All eyes on House of Reps as lawmakers resume work

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All eyes are on the House of Representatives as the
National Assembly resumes today from its eight-
week annual vacation.
No thanks to budget
padding scandal which dominated discussion
among Nigerians almost on daily basis for the past
two months, many will be looking to see how this
brouhaha will pan out.
Undoubtedly, members of the House looked
forward to the annual vacation of the National
Assembly. But not a few would agree that in the
case of members of the House, rather than fully
resting, they had to deal with the outpouring of
condemnation that followed allegations of the
illegal tinkering of the budget by ousted House
chairman of the Appropriations Committee,
Abdulmumin Jibrin. Indeed as lawmakers get back
to work today, observers would agree that Jibrin
kept to his vow of the vacation of House beginning
and ending with the budget padding scandal which
his allegations triggered. Even during the holidays,
lawmakers thronged the National Assembly and
other locations for meetings to take decisions on
who to support in the raging battle between Jibrin,
Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Deputy Speaker Yussuff
Lasun, Majority Whip Alhassan Doguwa and
Minority Leader, Leo Ogor. The former chairman
has not relented in accusing the four members of
the House leadership whom he has dubbed the
quartet of taking for themselves N40 billion out of
the N100 billion allocated for constituency projects
in the 2016 budget.
The Kano lawmaker also accused Dogara, Lasun,
Doguwa and Ogor of using 10 Standing
Committees to insert fictitious projects totalling
N284 billion. While Lasun has not made any
statement on the allegations, Dogara, Doguwa and
Ogor have taken turns to deny Jibrin’s allegations,
describing them as baseless. The ex-chairman
managed to list nine out of the 10 Committees
which he said were used to illegally insert the
2000 projects. According to him, the Police Affairs,
Interior, F.C.T, Health Services, Basic Education,
Power, House Services, Public Petitions and Marine
Transport were the committees used to bring -in
fictitious projects.
While many would agree that some of the
lawmakers Jibrin listed might have been
intimidated into silence by his strongly worded
statements and tweets, three of those he named as
making their committees available to put in illegal
projects, Jagaba Adams Jagaba (Kaduna -APC),
Chike Okafor (Imo-APC) and Zakari Mohammed
(Kwara -APC) have at different times responded to
him, saying he is the one guilty of mutilating the
budget and not them. Jibrin has also been
accused of inserting projects worth N4.1 billion
into his Bebeji/Kiru Federal Constituency, with the
insertion of high-sounding projects including the
Kano film village, named after President
Muhammadu Buhari and what the House
Spokesman, Abdulrazak Namdas described as the
former chairman’s record of blackmailing heads of
Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) for
pecuniary gains as the reasons why he was
removed.
Though Jibrin didn’t mention House Leader, Femi
Gbajabiamila, the documents he released showed
that, Gbajabiamila’s Surulere I Federal
Constituency received projects worth about N1.8
billion in the budget. To the bewilderment of
millions of Nigerians, the lawmaker who has since
written his colleagues a long letter advising that
they insist that Dogara and Lasun step down,
declared that he received N650 million as office
running cost for the years he has worked as
legislator, just as all ten of the House principal
officers have received N10 billion under the same
sub-head.
Daily Sun investigation showed that Jibrin’s letter
rather than sway support his way led to the
strengthening of the resolve of pro-Dogara
lawmakers who have vowed he will be sanctioned.
Close observers of the power play in the House
believe that today could just be the beginning of
Jibrin’s walk to suspension. It is safe to say
Dogara enjoys much more support among his
colleagues and some of those backing the Speaker
could go physical if provoked, the same for those
standing against him. Many expect, at the least a
war of words today and verbal fireworks in the
days that will follow. Some will be watching to see
if Jibrin will be bold enough to come to green
chambers today as there still hasn’t been a drastic
change in his level of popularity. He was twice
booed by his colleagues even as his explanations
on the role he played in the whole budget saga
seem not to have changed the disposition of
members towards him.
Daily Sun investigation also point to majority of
lawmakers seeking an end to the budget padding
scandal in order for the House to move on.
Because of this, the entire scenario may end up
being a case of the majority having their way with
the minority having their say. The Transparency
Group, though likely to protest any motion on the
floor targeted at suspending the embattled former
chairman, seem to have accepted the reality that
they are seriously outnumbered. A member of the
group, Abubakar Chika (Niger-APC) said this much.
Chika in a telephone interview with Daily Sun said:
“We have made our position on the issue of budget
padding public and petitions and submissions have
been made to relevant anti-graft agencies, the
Nigerian Police and other security agencies. They
can now take action. One thing I know is that
politics is a game of numbers and those of us who
are on the side of Nigerians, the Transparency
Group, do not have the numerical strength to pass
a -vote -of -no confidence on the Speaker,
following which he would have stepped down”.
Supporters of the Speaker such as Timothy Golu
(Plateau-PDP) insist that lawmakers will in the
days to come concentrate on issues of national
importance, starting with the economic recession
and its negative impact on millions of Nigerians.
Golu who is chairman, House committee on
National Assembly Budget and Research said the
House will invite ministers, heads of agencies and
Special Advisers to explain how the country can
rebound from the economic downturn. “As we
resume, we will be discussing the economic
recession which is biting harder. We will do it
using the instrumentality of our responsibility of
oversighting the implementation of the budget. We
have to find out what is happening with the
implementation of the 2016 budget. The Federal
Government said it has released money before and
is about to release another N350 billion. We
expect that to happen soon so that the economy
can be lubricated”.
He also disclosed that the House will be inviting
the Special Adviser to the president for Social
Protection Plan, Maryam Uwais to explain how far
government has gone with the implementation of
the intervention. Golu further said the House will
concentrate on preparations for the 2017 budget.
“As a committee, we invited the Special Adviser to
the president on the social intervention fund; we
weren’t satisfied with her explanations. In fact, we
got worried during our interaction because she
raised fears on the release of the monies needed
for the programme. She said so far, only N20
billion out of N500 billion has been released and
this is without cash backing and we are in
September. For us, we raised fears on how
realistic this programme is judging by the
economy of the country and the issue of the
programme not having an implementation
framework especially with regard to its five
components. We don’t want this intervention to
end up like those done in the past, where people
are given money without having a plan for a
sustainable income. We want a proper
implementation of the programme; this starts with
release of funds with cash backing for programmes
that will have direct impact on the lives of people”.
Another issue the House will prioritise as it
resumes is the review of the 1999 constitution. The
House has adopted the piecemeal approach to the
review.
The most recent development from the Lasun- led
special Ad hoc Committee on the review of the
1999 constitution is sponsoring a bill which
provides that “no person who had held office of
president or governor of a state or acting as
president or governor of a state for more than two
years of a term to which some other person was
elected president or governor, shall be elected to
the office of President or governor of a state more
than once”. The aim of the bill which has scaled
the first reading on the floor of the House is to give
constitutional protection to the two term tradition.
By virtue of the combined provisions of sections
137(1)(b) and 182(1)(b) of the constitution, the
president of Nigeria and governor of a state shall
serve in those capacities for a maximum period of
eight years. However, the constitution equally
envisaged circumstances where a person can be
chosen to act as president or governor. These
include: when the president or a governor resigns,
dies or is impeached. If the bill is passed, when a
person is chosen to act as president or governor
of a state and the person serves for more than two
years in a four years term, that person shall only
be eligible to contest election to the same office
only once.
It is also learnt that the House version of the
Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) will be presented now
that members have resumed. Dogara had assured
that the National Assembly will engage with
stakeholders on contentious issues surrounding
the bill. Speaking at the National Stakeholders
Summit on Petroleum Industry Reforms held in
Abuja, Dogara said the legislature is determined to
draft a law for the industry that will be in the best
interest of Nigerians.
He said: “The need to make consensus and lend a
voice to long suppressed agitations in the drafting
and consideration of petroleum industry bills
informed our decision to organise this
stakeholders’ summit. We are optimistic that this
approach will provide the crucial platform to enable
us cross pollinate ideas and ventilate our positions
on certain contentious issues, regardless how
vexed they may be. You can rest assured that our
work at the National Assembly is to do your good
intention.
“We are not unaware of the several failed attempts
at redeeming the petroleum industry by our
predecessors. The Petroleum Industry Bill has
been down a long, tortuous, and chequered road.
Most of us have been co-travelers on the journey
to pass the bill into law, and have the requisite
experience to avoid any pitfalls ahead, hence this
resolve to seek proper consultations with you and
build confidence amongst us.”

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