won’t easily go away.”
Joseph George writes from Kaduna