To understand the current budget padding controversy in the House of Representatives, you have to also look back at the entire 2016 budget process itself. On December 22nd 2015, President Buhari gave his budget speech at a joint sitting of the National Assembly, but the line items were not submitted to lawmakers before they went on recess. When they resumed on January 12th to begin deliberations on the document, it was reported by the National Assembly leadership that the budget was missing.
The resulting huge embarrassment was clearly to buy time for changes to be made, because on January 17th 2016, the President wrote to the legislature officially to withdraw the budget, and sent a corrected copy on January 19th.
In the midst of this, a few heads rolled. The Director General of the Budget Office, Yahaya Gusau, was replaced by Tijjani Abdullahi on February 15th, and 22 directors were also redeployed in March.
By April 21 though, the controversy was still on. The Senate passed the budget on March 23, but Buhari refused to sign the budget, citing further irregularities like the removal of funding for the Lagos-Calabar rail line. It was then returned to the National Assembly, and on May 6, just 3 weeks before marking a year in office, the budget was finally signed by the President.
After the signing comes the implementation, however, and with government revenue hit hard by a reduction in crude oil production, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, was asked to clarify his statements in the press regarding the FG’s inability to fund constituency projects, and told lawmakers on July 14th that those statements were correct.
Constituency projects are the equivalent of ‘pork barrel spending’ or ‘earmarks’ as they are known in the United States. These projects are put in the budget by legislators to attract federal money to their constituencies, and are a source of government waste, because those projects have no real benefit outside those constituencies. They are also an avenue for corruption because those projects are not costed through the proper budget process, and are often executed by fronts as well. On top of this, the lawmakers take N120 billion out of the budget without any accountability at all.
Since 2004, N100 billion a year has been budgeted for constituency projects, but that had to be brought down to N60 billion this year as a result of low oil revenues before the President could sign it. Only for the SGF to say that there were no guarantees of that being implemented either.
On July 20th, Abdulmumin Jibrin announced via Twitter that he has stepped down as House Chair on Appropriation in the ‘best interests’ of the House and to ‘let peace reign’. He expressed his appreciation to Speaker Yakubu Dogara and wished Mustapha Dawaki, his successor, well.
Following reports that he had in fact been sacked by Dogara, Jibrin took to Twitter on July 21st, blasted Dogara for trying to smear his name, and said that his refusal to accommodate the requests of the House leadership regarding constituency projects led to his exit.
What follows is a timeline of major events since July 21st.
July 27th Dogara threatens to sue Jibrin for libel, gives him 7 days to retract. Same day, Jibrin announces that his lawyers have approached the EFCC and ICPC to authenticate his allegations against the Speaker
July 28th, Jibrin alleges that the Speaker has ordered all the computers in the appropriation secretariat to be shut down, and alleges harassment to staff.
July 29th. Arrives DSS Headquarters for a meeting. Files petition to the EFCC and ICPC through his lawyers
July 31st. Jibrin does an interview on Channels TV with Seun Okinbaloye
August 1st. Personally meets with ICPC, EFCC, Police, and a second meeting with the DSS
August 2nd: Meets with APC leaders behind closed doors.
August 3rd. Alleges that a vote of confidence register has been opened, with lawmakers given $25,000 each for their signatures. Does interview with Gbenga Aruleba of AIT’s Focus Nigeria.
August 4th. Interview on AIT with Gbenga Aruleba airs at 10am. Jibrin announces that he has been gagged by the APC leadership, who wrote to him to that effect. The letter also said the party was ‘looking into’ the issues in the House, towards finding a ‘possible solution’.
August 7th: That ‘ceasefire’ didn’t last long. Jibrin again took to Twitter – in a series of 82 tweets – to accuse two governors and three former house members of trying to provide a soft landing for Dogara, while smearing his name in the press. He promised to release his memoirs in parts immediately, rather than wait till his birthday in September. He also alleged of a plot to kill him.