Leadership - Legal luminaries in the country have said there was nothing wrong in the members of the National Assembly, opting to pad the federal budget. Such action they told LEADERSHIP Sunday, falls within their constitutional duty of budget appropriation.
A House of Representatives member and former chairman of Appropriation Committee, Hon Abdurahim Jibrin levelled the accusation of surreptitiously inserting figures into the 2016 Budget, presented to the House by President Buhari against the speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara and other principal officers of the House.
Malam Yusuf Ali, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria SAN, who spoke with LEADERSHIP Sunday, said there was nothing wrong with lawmakers appropriating money to their constituencies in the budget. According to Malam Ali, the figure inserted into the budget, if used for what it is meant for, violates no law.
“If the figures inserted into the budget is used for what it is meant for, there is nothing wrong with that. But it is unfortunate that in this country we abuse a lot of things”.
Another SAN, Mr. Ahmed Raji, said that padding as an act is not known to the law of the country, but can lead to crime when you insert figures into the budget without executing the project it is meant for. Raji said, “Padding as an act is not known to law but it can lead to
crime when you pad the budget without executing the project money appropriated are meant for.”
Chief Godwin Obla (SAN), said padding has to do with tinkering with the budget. He said the budget is sent to the National Assembly in the first place to be tinkered with. “Lawmakers in the process of tinkering with the budget can pad it. If they are padding the budget for the good of their constituencies, there is nothing wrong with that”, he said.
A Constitutional lawyer, Dr Tunji Abayomi, described budget padding as constitutionally wrong and not criminally wrong.
Abayomi said, “It is a constitutional wrong but not a criminal wrong. NASS has no power to raise budget heads. It is a moral wrong. It is against separation of powers in government”.
But for Festus Okoye, a Kaduna-based constitutional lawyer, “there is nothing like budget padding in the constitutional frame work.” Okoye who spoke to our correspondent in a telephone interview said, the National Assembly has the powers to add or remove from the budget proposals and projects estimates as it deems fits.
According to him, “What the executive sent to the national assembly are proposals and estimates and NASS is entitled to subtract or add to the proposals and estimates, they are also entitled to change a few things in what has been sent to them and that is what is called the power of appropriation, to appropriate funds for certain projects, so,the executive can propose one billion for a project and the NASS can change it and say the project can be executed for two billion, based
on the budget estimates and proposals sent to them. Constitutionally there is nothing like padding in the constitutional frame work. What is provided for in our constitutional framework is the power of appropriation and screening. So, if members of the NASS decide to add projects to what has been submitted to them, for me there is nothing wrong with that constitutionally. We have budget proposals and project estimates which the NASS can tamper with.”
Okoye who says padding does not exist in law and in the constitution, regarding appropriation said, “Let us remove semantics from what is presently going on at the NASS
regarding budget padding or no padding, the truth of the matter is that there is nothing called budget padding, secondly, it is the constitutional right of NASS to look at budget proposals and projects estimates and make amendments where necessary.”
Meanwhile, amidst controversy over allegation of padding of the 2016 budget by the former chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Hon Abdurahim Jibril , the national chairman of Citizens Popular Party (CPP). Chief Sam Eke has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to investigate the weighty allegation against the speaker of the House of
Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and three other principal officers.
The former presidential candidate noted that any attempt to sweep the allegation under the carpet will not augur well with the anti-corruption fight of the federal government.
Chief Eke said it was necessary that the principal officers who were mentioned by the former chairman of House Appropriation Committee in the budget scandal be investigated by an independent committee to ascertain the veracity or otherwise of such claims. He warned that if the speaker and other three principal officers fail to resign and present themselves for proper investigation, it will
create credibility question for the House leadership, adding that the budget scandal should not be treated like previous scandals that were ignored by the government.
He said “The revelations by Jibrin is heavy and it cannot be ignored or swept under the carpet, I call for the probe of the allegation against Dogara and the principal officers on the budget padding. The president can set up an investigation committee to tell us why projects in the budgets are not executed and are represented in the budget every year and never executed. There is need for a holistic audit of the National Assembly since the return of democracy
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