By Emman Ovuakporie and Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Since the former Chairman of House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, was relieved of his position, the House has known no peace. The image of the House and the entire National Assembly has suffered tremendous bashing.
Even the principal officers of the House, especially the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara; the deputy Speaker, Yususf Lasun, the Chief Whip, Alhassan Ado Doguwa and the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, and some vocal Committee Chairmen that had tried to disagree with Jibrin on his allegation of padding of the 2016 budget allegedly spearheaded by the quartet have had their reputation put under question by Jibrin’s allegations.
Besides, the former appropriation chairman took the matter to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and asked the Speaker alongside the other three principal officers to resign. Incidentally, Jibrin got support from a group of members under the aegis of Transparency Group, which also told Dogara to step aside. The group further claimed that it had over 100 members of the House and assured it will get the required number of members to press it upon the Speaker to step aside.
Although, there appeared to be silence from the side of the Speaker over the allegations against him at the initial time, some civil society organisations, like the Coalition in Defence of Democracy, CDD; led by the President of National Youth Council of Nigeria, NYCN, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, the anti-corruption wing of the youth body, among others, rose in defence of Dogara.
CDD, at the resumption of the National Assembly from annual vacation, last Wednesday, protested at the gate of the complex, calling for the suspension of Jibrin.
The protesters, numbering over 200 and carrying placards of different inscriptions, accused Jibrin of discrediting the legislature because he was removed as appropriation chairman.
One of the placards brandished by the protesters read: “We demand the indefinite suspension and prosecution of Hon Jibrin for contempt of the House, operating of foreign account, scandalising the House, contract splitting, money laundering and living above his means”.
In a letter delivered to a Sergeant-at-arms of the National Assembly for onward transmission to the leadership of the place, Ugochinyere alleged that Jibril had aligned with democratic influences working to derail democracy.
Ugochinyere told reporters that his group had already approached the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, the EFCC and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to prosecute the lawmaker for allegedly maintaining an account in the United kingdom (UK), and also his admission of illegally receiving N650,000.000 in the House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, on the same day, the House, through a motion sponsored by the House Committee Chairman on Rules and Business, Orker Jev alleged infringement of members right and privileges calling for the investigation of Jibrin.
The session, presided over by Dogara resolved to refer the matter and Jibrin to its Committee on Ethics and Privileges for proper investigation and to report its findings and make appropriate recommendations to the House within one week.
Jev, in the motion, stated that the privileges of members, practices, precedents were breached by Jibrin and that the punishment was suspension for not less than six months.
But he was interrupted by Jibrin supporters, led by Aliyu Madaki, representing Dala Federal Constituency of Kano State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC, who was shouting ‘point of order‘, to stop him from proceeding with his motion.
Madaki made efforts to state that the allegations by Jibrin was against the Speaker, Lasun, Doguwa and Ogor, who he said should resign from their positions. He also noted that the former appropriation chairman had accused every member of the House.
This threw the House into rowdy session as supporters of Dogara urged Jeff to go ahead while supporters of Jibrin made spirited but unsuccessful efforts to stop the motion.
As the melee went on, Jibrin left the chamber while supporters of Dogara who had overwhelming members started the distribution of green muffler bearing the name of the Speaker.
The motion calling for the investigation of Jibrin was titled, “Breach of privileges of the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (the House); breach of members of the House of Representatives; breach of the practices, precedents and usages of the House of Representatives and sundry acts of misconduct against the members and institution of the House of Representatives and National Assembly; breach of the provisions of the legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act, Cap. L12, LFN.”
In the motion, Jev noted that Jibrin was relieved of his appointment as Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation on 21st July, 2016 and that following his removal, he allegedly embarked on a campaign of calumny and denigration by making false and scandalous statements and publications in the print, electronic media and internet against the entire membership and the institution of the House of Representatives and National Assembly as institutions.
Among some of the statements and publications allegedly made by Jibrin against some persons and the institution where he said, “I repeat, there is massive individual and institutional corruption in the House of Representatives aided and abetted by Speaker Dogara” which was posted on his Facebook page on August 13, 2016.
Also offensive to the House was the alleged statement by Jibrin where he was quoted to have said on August 21, 2016 that, “It is a known fact that legislative investigation is used as an avenue to extort money in an organised crime aided and abetted by Mr. Speaker.”
Concluding Jev said, “The above statements are contemptuous of the House of Representatives as an institution. Punishment is suspension not less than six months.”
While reacting to Madaki’s call for the Speaker to resign, Dogara said that as Madaki acknowledged that every member of the House was accused by Jibrin, he had to receive Madaki’s resignation letter first before turning in his own.
But in a swift reaction, Jibrin said that he will not appear before the Ethics and Privileges Committee over his allegation of budget padding against the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara and three others unless the investigation would be made public.
The former House Committee Chairman on Appropriation who represents Kiru-Bebeji Federal Constituency of Kano State said that his allegation was against the Speaker and three other principal officers and not the entire House.
He said, “I attended the sitting of the House today and carefully observed the proceedings concerning the allegations of budget fraud and corruption I leveled against Speaker Dogara and 3 other Principal Officers.
“But rather than open up the matter for discussion in view of the public interest it has generated and allow me to brief my colleagues, an opportunity I have been denied for several months, Mr Speaker deployed some legislative tricks and theatrics to save the day.
“In a move that smacks of abuse of process, Speaker Dogara granted under point of order, an opportunity to the Chairman of Business and Rules Committee who started with a speech then suddenly transited to a motion under privilege – a clear case of manipulation and gross abuse of the House rule. This is the easiest resort since the attempts to secure a vote of confidence had woefully failed.
“The motion was therefore passed and referred to the Committee on Ethics and Privilege with one week to submit its report. The grand plan is to dilute the ongoing external investigation by the police and EFCC and use the Ethics Committee for a soft landing.
“But what happened on the floor of the House today is just the end of another beginning. I have never lived with the illusion that this matter will be a sprint, knowing the deeply rooted corrupt interest of a few cabal in the House headed by Speaker Dogara.”
As the Committee commenced investigation on Friday, Chairman of Rules and Business took his turn to explain why he brought the motion on the floor and the consequences of the allegation on the image of the legislature.
Jev said Jibrin’s utterances and newspaper publications, including television interviews which he tendered before the committee, had maligned and defamed the House, and had incited the public against the members.
In his opening remarks,the committee Chairman, Ossai Nicholas Ossai, gave the assurance that the committee would be objective and follow due process as outlined in the Standing Rules of the House.
The Committee then scheduled Jibrin to appear on Monday at 12 noon.
But Jibrin,in a letter to the Chairman of Ethics and Privilege Committee on Friday under the title, ‘Re-Allegations of breach of privileges and misconduct’, stated that he had already said in his recommendations that he did not believe that the committee has the ability to be an impartial arbiter.
He stated, “To refresh your memory, I stated in the letter that “The Speaker Pro Tempore should constitute an Adhoc Committee to investigate these allegations in collaboration with the on-going external investigation by the anti-graft agencies.
“This has become necessary because from some public and private comments made by the incumbent Chairman of the Ethics and Privilege Committee, he has become an interested party in the matter and his ability to be impartial is in doubt. Also some of the members, including myself, who sit as members of the committee are interested party in the matter.
“You called me after reading my letter and tried to explain your public statement and further made efforts to convince me that you will indeed be impartial. I listened to you but I had my doubts.
“Subsequent events after the sitting of Wednesday 21st September and specifically our conversation on phone when you called me on the 21st and 22nd have further affirmed my misgivings and convinced me beyond reasonable doubt that you CANNOT be impartial”.
The former appropriation’s helmsman of the House, it appears, may not honour the invitation to appear before the Ethics Committee based on the reasons he had expressed. The matter may be left with the entire House whether to temper justice with mercy or to wield the big stick. It is a matter of days.