The Federal Government has started investigating how the 2014 and 2015 budgetary allocations of the National Assembly were expended.
Saturday PUNCH gathered on Friday that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had demanded details of the budgets totalling N300bn from the National Assembly clerk, Sani Omolori.
Besides, he was requested to produce details of the contracts awarded by the assembly.
It was learnt that some principal officers of the seventh and the current eighth National Assembly would be invited in the coming months for interrogation.
Investigations showed that although the commission had received a petition from a former Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, on the alleged padding of the 2016 budget, it is extending its investigations to 2014 and 2015 fiscal years.
Jibrin, in his petition, had alleged that the Speaker of the House, Mr. Yakubu Dogara and three other principal officers padded the 2016 budget.
A top official of the EFCC confided in Saturday PUNCH that although Jibrin’s petition bothered on the 2016 budget, funds had not been released for the projects allegedly inserted in the budget.
The source stated that the commission was focusing on 2014 and 2015, when the National Assembly got N150bn annually as its allocations.
It was learnt that for the seventh National Assembly, principal officers including the then Senate President, Senator David Mark, and his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, would be invited by the commission.
For the eight National Assembly, besides Dogara, the current Senate President, Dr.Bukola Saraki; Ekweremadu and the Deputy Speaker, Sulaiman Lasun, will also be quizzed.
The official stated, “You know the National Assembly has never made its budget public. Besides Jibrin’s petitions, there are others that will make investigations into the 2014 and 2015 budgets inevitable.”
For example, a group, the Anti-Corruption Unit of the National Youth Council of Nigeria, in a petition to the EFCC, alleged that N418m contracts were awarded in 2014 to firms linked to Jibrin.
The contracts included the supply of beans and millets to Kano State awarded to Eleku Construction Limited.
When contacted, the EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren, confirmed that the commission had requested for 2014 and 2015 budgets from the National Assembly.
Attempts to get Jibrin’s reactions did not succeed on Friday as he could not be reached through his telephone. He also did not reply to a text message our correspondent sent to his mobile phone.
Dogara, on his part, had recently said that the police and the EFCC could not investigate the House on the alleged padding of the 2016 budget.
When contacted by Saturday PUNCH on Friday, both Saraki and Ekweremadu said they were not aware of any invitation from the EFCC or intention to invite them.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Senate President, Sanni Odogu, simply said, “Saraki is a law-abiding citizen.”
He referred one of our correspondents to the Special Adviser to the Senate President (Media and Publicity), Yusuf Olaniyonu.
Olaniyonu, when contacted on the phone, said he was at a function and requested that a text message be sent to make the enquiry.
In his reply to the text message sent to him, Olaniyonu said, “No such thing. The Senate is on recess. We do not have any inkling about any such probe or invitation. In any case, remember that he became Senate President on June 9, 2015. So, if they are talking of 2014 and 2015, I don’t think that (the probe) will concern him.”
But another senior aide to Saraki, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that even when the Senate President was charged to two different courts, he had been law-abiding.
“When they dragged him to the Code of Conduct Tribunal, he has been attending the proceedings. When they dragged him to a Federal High Court (over alleged forgery of Senate Standing Rules along with some principal officers of the Senate), he has been going. If there is anything else, let us wait till that time comes,” the source said.
Also, the Special Adviser to the Deputy Senate President on Media, Uche Anichukwu, said, “We are not aware of any invitation or the intention to invite Senator Ekweremadu.”
Similarly, Mark’s media aide, Paul Mumeh, said he could not react to speculations.
“We can only react to what I know of. Have you seen the letter of invitation written by the EFCC? Who signed it? Who was it sent through? We can only react to facts,” he said.
However, the Deputy Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senator Shehu Sani, told one of our correspondents that the probe is the same as meddling in the affairs of the legislature by the executive.
He noted that the security and anti-graft agencies are arms of the executive. He asked why the agencies were not paying attention to the executive and the judiciary.
Sani said, “The anti-corruption agencies are showing more interest in allegations against members of the National Assembly than against members of the executive and the judiciary. And the discriminatory responses of the anti-corruption agencies are an ill wind that will blow no one any good. It simply discredits the agencies as well as raise suspicions on their activities.
“The National Assembly is not immune to the law that is applicable to anybody in this country but the anti-corruption agencies must respect the independence of the legislature and seek an informed opinion whenever they are delving into issues that concern the legislature because they are still seen as part of the executive. They must know that any of their actions, naturally, will be interpreted as a calculated attempt to undermine the activities of the National Assembly.
The lawmaker, who is representing Kaduna-Central at the Senate, however, added that no legislature should “in any way take advantage of its esteemed position and the privileges of its esteemed position to commit crime with the expectation of immunity or impunity.”
Afenifere, CD back probe
Reacting to the moves to probe the National Assembly, the National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, supported the investigation and took a swipe at the All Progressives Congress for saying that it would not punish any of its members involved in budget padding.
Odumakin said, “That is high wire politics. It is dawning on the owners of the game that if this is pursued to a logical conclusion and Dogara has to step down, there is possibility of power changing hands. So, it is practical to shave the anti-corruption stance so as not to upset the apple cart.”
Also, President of Campaign for Democracy, Bako Abdul Usman, backed the investigation of the National Assembly.
He said, “It’s unfortunate that the level of high-handedness, impunity, lack of respect for the judiciary by the APC within just one year in office, is quite alarming and negates its ideology of fighting corruption.
“A party that recorded victory based on the principles of change from corrupt practices, aids and abets illegality without sanctioning its erring members.
“Most of us will see the fight against corruption as a mere mirage or witch hunt of the opposition. If that should happen, then Mr. President’s body language of ‘I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody’ is not true for he really belongs to somebody and certainly he is for somebody and will never stop being for the powers that be in shielding corruption.”