Nigeria’s House of Representatives resumed from its annual recess yesterday, 21st September and its first sitting turned out to be a very dramatic one what with the massive hailing the Speaker received from the honourables when the budget padding issue was raised. Outside the walls of the chamber, a group of protesters brandished placards demanding the immediate prosecution of Hon Abdulmumin Jibrin, the chief accuser in the budget padding controversy.
Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon Yakubu Dogara in his welcome speech addressed a myriad of topics and here are some of the most important ones:
On Jibrin and his frequent allegations and attacks on the Speaker and leadership of the House:
Speaker Dogara described Hon Jibrin’s actions as a “strange propaganda aimed not only at the destruction of the image of the members but a systematic destruction of the institution of the House of Representatives and indeed the legislature by portraying it to the public as an irredeemably corrupt institution.” He added that Hon Jibrin’s intentions are not really about uncovering the truth but chiefly to have the four principal members of the House removed from office. Speaker Dogara said the House of Reps will “not be distracted by insidious antics however well orchestrated, and falsehoods however well propagated to confuse Nigerians.”
On the state of the economy, recession and how to tackle it:
Hon Dogara reiterated the urgency and importance of solutions to end the “worrisome development” that is the economic recession. According to him, “this is not the time for partisanship, this is not the time to score political points, this is not the time for grandstanding, this is not the time for blame games.” He called on the his fellow honourables and the National Assembly to continue to provide legislative support to the Executive on all well-thought out and effective solutions to the current economic problems. He equally called on President Muhammadu Buhari to consider holding a joint emergency session of the upper and lower chambers to brief them and indeed Nigerians on his plans to pull Nigeria of the recession.
On the inadequacies of the National Budget:
Hon Dogara maintains that pre-budget consultations between the Executive and the Legislature have never been enough and the National Budget does not adequately reflect the priorities of the government. He reminded the House of the budget reform procedure that was included in the Legislative Agenda unfolded in July 2015. Consultations regarding this process have commenced and a Special Budget Reform Committee, made up of experts and a few honourable members would soon be inaugurated too. According to Dogara, “we will partner with the Senate and also consult with the Executive to ensure that the budget process meets acceptable standards that conform to international best practices.” This will hopefully, lay the groundwork for a better budget process in 2017.
On constituency project allocation and handling:
Hon Dogara said that the intervention of the legislature in constituency or zonal projects is aimed at “remedying the flaws in the estimates of revenues and expenditure” when a deviation from the objective of equitable spread is sighted. He also said that members of the National Assembly are not given cash or contracts for the projects, the execution of projects is the prerogative of the Executive branch.
On the effective implementation of the 2016 budget:
“The budget is not just a piece of paper to be treated with disdain”, the speaker said. Failure to effectively implement a budget undermines citizens’ faith in the government. The Speaker issued a directive to various House Committees to begin a fact-finding exercise on the extent and level of budget implementation by various MDAs. He urged the committee heads to take this task seriously and report back to the house accordingly. According to the Speaker, the feedback report will determine appropriation to any MDA in 2017.