A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, SAN, yesterday lamented that the All Progressives Congress, APC-led federal government has started covering up cases of corruption like the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, government it ousted from power.
He declared that the decision of the National Assembly to unilaterally insert constituency projects worth about N100 billion in the 2016 budget was “a clear case of conspiracy, fraud, forgery and corruption”, citing different sections of the 1999 Constitution and Fiscal Responsibility Act to buttress his point that the padding of the 2016 budget was illegal and unconstitutional.
Disclosing this in a statement personally signed by him, Falana claimed that about 20 legislators in both chambers of the National Assembly altered the budget by “inserting constituency projects worth N100 billion in the 2016 budget. Both the Senate and the House allocated to themselves N60 billion and N40 billion respectively.”
The human rights activist noted that if “it is established that the alterations were effected after the passing of the budget by both houses the issue at hand goes beyond padding. A clear case of conspiracy, fraud, forgery and corruption can be established against the suspects.”
He explained that padding “takes place when legislators resolve to rewrite the budget by introducing new items outside the estimates prepared and presented to them by the president.
“The controversy over the padding of budget was laid to rest with the enactment of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007 which has imposed a duty on the finance minister to source input from certain institutions including the national assembly during the course of preparing the budget.
“That is when negotiations and horse trading with the executive by the legislators is allowed. But neither the Constitution nor the Fiscal Responsibility Act has empowered the National Assembly members to rewrite the national budget by including constituency projects whose costs are arbitrarily fixed by the legislators.”
Under section 81 of the Constitution, Falana pointed out that only the president “is given the exclusive power to cause the budget to be prepared. Upon the preparation of the budget by the executive, it shall be laid or presented to the National Assembly by the president.”
He argued that in debating the Appropriation Bill, the legislators might reduce the estimates if there “are errors or inflation of the cost of items or if certain items provided for has been purchased before or for any other genuine reasons.
“But the National Assembly cannot increase the budget in any manner whatsoever. So, the unilateral introduction of constituency projects is totally illegal and unconstitutional. By introducing new items, the National Assembly has usurped the powers of the President to prepare the budget.
“In other words, the legislators would have prepared the budget and laid it before themselves and then passed it. That is a negation of the doctrine of separation of powers. The appropriation bill or amended appropriation bill is not like other bills.
Whereas other bills shall emanate from either of the two houses, money bills shall emanate from the President.
“So a money bill is a special bill which cannot be subjected to additions by the national assembly because it has no power to prepare it. Padding is an unconstitutional infraction when the estimates are increased on the floor of the House. The infraction becomes criminal when the Appropriation Bill is altered by a few legislators after it had been passed by both houses of the national assembly.”
He, therefore, said the speaker claimed that the padding of the 2016 was not a criminal offence, noting that Dogara’s confidence “is likely to have been anchored on the statement credited to the presidency that the budget was not padded in any material particular.
“Before then, the All Progressives Congress (APC) had decided to follow the discredited path of the PDP by treating the serious allegation of monumental corruption as a family affair of the ruling party.”
But unlike the PDP, Falana noted that the APC government failed “to act timeously. In other words, a cover up is no longer possible at this stage as the cat has been let out of the bag. For now, Dogara has no choice, but to defend the criminal allegations.
“Contrary to Dogara’s misleading contention, the Legislative Houses Powers and Privileges Act has not conferred immunity on him with respect to allegations of criminal offences. Since the immunity conferred by the Act is limited to contributions to debates by members of the National Assembly, he cannot ward off the invitation of the Nigeria Police and the EFCC to react to the criminal allegations leveled against.”
The Senior Advocate cited what happened when the 2005 appropriation bill was under consideration in the Senate, noting that some senators including the then Senate President padded the budget of a ministry after collecting N55 million bribe from a minister.
He said the scandal led “to the removal of the senate president who was later charged with his indicted colleagues and the minister. The Supreme Court has recently ordered that the suspects be tried for corruption having thrown out the preliminary objections filed against the charges by them at the trial court.”