Saturday, October 29

Running cost fraud: Each Rep takes N900m in 4years –Jibrin

Running cost fraud: Each Rep takes N900m in 4years –Jibrin

Abdulmumuni Jibrin

Deposed chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Abdulmumuni Jibrin, who is currently serving 180 days suspension for allegedly breaching privileges spoke with ONWUKA NZESHI on his ordeal. Excerpts.

When you were making those revelations did it occur to you that you would be suspended?

I actually didn’t think about suspension then because in my thinking, it would be ridiculous. I never thought that some members of the House would choose to act in a very reckless manner.

I have never seen such impunity in my life because while I was dishing out the allegations, I thought by the time we resumed from our recess, my colleagues will do the right thing which is insisting that the House investigates the allegations and collaborate with the anti-graft agencies, the Nigerian Police and the Department of State Security (DSS) which had already commenced their investigation into the matter.

This was what I anticipated, but to my surprise, when we resumed, a motion was raised and it was referred to the Ethics Committee and my first impression was that it was referring the issue in its entirety to the Ethics Committee so that one could go there and discuss the allegations that were raised, only for me to read the Order Paper and the motion properly and I discovered that the only item they were talking about is that I breached the privileges of the House and it’s members.

That was why I declined participation because it made no sense to me. Let me give you an analogy, it was like a case of someone shouting ‘thief, thief’ in the market square.

Rather than the people following the track where the thief was running towards, they went and apprehended the person who raised the alarm and started beating him up.

I find that very ridiculous and extremely rare. Obviously, the aim was to silence the man who blew the whistle. Personally, I have never seen where that has happened anywhere else in the world.

You have been part of that ‘cult’ and you were going to expose them. Do you think they were really going to allow you get away with it?

A couple of persons have asked me that question which also relates to the question: Didn’t you see this coming? Well, as an insider, I was so sure that the facts were out in a way that it has never happened in this country, so I would never have thought that they would decide to turn the other way rather than focus on the issues.

The difference from the case in the past is that you could have issues coming up like speculations, like somebody from outside the system alleging that the running costs are being mismanaged or there was budget padding.

In that kind of instance, you could quickly look at a case if connivance or a gang up by the House to defend itself. But in a case where I said that four principal officers did this and I clarified the issues one after the other. There was no way I could think that there was going to be a gang up except under one condition.

While you were making the allegations, there were some groups in the House that appeared to be supporting your cause but all of a sudden we no longer hear from them, even after your suspension. What happened?

I am going to open up because this question gives me a leeway to do it. Nigerians are surprised about what has happened and some are asking: Is it that there is only one person that has conscience in the House of Representatives?

At least during the recess, you heard the Transparency Group and you heard the Integrity Group talking. Soon after resuming, they continued to talk but immediately after the suspension, they fizzled away.

They went quiet. There is one issue, and I have said it repeatedly, that unites the House and that is the issue the running cost. But even me, myself, when you talk about the cabal, I underestimated the extent that the cabal can go to in protecting their interest.

I have never thought in my life that the Speaker, number four citizen of this country can go into a meeting and blackmail his colleagues. I have never seen that happen all these years. It is only Dogara that I have seen coming in to use the abundance of systemic corruption to blackmail the whole members into silence.

I am not going to speak in tongues. What happened was simple. Many members are still angry about the issue of budget fraud and other issues of corruption in the House, like how the Speaker managed the funds; how he has kept the budget of the House in secrecy; how he had been taking money with the Deputy Speaker from multiple sources, taking millions of naira for rent of houses and guest houses where all sorts of parties are being held; how he diverted projects to his farm and so many other issues of corruption.

I can tell you that till date, members are still very angry about these issues. But the night before our resumption, that was a Monday, the Speaker arranged caucus meetings, which looked normal to members because we used to have caucus meetings to discuss how we were going to proceed after every recess. I went to the caucus meeting and when the Speaker came in, the first thing he said sent everybody into shock.

He said: “Look, the issue that Jibrin is talking about, is not going to bring down Dogara, Yusu Lasun, Leo Ogor and Alhassan Dogowa. It is going to involve the whole House because if they start this investigation, it will get to the issue of running cost”.

The running cost has become the root of systemic corruption in the House. Very few members are not involved in that scam.

Is there really anyone not involved?

Oh, well, that is why I just wanted to be on a safe side. So Dogara just said it straight; “I won’t go down alone. If you allow these issues to be investigated, of course we have to open up the running cost issue”. From that meeting, people started back tracking.

That was why you even had a peaceful session on the first day of sitting after resumption. Everybody was ready for a showdown, but that night, he struck. He put the fear of running cost in the hearts of the lawmakers because the running cost issue will send hundreds of members to jail directly. You don’t need to investigate it. It’s a fraud.

It’s a huge and massive fraud and I have never pretended or avoided saying it. I wonder, why Nigerians are just looking. I have said it repeatedly; it’s a massive fraud. Since I mentioned it; called figures and everything, nobody has come out to refute it.

Out of 259 members, has anyone come out to say Jibrin is lying? It is 100 days today, nobody has cone up to say Jibrin is lying. So he used that (running cost) to blackmail members.

Though I have had members who have come to me to say; ‘look, can you go ahead with this issue without including running cost?’ If it is about interest of just taking down Dogara, I will not even talk about running cost, I will not, because I am smart enough to understand that but I said that I am going all out even if I am alone.

How far do you think you can go alone on this matter?

When I say alone, it doesn’t mean, I am actually alone. It actually means that from the direction of the House, of course I am alone. You can see what is happening everyday in the media and the social media, the Nigerian public commentators and everybody are concerned about it. So when I say I am alone, I mean in the context of the House.

It means that even if every member of the National Assembly will drop this issue, I will continue with this matter. I have said it repeatedly that I will never apologise.

Rapprochements have been made to say whatever you have, and I said look, it doesn’t make sense to me to apologise when I know that the People I am faced with are corrupt. Why should I apologise?

Maybe, they feel that the three years that is left for us is like 50 years. But because I have been in the system over and over again, I know that it is just like today and tomorrow. Even if they will succeed in ensuring that I remain suspended, the maximum that they can go is three years.

If you were not removed as Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, would you have fought Dogara whom you worked so hard to install?

The issue is that my removal is just a trigger. It was just an immediate cause but there had been remote crisis. I have reported severally in the media that I protested when I saw 2000 projects worth N284 bil-

lion in the budget. I confronted the Speaker with it and I said; ‘I cannot allow this to happen’. We fought internally when the Speaker wanted me to put projects worth N30 billion in the budget. I said it is ridiculous. It has never happened and I was not going to do it.

I gathered all these evidence and I have given them to the anti- graft agencies. I have said that we had a crisis inside the House because I said I couldn’t accommodate a N20 billion introduction of a new line item in the Service Wide Vote.

I declined doing it and it created tension all over the place. So it hasn’t been rosy.

While you were making your allegations, some documents were also flying showing that you also diverted some projects to your constituency. Aren’t those allegations against you true? Excellent. Now that takes us to the issue of what is a budget offence?

Let me say this very clearly, the National Assembly has the power to appropriate. It has powers to add projects, remove projects and increase whatever that is in the budget and the rest.

But the point I have been trying to make and enlighten Nigerians about is that over the years, that power has been used to commit fraud in the budget. It is a thin line and that is why they confuse people.

When you are talking, all the response they give you from the spokesman of the House or the leadership of the House is that: Oh, you can’t challenge us. We have powers to appropriate.

I see some people, learned people who go on television to say that this matter is a bit difficult because the National Assembly has the power to appropriate. What I am saying is that while it is true that the National Assembly has power to appropriate, you have good and bad appropriation.

What has happened in the last 16 years is that more often than not, the power had been misused to commit fraud. So you could see projects in Speaker Dogara’s constituency, so long as it is the appropriate one. I would not have been complaining.

Similarly, you might go and see projects in my constituency, Kiru/ Bebeji for instance but that does not make it wrong. For instance, the people in Kiru/ Bebeji need light and water was voted and the chairman of the committee in his wisdom felt that it should be replaced with electricity, which is understandable.

But the point that we are making is that for instance, if you are going to buy a transformer and everybody understands that the transformer should not cost more than N2 million, then the chairman of a committee, because he has the power to appropriate decides to add N3 million on top of it to make N5 million.

That is where the fraud comes in. The second thing you could also do is that when everybody understands that the transformer should cost about N2 million, then you reduce it to N1 million, knowing that N1 million cannot buy the transformer.

It is sabotage against the country. The third scenario is when he decides to lift the whole N2 million, delete that item and that transformer is needed in the village. He takes the money; create another item called purchase of wall sockets.

Wall sockets to put where? It’s just to steal the money. Now these are the issues. If for instance, you have a situation where a town needs irrigation and when the budget comes, they put solar boreholes and the equivalent of that money for the solar boreholes can provide the irrigation.

If the committee chairman decides to use the money meant for the solar boreholes for irrigation, he has used the power of appropriation correctly. But I have challenged the people that I accused: Show me how you have used the powers of appropriation correctly?

They couldn’t, but I have given out a lot of documents to the anti- graft agencies on how year after year, the House has continued to use the power of appropriation to commit fraud. In 2016, I am saying it without mincing words that almost all the insertions made into the budget were fraudulent.

Was it the same in the last session when you were the Chairman, House Committee on Finance?

Well, as chairman of finance, I dealt essentially with the revenue aspect of the budget not the expenditure aspect of the budget. So, I am more competent to talk about what happened to the budget during my time as Chairman of the Appropriation Committee.

Did you also take this running cost you talked about?

Of course, I took running cost and that is why I asked; why should I say I took money if I didn’t. I have said it before that I received running cost.

What has happened to all the petitions you submitted to the anti- graft agencies?

In fairness to the anti- graft agencies, I am the one who submitted the petitions and I have been following up on the petitions. I submitted petitions to the Nigeria Police, EFCC and ICPC and contrary to the thinking of some Nigerians, they have been carrying out the investigations, you might be surprised to know that.

Like the DSS; how long have they been following up with judges before they eventually burst into their homes. So, I believe that we will get to that point. I am very optimistic that we will get to a point where there will be a strike.

They are doing their work; they have invited me several times, I have gone there and presented my case. They have interacted with me countless times and I know that investigations are on at the various stages. There have been massive discoveries.

All the teams at the EFCC, ICPC and the AIG in charge of the investigations at the police, I know they are doing their work and I have had a lot of assurances that we will get to the point where every Nigerian wants to see, where of course, Speaker Dogara and the remaining crooks in the House of Representatives will be arrested and prosecuted.

I have no element of doubt that at the end of this, Dogara will go to jail.

The 2017 budget is around the corner, do you think that your colleagues have learnt any lesson from your campaign and may do something different with the coming budget process?

Well, I do not believe that any lesson had been learnt. With what I have seen happening, the whole process of forming a small group, inviting the Minister of Budget and Minister of Finance has started and that is where the whole problem on the process of appropriation starts.

You form a small team, you agree on certain fundamentals, then you come back and try to impose it on the chairman of appropriations or finance. When he declines, he becomes an enemy and you start blackmailing him.

I can see that they are taking the same steps; I know that the MTEF has been to the National Assembly and the simple and straightforward thing to do is to follow the rules.

Take it through the first and second readings in a very transparent manner so that if you have any misgiving or objection, if you have any observation or anything you want to say on the content of the MTEF, it is during the second reading of the MTEF that you can do it publicly.

After the second reading, it is referred to the Joint Committee on Finance, Appropriation, Budget and National Panning. When it goes to that committee, they have taken note of all the debates and observations on the floor of the House in addition to their own knowledge of the issues, they will now invite all the key actors; Minister of Finance, DG Budget, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria and others.

They will ask them the hard questions based on all the observations from the members of the House. They will get all the necessary clarifications and based on that, they will make their recommendations.

These recommendations will be taken back to the floor where again it would be passed. But I do not think that that is going to happen because already they have started these small, small meetings.

Now, I have heard that the Minister of Fiancé had been invited to brief one leadership; Minister of Budget and National Planning had been invited to brief another leadership.

That is where the whole budget fraud and padding issue is negotiated. When they go there, there is nothing that is being discussed apart from personal interests. Oh, I have this contractor; I want you to pay him his money. Oh, put my project in the budget.

They go there and commit the House at such meetings and when they commit the House, they come back, they try to impose it on the Chairman of Appropriations Committee who has to take the whole load on his head and his colleagues are not aware that this is what is going on. With what I have seen so far, I don’t think that the National Assembly has learnt its lessons.

That is the pattern that Dogara has adopted. I haven’t seen that happen in the House before and that is where I started having problems with Speaker Dogara because rather than concentrate on his job as the Speaker, he enjoys much more to go and sit down eating jollof rice with ministers, heads of agencies and parastatals and before you know it, you start having issues.

Are you saying the executive arm is an accomplice in the budget fraud?

If they are invited to negotiate ways of manipulating the budget, can’t they refuse? Well, I have avoided talking about anything about the executive arm of government; I have avoided talking about the Senate through out my interviews. I want to talk about the institution that I belong to and an institution I know that when I say somebody has stolen, he has stolen.

How can we avoid budget padding and budget fraud in the future?

Follow the rules. When the MTEF comes take it straight to the first reading. Don’t start going here and there pretending to be consulting stakeholders because it is usually a tool of blackmail by the Speaker on the executive.

After the first reading, take it through to the second reading and after the debate you refer it to the committee. Allow the committee to do its job. Allow the chairmen of finance and appropriation committees to do their job. After that, they will engage the relevant ministers who are their own ranks.

It is not you the Speaker; you can’t leave your own job and start doing committee work with the Minister of Budget. I have never seen that happen in the parliament in the past.

It is only in the 8th Assembly and under Dogara that I see a speaker holding a session with a minister. What business have you got with the minister? Where you have issues is with the president.

When you dabble into issues with all these ministers, you will get the issues messed up and in the process you mess up the entire House. When the budget comes, you follow the same rule.

The only thing that will be added to remove all these confusion is that after the second reading, the budget is referred to the Committee on Appropriation, which in turn will refer it to the various committees. They now engage the MDAs after which they bring back their reports to the appropriations committee, where these reports are collated. After this exercise, then you go into the delicate period.

Why do you call it a delicate period?

The tradition is that when the appropriation committee finishes its work, they will take it to the Clerk of the House. But before that happens, there had been a tradition that is faulty; the estimates go back to the floor without the details.

This is where the problem comes because it is these estimates without details that the House passes. Then, the appropriation committee takes its time to work out the details.

When this is done, you as Chairman of Appropriation Committee will take it directly to the clerk and that is the budget. Now, the delicate period is from that period where the committee finishes its work and when the budget goes to the clerk.

That was the period in the 2016 budget process that Dogara took over my secretariat twice and that was where the whole padding was done. That was where the whole budget fraud was committed in the name of harmonization of the budget.

Remember that the Deputy Speaker, Lasun, headed the harmonisation committee, they frustrated the budget process because they wanted harmonization.

They took over the secretariat from me and all the insertions they made, I have taken the evidence and given it to the antigraft agencies. I was not lying when I said the speaker and three others inserted N20 billion worth of wasteful projects.

When I said that they wanted to force me to put in N30 billion worth of projects, I wasn’t lying. The whole evidence is there. All the mess they put inside the budget, how they removed N40 billion out of the N100 billion Zonal Intervention Fund for the entire National Assembly.

They took it and shared it among themselves. The records are there. But we will get to that point where arrests and prosecution will start because this is a very huge crime against the country.

What do we need to do to stop these corrupt activities?

It’s simple. No budget should be passed in isolation of estimates or details. By the time the appropriation committee finishes its job, it has to finish it with the details. Both the estimates and the details should go to the floor of the House at the same time, so there will be no wuruwuru and even if you as the Speaker go and pad the budget, members of the House will see it by the time the document gets to the floor.

So this is one fundamental adjustment that needs to be done. But if you notice now, they are saying they gave set up a reform committee to do this and do that. What do you want to reform? It is a lie!

There is nothing to reform in the budget process. It is simple. Everybody knows where the problem is but we are not ready to address it.

Let me ask you again; is it possible for padding to take place without the connivance of executive? I don’t want to talk about the executive. Is it the executive that inserts the projects?

Over time, the House has deceived and blackmailed Nigerians psychologically with this issue of powers over appropriations. So because people don’t still understand it, you have a responsibility to understand the issue and enlighten the people.

The National Assembly has the powers to appropriate but what we are saying is that you have been misusing this power or you have been using the powers to commit fraud.

When you now go into the budget and the Minister of Health brings his budget and you, the Chairman of the Committee on Health decide to alter the budget the way you like, what do you expect? About 10 committee chairmen committed the fraud that I have been talking about and they are all fighting me now.

They are those of power, health, water resources, education and so on. I have given the evidence to the anti-graft agencies. For instance, education committee has 181 new projects insertions; water resources has 310; health has 300 and Niger Delta, 79. Where do you see that happening in any part of the world where you put in 2000 projects in a budget in which you are not the author?

Now those 2000 projects might be appropriate projects but it is almost practically impossible for the executive to bring a budget where the errors are so much that it warrants the inclusion of 2000 additional projects. It is enough to tell you that this is fraud.

If this fraud was entirely that of the House, what about the fact that the president has signed it into law?

Yes, I know you were trying to get there but you did not seem to know how to get there. Some people have said that it is no longer a fraud because it has been signed into law.

But on the contrary, it dies not become an offence until it has been signed into law. It is not an offence until it is signed into law. You haven’t padded or committed budget fraud if for instance you have inserted projects and the budget is yet to be signed into law by the President.

When people say that it is no longer an offence because the budget has been signed into law, I ask them that why is it that sometimes a firm will give out a contract and come back later to say the contract was inflated and that it should be investigated?

The only point in this instance is that the person who signed the budget into law is not liable because by the law, the National Assembly or the House of Representatives has the power to put in projects into budget.

Why do you call your colleagues crooks and want to exonerate the executive from what you call systemic corruption? Isn’t this a ploy to shield the executive so that you could be a prosecution witness?

If you have anything against me, go and report me. After 100 days, isn’t it weird that if I say they are not crooks or fraudulent nobody has gone to submit a petition against me?

If you place so much importance on me, it is irrelevant because the only thing about me is, if someone has an issue with me just like the way I submitted petition, then sign a petition saying Jibrin padded the budget, 259 members sign it and take your evidence to the EFCC.

I have taken 13 people to the anti-graft agencies. If you look at it logically, do not invest your energy in that. I think you should be fair to me.

On the executive arm, I am fearless when it comes to all those issues and the rest. The point I am making is that, I am not taking on the whole country. People should also come and assist in doing this.

One person cannot take on the whole of Nigerians, but I am tackling the institution I know very well, the House of Representatives, where I have evidence. If you take the case of inviting the ministers to a meeting, you might be unfair to them because if a House leader or principal leaders of the House invite a minister, they have to go.

You said the master stroke that Dogara used to blackmail was running cost, just how massive is this running cost, what does it amount to?

As far as I am concerned, it is the biggest scam I have ever known in the history of this country. It is embarrassing and disgraceful and by the time the investigation gets to a particular level, Nigerians would know how shocking it looks and what such monies are being used for and that is why members cannot talk.

Everyone is keeping quiet because Dogara has used it to blackmail them. Even after the issue came out, I heard from good authority that they had an executive session where he said he would live and die to protect the running cost.

It is because people have not heard a public officer in this way, it looks like a joke but this is the fact of what is going on and he said they would all live and die together with the issue of the running cost, that’s why everyone is following him.

The implication is that as a speaker, you have already become a lame dog, nobody respects you, and all the members know that you have a lot of allegations tied to your neck.

Even to the executives, you cannot assert your authority because every day, you will be following the authority and begging them to do their biddings because you are afraid that anything you do, you would be arrested because the allegations raised against you are facts.

On a lighter note, it appears you would not be able to attend the sitting before the end of the session?

Aren’t you missing the House? I miss working for my people, I miss serving my constituency, I miss serving Nigeria but I would never miss the individual and systemic corruption that I know is in abundance in the House of Representatives.

If they give you the option again to apologise and return, would you say sorry?

Mark it or quote me, I will never apologise. I prefer to remain consistently suspended until the end of the next three years. After the next three years, I will pick it up with them.

You said you are not going to talk about the senate, but there is an allegation that you sideline Senator Danjuma Goje and did everything about the budget yourself?

That is why I said there is no reason involving the executive because when it comes to appropriation matter, the House has the power over appropriation and that is why when some people raised the issue that how can the leadership of the House distribute N40 billion, what about the senate?

I said to them maybe one or two people would have benefitted from that 40 billion in the Senate but distribution and decision was made in the House by four principal officers because the House has power over appropriation and as at today of course the appropriation secretariat of the House is sealed because that is where the action takes place, that is the secretariat that hosts the appropriation activities.

In the Senate, there is nothing there; it is empty and so even when you have reports of same committee from the Senate and the House, if there is any difference, that of the House supersedes. The house has more powers over appropriation and naturally, it has more influence than the Senate over appropriation matters.

Some of your colleagues have said you have no respect for them, that you are not accessible and very arrogant. Is that who you are?

I have tried my best, I came into the House at a young age and I was saddled with very huge responsibilities. I tried to study the parliament and how it operates; I tried to do my job and mind my business but unfortunately as much as I tried to do that, somebody from outside might view you in a way that he doesn’t understand you. But as a person, I know that I am a people’s person. I relate well with my colleagues.

The problem with the job of appropriation is that your colleagues will think you can do magic because the chairman of appropriations is assumed to have larger than life powers but it is just a myth.

There is no reality in it. It is a kind of job that the moment you pick it, you get more people against you than for you but I think with every sense of modesty I have never been accused of being someone who has not been able to manage his relationship in life.
Even in the House, I still continue to have a lot of friends that call me now and then. The only line between us is the running cost issue, otherwise, most of them, I can have a bet with you, would have been lining up with me today.

For instance, if Nigerians could come around today and say, we have forgiven the House of Representatives on the running cost issue, nobody would be prosecuted, believe me, within 24 hours, they will impeach Dogara because of this budget crime and other corruption issues. But the running cost issue is a huge problem and none of them want the matter to be touched.

How much is the running cost?

Members collect about N10 million every month. In the past from when I came into the National Assembly till date, there had been a situation where N10 million has been collected, sometimes between N10 to about N20 million monthly.

There is this joke that everybody knows me with in the National Assembly, I used to tell them in the House that only footballers and basket ballers are known to collect such allowances.

To make matters worse, there is a kind of an arrangement, that ensures that the cumulative of that amount is paid to you upfront. That is why you see someone comes into the National Assembly with nothing, after swearing-in, he is already buying a car of N20 million.

There is a fraudulent arrangement. For instance, if what you take is from N20 million per month that brings it to about N900 million for four years. There is a fraudulent arrangement that ensures you could get even up to half of that money instantly. It is such a mess.

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