There are strong indications that the police and Department of State Services have received the backing of President Muhammadu Buhari, to carry out full investigations into the N480bn budget padding in the House of Representatives.
Sunday PUNCH gathered on Saturday that the security agencies had already swung into action by scrutinising documents collected from a former Chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriation Committee, Abdulmumin Jibrin, as part of the investigations into the budget padding.
Investigations showed that Buhari, as part of his commitment to the anti-graft war was favourably disposed to investigations into the allegations in spite of his closeness to the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara.
It was learnt that Jibrin, who visited the DSS headquarters in Abuja on Friday, submitted written demands by four principal officers of the House during the vetting of the 2016 budget by the National Assembly.
It was gathered that the lawmaker made copies of the same documents available to the police detectives as investigation into the scam began last week.
It was also learnt that security agencies had started scrutinising the documents with a view to determining members of the House that would be quizzed.
It was gathered that the DSS, during the week, would start the investigation with the questioning of civil servants working in the National Assembly Budget Office and that other affected principal officers would subsequently be invited.
Jibrin had, in his petitions to the security agencies, accused the Speaker of the House; Dogara, his deputy, Yusuf Lasun; the House Whip, Alhassan Doguwa, and the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, of padding the budget.
It was gathered that security officers were banking on using as evidence written demands by the principal officers to establish a criminal case against the House leadership.
Sources said Jibrin had submitted “incontrovertible” evidence linking the four men to the budget padding incident that embarrassed the Federal Government.
Among the documents, said to have been provided by the petitioner, was the breakdown of the amount that was added to the budget which was allegedly to be shared by Dogara and his cohorts.
In one of the demand notes, the speaker was to get N3bn; the deputy speaker, N2.55bn; House leader and chief whip, N1.8bn each; deputy leader and deputy chief whip, N1.5bn each; minority leader and minority whip, N1.4bn each; while the deputy minority leader and deputy minority whip would each get N1.3bn, totalling N17.5 bn.
Other evidence that may be used to establish a case against the house leadership include the document on the N20bn projects allegedly inserted in the 2016 budget under the service wide vote.
It was also gathered that detectives were examining a document showing the 2,000 projects inserted into the budget by 10 standing committees chairmen which was approved by the speaker. The projects amounted to N284bn. The total amount of the budget padding was said to be N480bn.
Sunday Punch was made to understand that the documented evidence, in possession of the petitioner, would make it difficult for the house leadership to escape prosecution for malfeasance unless a political solution was adopted.
Further findings indicated that Jibrin had received the full support of the President and the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami in his quest to torpedo the house leadership.
It was learnt that Jibrin had met with Malami where he was assured of the Federal Government’s support for his anti-corruption crusade in the National Assembly.
A top government officer, who confided in Sunday PUNCH, said, “Security agencies have received the backing of the President to probe the allegation. The President has said that there is no sacred cow in the fight against corruption. You know he is close to Dogara, but he will not stop the security agencies from investigating anybody.”
A source stated that though the government knew that Jibrin was not entirely blameless in the unfolding saga, it would not overlook the allegations against the principal officers.
When asked about the status of the investigation into the budget padding, the Force Public Relations Officer, Donald Awunah, declined comment, saying he did not have any information on it. “I can’t speak on the investigation, I know nothing about it,” he said.
But when contacted, the Presidency said that the President would not ‘interfere with the budget padding allegation in the House.’
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, who said this in an interview with one of our correspondents, also stated that budget padding would not occur again in the Buhari administration.
Adesina said the President had made it clear to all those concerned that he would not tolerate a situation where he would present a budget and the federal lawmakers would pass a document completely different from what he submitted to them.
How Jibrin maintains informants at N’Assembly
Meanwhile, details emerged on Saturday on how the former Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, ruffled the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, and three other principal officers with his ‘budget padding’ allegations for over a week.
Investigations showed that the All Progressives Congress lawmaker from Kano State operated largely under cover since he began taking on Dogara last week, except for his announced brief appearance at the headquarters of the Department of State Services in Abuja on Friday night.
Findings revealed that Jibrin ran a ‘Mobile’ office’ with a laptop computer, mobile phones and hard copies of the 2016 budget.
One National Assembly aide, who understood his movements, confided in SUNDAY PUNCH that Jibrin kept a safe distance from his Abuja residence and reportedly avoided using cars he was easily identified with.
It was gathered that soon after he kick-started his media war against the four principal officers, Jibrin initially shuttled between his Kano and Abuja residences.
However, in the last four days, Jibrin, who had also served as the Chairman, Committee on Finance in the 7th Assembly, stayed under cover in Abuja, coming out only to hold brief discussions with family members and aides before disappearing again.
But, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, denied that anybody was after Jibrin.
Namdas also said “claims” by Jibrin that Dogara sent the police and DSS operatives after him were “unfounded.”
Efforts to get Jibrin’s comments failed on Saturday. He rarely answers his calls or responds to text messages.
DSS seals off Reps secretariat
In a related development, the secretariat of the Committee on Appropriation at the House of Representatives was sealed off on Saturday by operatives of the Department of State Services.
Two unarmed officers of the agency blocked the entrance to the secretariat as of 4.40pm when SUNDAY PUNCH visited the National Assembly.
The operatives barred the Clerk to the Committee, Dr. Abel Ochigbo, from entering his office.
Although Ochigbo and other members of staff were in possession of the keys to the secretariat, they were not allowed access into the office.
Our correspondent observed that one of the operatives blocked Ochigo when he wanted to open the door and denied him access.
The two operatives were among the regular officers posted to the National Assembly by the DSS.
The operative, who barred Ochigbo, simply said he was under “instructions” not to allow anybody into the office.
“No, no; you cannot enter there please,” he said and blocked Ochigbo.
The security personnel did not listen to the clerk’s explanations but later made phone calls and tried to pass his phone over to the operative so that he could speak with someone on the other end of the line, but the man declined to receive the phone.
The operative turned his back at journalists all the while and had a phone to his ear as if he was speaking with somebody, but he was not really talking into the phone.
Ochigbo later explained that he suspected that the office was shut because of the development over the budget.
He said, “I think it is to safeguard the place because of the issues going on.
“These people (DSS) are our colleagues from other departments; there are sergeant-at-arms personnel here.
“I assure you that everything is intact inside the office. Nothing has been vandalised. No member of staff has been harassed for whatever reason.”
Ochigbo added that he had actually worked in the office earlier in the day unhindered, but clarified that the security men were deployed primarily to provide security.