TENSION IN SENATE AS MEMBERS FEAR SPILLOVER OF REPS CRISIS OVER BUDGET PADDING

There is palpable apprehension among senators that the budget-padding crisis currently rocking the House of Representatives might spill over to the Senate. A source close to the Appropriation Committee of the Senate told New Telegraph that fear had gripped some senators over the matter.

The source, however, revealed that those in the Appropriation Committee had resolved never to make any statements that would attract the attention of the public to the turbulent chamber.

According to the source, senators who were not happy with the handling of the 2016 budget by the Chairman of the Appropriation Committee, Danjuma Goje, have also agreed that they would not truncate the truce recently brokered in the Senate.

“What is happening in the House over budget padding is not different from what would have happened in the Senate, but experience, they say, is the best teacher. In fact, it would have been worse in the Senate, but for the lingering crisis that bedevilled the place since June last year.

“I don’t think that any senator wants to provoke another round of crisis for any reason because they are tired of being in the mess. From all I have seen, the senators want to be patriotic this time around. They want to cover whatever sins might have been committed during the 2016 appropriation exercise.

“Remember the last effort at stabilizing the chamber by its leadership, when Senate President Bukola Saraki had to reshuffle some committees to accommodate and pacify his tormentors.

So, the anticipated padding controversy may not be seen in the Senate, but I can tell you that some senators are jittery because of the trouble in the House,” the source said. When our correspondent tried to contact Goje for his comment, his line was not going through.

A source close to him said he was out of town. As if the lawmakers were deliberately avoiding journalists, other members of the committee did not pick their calls while a senator who answered said that he was not disposed to speaking with the press on any issue at the moment.

It will be recalled that the Senate allegedly had a stormy executive session on April 21, when many senators protested against the leadership of the Appropriation Committee because of the manner it purportedly handled the budget with so much secrecy.

It was learnt that Goje came under intense attack from the members of the committee during the closed session, for allegedly excluding them from the budget approval process. It was further learnt that the aggrieved lawmakers called for Goje’s removal, but later resolved to allow him remain in office since the Senate had, as at that time, embarked on reconciliatory moves to resolve all grievances in the Chamber by setting up an ad hoc committee to reconcile all warring factions.

Meanwhile, there are strong indications that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) may have assembled a team of detectives, to examine a petition arising from the budget-padding crisis rocking the House of Representatives.

New Telegraph gathered from highly placed sources that once the petition is found to have merit, the commission may then commence investigation into the allegations contained therein.

A former Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin has, since his removal, sustained his allegations of diversion of billions of naira against Speaker Yakubu Dogara, his deputy, Yusuff Lasun; majority whip, Alhassan Doguwa and minority leader, Leo Ogor.

But investigation by New Telegraph showed that the anti-graft agency was in receipt of a petition. Jibrin confirmed that his petition has since been submitted at the commission.

One of the sources, who spoke in confidence with New Telegraph, explained that owing to diligence and best practice, petitions before the anti-graft agency, are investigated based on merit, as those found to be fraudulent are not acted upon.

“I think a team of the commission’s detectives are now looking at the issues raised in the petition, and this is the standard practice. The merit or otherwise of the petition, will give proper direction on the next action to take,” he said.

The Head of Media and Publicity of the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, could not be reached for comment. In a related development, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has called on Dogara and other principal officers accused to be involved in the alleged budget padding to step aside pending the outcome of investigation by the EFCC and other agencies.

The group made this call through a letter dated July 29 and signed by SERAP’s executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni. The group noted that its call followed the confirmation received from the EFCC that it is looking into SERAP’s petition to the body on the allegations that the leadership of the House of Representatives padded the 2016 budget to the tune of N481 billion.

“SERAP is now writing to request you to immediately step aside from your position as Speaker of the House of Representatives pending the outcome of the investigation,” Mumuni stated.

The group also urged the speaker to ensure that other principal officers of the House suspected to be involved in the alleged padding step aside from their positions to allow for the investigation by the EFCC and other agencies to go ahead unhindered.

“The Speaker, as the head of the House, has a big role to play in guiding parliamentarians to embrace transparency by sending a powerful message that allegations of corruption will not be condoned, tolerated or covered up.

“SERAP believes that the House of Representatives can neither function effectively nor enjoy public trust and confidence as long as the allegations of budget padding continue to trail its leadership.

“By stepping aside and ensuring that others suspected to be involved in the budget padding also step aside until such a time as the investigations by the EFCC and other agencies are completed, you will be promoting acts that would enhance the integrity and respect for the National Assembly, as well as strict observance of the constitution both in letter and spirit,” the letter reads.

Also, Chairman of the House committee on Basic Education, Hon. Zakari Mohammed (APC, Kwara) has denied lobbying Jibrin for the inclusion of any project in the 2016 budget. Zakari is one of the 10 committee chairmen Jibrin has submitted their names to the EFCC for alleged corruption.

The lawmaker explained that he never at any time during the consideration of the budget contacted the ousted chairman for assistance. On the submission of a petition against him at the EFCC, Zakari said he was ready to face investigation or interrogation from any anti-graft agency.

“I have no file with EFCC or its allied agency, but the same cannot be said of the former Appropriation Committee chairman. Nigerians should, therefore, disregard his accusations because they are as a result of frustration of his removal,” he said.

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