Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa is the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives; one of the four principal officers accused by former Chairman, Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, of ‘padding’ the 2016 budget. In this interview with JOHN AMEH, he tells his version of the story.
Abdulmumin Jibrin has levelled grievous allegations against you and three others including the Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, which you have denied. If you say they are not true, why did he specifically mention the names of the four of you and not others?
With all sense of humility and responsibility, I want to say that all the allegations that he has made public against the four principal officers of the house, especially in the manner he has them, are basically unfounded, untrue and baseless. Jibrin is one very crafty and cunning individual that can take advantage of circumstances; distort facts, mutilate them and present them in a manner that could seamlessly be perceived by the members of the public as true. The issue of padding, for instance, which he has alleged was initiated by four principal officers could not have been true even from the context of common sense. Imagine a budget amounting to N6.06tn, involving a highly-populated country like Nigeria, within a very sophisticated and critical economic period, and in an assembly that has 360 members on one arm and more than a 100 members on the other arm, being manipulated and inflated by only four principal officers to their advantage. It is baseless; it is not true and I want to call on Nigerians to disabuse their minds and not believe Jibrin because what he is saying is unfortunate.
When the budget is brought to the House, under the normal proceedings, it would be presented by the President and laid on the table. It will go through first and second readings and we will debate on the general principles. The next thing we do procedurally is to commit the budget to the Committee on Appropriation, which is the mother committee in terms of appropriation. And don’t forget that appropriation is a process, it is in the same manner like any other bill. Appropriation comes into the parliament as a bill from the executive arm of government, which we ordinarily call money bill.
So, the basic thing is that you take the first reading, second reading, and then in the second reading, you will debate the general principles of that bill. Then you pass it to the committee. Every other committee of the House is automatically converted to be a sub-committee of the appropriation committee. When other standing committees are converted to operate as sub-committees, that means the appropriation committee is now the mother committee that would collate and compile any other report coming from other committees to come up with a clean copy of what is called a draft budget, whether in the House of Representatives or in the Senate.
When the committees have finished their engagements with the ministries and agencies, they will come up with a clean sub-committee report and they are bound by the rules of operation governing the House that every committee after finishing its engagement with the ministries and agencies, will forward their report to the appropriation committee. Also, other inputs from any quarter because there could be inputs from other members of the House.
Should there be any other input from principal officers who are not members of committees that make recommendations or requests, it will also go in the same manner to the committee of appropriation.
I am the Chief Whip of the House of Representatives; Yakubu Dogara is the Speaker and the presiding officer, and under the laws of our operations in the House, he does not have any right to belong to a committee. So under this circumstance, a principal officer cannot make any contribution at the committee level, just like all other members do. That is why we have a window as principal officers to write from our own offices by way of request because I am not only the Chief Whip; I am also representing my constituency. What I am going to tell you is something that was based on mutual consent and mutual understanding, not only among members of the House, but also the Senate. Under mutual consent, principal officers are also given some window to make requests as regard what they want in the budget to cover their immediate constituencies. And under this circumstance, the Speaker is under this obligation to write and make requests to the office of the appropriation committee chairman.
So when I wrote to the appropriation committee with a list of requests that I wanted to be sited in my own local government or constituency, it was the same thing for all the 10 principal officers. The Speaker wrote and so did the Deputy Speaker. I want to emphasise here that the Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, also wrote and submitted it to the appropriation committee chairman.
These requests are not binding in any way; they are subject to the availability of funds based on the envelope that we have. So we all wrote to Jibrin, just like the committees were passing reports to him. These are the documents that have now offended him as far as he was concerned, having been relieved of his duty. We removed him with great sense of passion. No principal officer has any excuse whatsoever to regret the removal of Jibrin; we all collectively agreed that the time had come, based on the so many atrocities he had committed against the parliament, against the leadership of the House and the membership of the House committee on appropriation.
Yes, I wrote to Jibrin and requested for projects and I did that because I don’t belong to any committee. I could not jump the gun or go out to the ministries while they were proposing budgets and I could not also go to the President while he was preparing his budget on the other side to input my own interventions. I had to wait until that document is formally committed to the floor of the House where I am a member.
And I want to also say without any fear of contradiction that the moment the budget document is admitted and laid on the floor of the House, it is no longer the property of the executive arm of government; it has become the sole property of the legislature and whatever we do with it from the very day the President puts it on the table, to the last date when we pass it, is a process that is legitimate- a constitutional process. Of course, you may not rule out some sentiments and selfishness from the process because we are Nigerians and we are humans.
But as long as what we did was within the pipeline of the first day the budget was represented to us and when the budget was passed, as long as we have not transcended beyond the floor of the House and the confines of the National Assembly, whatever actions we might have taken, whether selfish or sentimental, is covered by law and it should be termed as appropriation and not any other term.
And that is why I want to say at this moment that the careless use of the word ‘padding’ is insulting; it is also what one can call malicious. You are maligning the institution of the legislature, creating a very bad name and placing the legislative arm of government in a very bad light and that has to be stopped.
What do you say to Nigerians who hold the view that the Speaker and the other three principal officers should step aside for proper investigation as it is done in other climes?
Under the normal tradition of Nigeria’s type of politics, especially the kind of politics we have in the legislature, the moment you have an allegation of this nature, if for any reason you want to sound like a gentleman or you want to sound like a super Nigerian or honourable, nobody will know whether the process of that investigation or the process of the resolution of that crisis will be as transparent or as honourable as you expect.
So right from day one when we knew that the allegations were unfounded, we must not give room for any contemplation, any strategic thinking, or for someone to even contemplate that we should resign. Why should we resign when his allegations are false? And also don’t forget the principle of the law that says allegation does not make you a criminal.
So no matter how weighty statements of allegation are, one is presumed to be innocent until when that is proven otherwise. So under the presumption of being innocent, until proven guilty, we will continue to maintain our seats.
And secondly, in a parliamentary arrangement like this, it is a platform that has a lot of internal mechanism of resolution of conflicts; it is not like every other conventional organisation.
So I want to tell you that we refuse to resign because we cannot go against the internal laws that we have that govern the operation of the House. We must wait until we are proven guilty. We still have the convention that we entertain and we also still control a significant number of supports from the 360 members of the House and our business is always about our members.
As long as the 360 members of the House still have confidence in us and in our leadership, which we know they do, one cannot unnecessarily resign or step aside and do nothing. The best example of such is the case that the Senate President is facing at the Code of Conduct Tribunal. If the issue of stepping aside would have been a good omen to an honourable person, it would have started with the case of the Senate President at the CCT. The Senate President continues to attend to court sessions and proceedings and remains the Senate President because he knows he may not necessarily be subjected to a free and fair investigation if he steps aside; so these are our reasons; one is a legal position, and the other one is political.
But, there are calls for the allegations to be investigated. Do you agree?
Ordinarily, I would have said yes, let them come and investigate. But, in this case, I will say no, because we are operating under a special platform. We are operating under an institution that has a lot of respect and protection by the constitution. Of course the constitution of Nigeria is the supreme document that governs every other activity, but even after the constitution, we also have some internal laws. These internal laws may come in contrast with an attempt to investigate the process of lawmaking. The legislature is a very special institution that is well protected by the law and the subject matter being discussed is a legal responsibility of members of parliament and we are protected by the law. So for anybody to imagine that a probe can be instituted against a member or the leader of the House because they participated in a legitimate process of discharging their constitutional responsibility is not the way to go.
I would have, on my own personal term, accepted anybody to come and probe me if this charge was against my person and if I was operating outside the purview of the parliament. We don’t have outright immunity but every member of the parliament, not even a principal officer, has absolute immunity in whatever he does on the floor of the House or within the confines of the National Assembly, especially in the discharge of his responsibility as a legislator.
So no amount of pressure from any quarter, whether from the press, the executive or from the judiciary can contemplate to investigate a parliamentary process that was taken on the floor of the House and in the process of appropriation, which is clearly stated in the constitution of the country. That would amount to what we call legislative contempt.
I heard that the Attorney-General of the Federation is now contemplating that. I am dismayed when I have high regards for somebody who is the chief law officer of the country and he is coming so low to contemplate something that is not even actionable.
Jibrin threw up a lot of figures like the frequently quoted N40bn he alleged the four of you inserted into the budget without the approval of the House. Can you react to that?
The whole matter that led to this was a matter that has been a tradition. It is a matter that has institutional history and it started during the tenure of the late President Musa Yar ‘Adua; when we heard in the process of our interaction with other national assemblies across the globe that some provisions were made in their budgets for intervention projects. We then found out that even in the so-called developed democracies like they have in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, you have these things that they call constituency interventions. Provisions are made in the national budget for members of parliament to also input some project interventions so that such projects can now be attracted to their respective constituencies because they are people’s representatives.
As long as a director or deputy director or a permanent secretary, sometimes even to the level of a clerical officer, in the preparation of budget at the executive level, could have a way to input projects, I don’t see anything wrong in having somebody who was elected by the people and has their mandate also come up with an idea as a member of the parliament. I do not see anything wrong if he also makes some inputs.
So Musa Yar’ Adua started it and he granted it when we approached him. I was not a leader then but our leaders approached him and suggested this idea and he accepted graciously. That was when a whooping amount of N100bn was injected into the budget right from the proposal stage, not even at the level of appropriation so that the funds can be implemented on the budget framework. It is not for members to have the money in their pockets and appropriate it, no, it is simply done through the budgetary framework.
Some of the members we have here today who are green horns on the floor of the House may not know this. Some of us have what we call institutional memory. So where this current case started out was when Mr. President (Muhammadu Buhari) in his first budgetary presentation, came up with only N60bn as a proposal for constituency projects and zonal intervention funds, which means this N60bn would be shared among members of the House of Representatives and members of the Senate.
When N10bn, for instance, is provided to the North-West, that money would be shared between the House and the Senate at a ratio of 60-40. The Senate would take 40 per cent of the N10bn and it would be shared among the Senators of the seven states of that zone. Then the remaining 60 per cent would be shared among the members of the House of Representatives. It has always been like that, and because of our number in the House, we take 60 per cent while the Senate takes 40 per cent.
But another thing is that principal officers will not share with other members. For instance, I am from the North-West and I am the only principal officer, I would not be part of that sharing among my members of the House of Representatives in the North-West. For that reason, when we started, Yar’ Adua made it N100bn. So when 60 per cent was expended into the zones, the N40bn is what we then used to service and provide some funds under the same budgetary framework. It is not about sharing N40bn on a table or N40bn through our bank accounts, but to use the same budgetary framework like other members did, to write with a pen and paper that I would like a project sited in my constituency. I could ask for a 10km road or some blocks of classrooms. And do you know where we get even the ratings? The ratings are obtained from agencies of government because these projects are to be spread through agencies of government; it is not for the member to execute it himself. It is not for the Speaker or the staff of the National Assembly or the civil servant of the National Assembly to go and implement those projects. You will use your template to select the number of projects you want and also pick the items you want alongside their rates and these ratings are always provided by agencies of government.
If for instance, you want to site a primary healthcare centre in your constituency, then you are filling your form against the Ministry of Health template. If you want blocks of classroom, then you fill your form against the Ministry of Education template.
So it was this idea of not taking principal officers in the sharing formula of that N10bn to the respective zones that made us have a provision of N40bn for the leadership in the Senate and for the leadership in the House of Representatives. N20bn to the leadership of the House; N20bn to the leadership of the Senate. It was not like the N20bn allocated to the House was shared by only four of us; it was shared from the head to the bottom and everybody got his share of it. When I say share, I don’t mean the volume of money given to the speaker, no, but quantum of projects injected in the budgetary framework for them to be implemented in the various constituencies. And in most cases, out of these chunks of money that were supposedly sent to us, we still went further to allocate more money to our brothers and colleagues on the floor because most of them did not get as much as we got. It is not as if I have taken all the N1.8bn allocated to me as a principal officer to my constituency.
Let me say this with due respect to all my colleagues in the northwestern region; I want to say for the purpose of clarification that out of my N1.8bn, I have only taken N1.1bn worth of project to my federal constituency in Kano. About the remaining N700m, I have also gone round to consolidate and support other members who might have gotten lean allocations because they are not leaders. Not all of them of course, I could not have shared to everyone.
He also made another allegation that projects worth 20bn, which he called “wasteful projects”, were requested by the four of you. Is that also not correct?
It is not correct because in the first place, the word wasteful or useful is a subjective thing. For instance, if you are representing a constituency in Enugu, if you decide to build a public beer parlour for your people in Enugu, it would be a great credit because there may be so many people who would want to drink in the beer parlour. But if you take beer parlour to a place like mine where we have some cultural and religious restrictions, will you get away with it?
So in the first place, I would say that also was not true because for me, anything useful or wasteful is also a subjective thing. So what may be useful to Jibrin may not be useful to me. So for him to now label our projects as wasteful or useful, I think it is also very unfortunate. He cannot take that definition.
People have asked that if you claim it was Jibrin that caused the issues with the 2016 budget, why did it take you so long to speak up?
You are not getting it right; we found him wanting him, we found him moving to lie at the Presidency, we found him operating in absolute exclusivity to his members. It was because of this high chunk of problems and claims that were heaped on his head that we started processing the idea of relieving him.
So that was what informed our decision and when we took that decision. We had acted within the internal mechanism of the leadership of the House to take necessary steps. He was basically a cancer in the appropriation system in the House and we have successfully operated this cancer. We removed it and the chief physician was Dogara; and I was his assistant. All of us members of the House, including Femi Gbajabiamila, participated, supported and signed the decision to remove Jibrin.
I want you to react to this other allegation that the leadership makes monthly deductions from the entitlement of members for some mortgage arrangement, which members are alleged to be grumbling about. Are you aware of this mortgage arrangement and what is it intended to achieve?
Yes, I am aware of it but the fact is that it was not as if it was a kind of an official arrangement. It was a semi-formal arrangement, semi-formal because the institution was involved. We were approached as a House by estate developers but when we now agreed to discuss the matter, we subjected it to an informal discussion in an executive session. But, unfortunately, because we have rats like him in the system, he went and reported an executive matter. Under normal circumstances, this too is contempt of the parliament, you don’t have to go and report what you have discussed right in your bedroom; so it was an informal arrangement.
What you want Nigerians to believe is that members wholeheartedly accepted this proposal and there was no grumbling?
Has the deduction started?
The commitment has not even started; we have not even signed the commitment.
So Jibrin lied in this case again, to quote you?
Yes, he lied. It was just a matter that was discussed and members accepted it that it is a fine idea and we are now at the level of further discussion as to how members can raise money to pay these developers and own houses in Abuja without tears.
Shortly after his former members of the committee on appropriation came out to disown him, Jibrin retaliated by accusing them of taking $20,000 bribe each from the speaker and the three others. What do you have to say to that?
That is also not true. All the issues you have raised so far are not true. There was no issue of bribing any member with $20,000. I can tell you that I have never come across $20,000 in this House in this dispensation.
Are you aware that members are being handed $25,000 each, preparatory to passing a vote of confidence on the leadership of the House? Jibrin alleged this too.
I am not aware that members were given $20,000 to disown Jibrin, and I am not aware that members were given $25,000 to sign vote of confidence or otherwise against or on the speaker of the House.
You didn’t answer the question on why Jibrin picked on only four of you out of the 10 members in the leadership?
Yes, I said it; that the four of us were the most vocal in calling for his removal when we discovered the atrocities he committed. Myself, the speaker, the Deputy speaker, the minority leader, we insisted that he must go. He sees what he is doing as some kind of vendetta. He feels he must paint us black for asking him to go. He left the House leader, Gbajabiamila, out because his calculation was that he could win the support of some Gbajabiamila’s men in the House to his side in this blackmailing trip of his. Well, he will soon realise that has failed.