By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor, Emman Ovuakporie, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & Omeiza Ajayi ABUJA —

Hi The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, yesterday, commenced a formal probe into alleged padding of the 2016 federal budget, with the former chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jirbin being grilled for seven hours. JIBRIN The EFCC moves, corresponding with a financial audit of the accounts of the National Assembly, came as the Presidency affirmed that it was not implementing a padded budget. The Presidency also reassured Nigerians that there was no cause for alarm over the controversy, given the decision of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, to handle the matter as a “domestic issue.” Exonerating itself from allegations of padding the 2016 national budget, the Presidency further affirmed that the budget signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari was the copy passed and sent to him by the National Assembly. Meanwhile, supporters of Speaker Yakubu Dogara were, yesterday, basking in the assurance of having collected more than 200 signatures in the 360-member House to drum support for the speaker.

Jibrin, who raised the allegations of padding of the budget against Speaker Dogara and four other principal officers of the House, was the first to be quizzed in what EFCC officials claimed would be a thorough investigation to get to the root of the matter. EFCC operatives reportedly asked him to authenticate his claims about the alleged improprieties and also questioned a petition written against him by some aggrieved youths that he (Jibrin) used his position to loot N418 million through fake contracts from the National Refugees Commission. Jibrin, who arrived the EFCC premises around 10 a.m., did not leave until 5 p.m. yesterday. Before leaving, Jibrin reportedly filed more allegations against Dogara and his principal officers, accusing them of maintaining guest houses at the expense of  government. He also alleged that Dogara and others were collecting rents from their homes and pretended to be staying in rented quarters in breach of extant financial rules. Vanguard learned that the EFCC has written two letters to the Permanent Secretary in the Budget & National Planning Ministry to furnish it with the details of the budget  presented to the NASS and that returned to the government by the lawmakers.

The letter was dated August 3, 2016. Similarly, the agency has despatched another letter to the Clerk of the National Assembly, requesting him to provide the EFCC with a comprehensive list of all contracts awarded since inauguration of the 8th National Assembly, last year. In addition, the commission asked the National Assembly to forward the list of contract beneficiaries and accounts into which payments were made by the legislature within the period under review. It also requested for total amount already paid to each of the contractors and the outstanding balances for each. A top source in EFCC confirmed the probe, saying they were ready to get to the root of the alleged padding and bring culprits to book.

Buhari didn’t sign padded budget — Udoma

Speaking at a town hall meeting in Abuja, yesterday, the Minister of Budget & National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, explained that the budget signed by the President was well scrutinized and passed through due process of appropriation in the National Assembly before it was signed into law in May. Udoma, who was reacting to a question on whether the President signed a padded budget, insisted that the executive arm of government was never in the know of any form of padding before signing it into law. “We did not assent a padded budget. The budget followed through the various stages of preparation and scrutiny and appropriation before it was signed into law.” Senior Special Assistant to the President (Senate) Senator Ita Enang, also distanced the Presidency from the issue of alleged padding. Enang spoke after a consultative meeting with senior officials of the APC at the party secretariat in Abuja. He also added that the party had ordered its members to refrain from further comments on the issue.

“The budget, as assented to by Mr. President, is the budget as passed by the National Assembly and that is the budget being executed. “But as at now, the party is handling it as a domestic issue, and all of us are enjoined not to make public comments on the details of it because the matter is still under consideration,” he said. Accompanied on the visit by the SSA to the President, (House of Representatives) Ismail Kawu, the presidential aide explained that “in all our years of legislative engagement, we are yet to find in the legislative lexicon the word ‘padding.

’ “When the budget is presented before the legislature, the legislature is to consider the budget and pass as it deems fit. So what the legislature passes becomes the appropriation law upon assent. “Therefore, any word which is yet to crystallize in legislative lexicon, you cannot hear us mention it.” Asked to comment on whether Speaker Yakubu Dogara padded the budget, Enang drew back from speaking further, concluding “we would not want to draw any conclusion. Please let us not go too far mentioning any office. Let it be that two of us have appeared before the party.”

Meanwhile, with the discord over the alleged padding raging, the controversy was being traced to the alleged decision to sideline an ad-hoc committee of senior legislators and Presidency officials that had in the past superintended over the budget.

The ad-hoc committee, comprising chairmen of the committees of appropriation and finance of the Senate and House, the Minister of Finance, Director-General of the Budget Office had since 2008, been presided over by the Deputy President of the Senate. The committee, which played a backroom duty of reconciling issues between the Presidency and the legislature, had in the past doused tension between the two arms of government during the budget process. However, following the advent of the APC administration last year, that committee was not constituted, partly on account of the emergence of Senator Ike Ekweremadu as deputy president of the Senate. This led to a situation where there was no platform to address issues that arose during the work on the budget by the National Assembly. One of such issues was the controversy over the alleged smuggling of a fake budget into the National Assembly.

Some concerned stakeholders had recently tried to put an ethnic hue to the issue as a comparison was being made to the decision of the House of Representatives in 2008 to break up the Joint National Assembly Committee on Constitution Review after Senator Ekweremadu also emerged as Deputy President of the Senate.

Meanwhile, chairman of the House Committee on Health Services, Rep. Chike Okafor, has denied Jibrin’s allegation that he (Okafor) moved massive amounts of money from the health budget. Okafor, who represents Ehime Mbano/Ihitte Uboma/Obowo Federal Constituency of Imo State, noted with dismay that Jibrin neither said where the money was moved from nor where it was moved to. “My first impulse was to ignore the blabbing which is fast becoming the hallmark of Jibrin, but on a re-think, letting the lies fly without calling it by name may expose some gullible audience to the risk of choking on the mendacious gibberish that has become Jibrin’s biggest capital in recent times.

“In the publication crawling with deliberate misrepresentations and wilful lies designed to rope in any person within reach, Jibrin who referred to me as ‘Chairman, House Committee on Health accused me of ‘moving massive amount of money that made the exercise look like a big joke.’ “Jibrin neither said where the money was moved from nor where it was moved to. “When you have been around and about in fiscal circles you will know the signs when you see them – Jibrin is merely grasping for straws and clearly cuts a picture of a man who has reached the end of his tethers in a desperate bid to hide his smear in the crowd of imaginary culprits he conjures ‘daily’ with such voodoo-vibrancy. One begins to wonder where he left his honour.”

Meanwhile, Jibrin in a statement, late last night, said the present development was an answer by God to President Buhari’s anti corruption drive as he debunked claims by Speaker Dogara that padding was within the purview of the National Assembly. Responding to assertions by Speaker Dogara at the Presidential Villa, last Friday, that padding was not an offence, Jibrin said: “Since Speaker Yakubu Dogara made the public comment that padding is not an offense, why then did he say he “sacked” me on the grounds of padding allegations? “I have said it repeatedly and wish to restate that I did nothing wrong and I committed no offence. I did not abuse my office or corruptly enrich myself in the five years I have been in the House,” he said. Meanwhile, confidence among supporters of Speaker Dogara continued to wax strong, yesterday, with core loyalists insisting that at least 200 members had signed on to endorse confidence in the speaker. A source privy to this development revealed: “We’ve gone far ahead of our adversaries.”

Read more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2016/08/budget-padding-efcc-probes-jibrins-claims-nass-accounts/

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