Published On: Fri, Aug 12th, 2016

So, padding is no longer a crime?

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download (4)By Bolaji Tunji

Nigeria is a country that will not cease to amaze. Indeed,  If one calls Nigeria a country of insincere people, one would not be too far wrong. As Nigerians we see white and tend to call it black especially when it suits our purpose. The most guilty are the politicians who pull wools over our eyes all the time, such that when  it suits them, white becomes black. A nation of citizens with that mindset will never progress.

That brings to mind the current scandal in the House of Representatives over the budget. I need not go over the details of the allegation by Chairman of Appropriation Committee in the House, Rep Abdulmumin Jibrin who had alleged that the Speaker and some principal officers had caused to be inserted into the budget what was originally not included. Jibrin’s corruption allegation, as I had earlier written here, is nothing new, it’s something that Nigerians have always lived with- that the welfare of the people is the least consideration of politicians in the country. Most of them go into politics and hold political offices not to better the lot of the masses, but to make money and better their lot and their families’ . It is what makes politics a dangerous game  in Nigeria with the attendant killing and maiming of perceived political opponents.

Indeed, former President Olusegun Obasanjo hit the nail on the head when he said recent development has confirmed his stance that the National Assembly is peopled by dishonest individuals.

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In times past, the former president had taken on members of the National Assembly on some of these issues. He had taken them up over the constituency allowance, claiming that they  collect the money when they do not have constituency offices in their constituencies contrary to the constitutional requirement. He had also taken on the lawmakers over their over bloated  salary which he said amounted to insensitivity in view of the lack in the country.

On recent development, he warned President Mohammadu Buhari to be vigilant, “…we should get men and women of integrity in the place (National Assembly) and the president should be very vigilant, whatever should not pass should not pass.”

There is no doubt that the budget padding scandal came again as a shock to the ruling party which has been moving from one scandal to the other, giving the impression of a party in disharmony, a party that is always at war with itself. Indeed, most Nigerians are coming to the distinct conclusion that the country would have been a lot better served if the APC ( All Progressives Congress) had continued with its opposition role, having perfected the art of opposition.

Back to the budget padding scandal. There is now an about turn. The story is changing. We are now being told that there was nothing like padding and the word is a strange lexicon in budgeting and even the constitution. Haba!

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Hear the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang on the matter during a visit to the lawmakers, “there is nothing, to our knowledge, like padding of the budget. The budget, as assented to by the President, is the budget passed by the National Assembly and it is being executed”.  Another lawmaker equally said the Reps were only performing their constitutional role even if anything was added.

The party hierarchy has now wadded into the matter and this must have informed why Senator Enang further described the situation, “as a domestic issue; a party issue”. A statement which reminds one of the famous People’s Democratic Party (PDP) line, “family affairs”. The meaning and even the outcome of such obfuscating words is simply cover up.  It is obvious that APC is planning to cover up the scandal. That is why it has now become a party affair. This simply will  not fly especially in view of further allegations made by Jibrin when he visited the Economics And Financial Crimes Commission office,  he said, “ the anti-corruption agencies should ask Speaker Dogara why on earth he collects N25 million every month just to spend it the way he wants. They should also ask him to provide proof of how he is funding his farm in Nasarawa State which was just few hectares six months ago and now miraculously expands to about 100 hectares with new buildings and state-of-the-art equipment worth millions as well as the mansion he has suddenly built in Wuse II within six months.”

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These are indeed grave allegations and has provided enough grounds for further investigation into the affairs of the two chambers of the National Assemblies and their principal officers. The presidency, in view of its anti-corruption stand should not allow this matter to be swept under the carpet. It cannot be a party affairs at this stage. There is need for a thorough investigation.

A crime has been committed. Statement that it is the constitutional duty of the National Assembly to look at the budget and appropriate is simply a way to cover up. One of the definitions of padding is to, “add false items (to an expense report or Bill) in order to receive unjustified payment”. From Jibrin’s explanation, is this not what happened? The matter should not be swept under the carpet. No amount of propaganda and white wash will change the meaning of padding and what has been alleged. Fight against corruption should be total. It should not be based on party affiliation or against perceived enemies.

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