Justice Suleiman Belgore of Abuja High court sitting in Apo on Tuesday said the decision by the leadership of the House of Representatives to obtain a bank loan and increase the running cost of each legislator from N27m to N42m per quarter, although morally wrong, is not a criminal offence.
The judge therefore upheld the no case submission made by the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole and his deputy, Usman Bayero Nafada.
Justice Belgore reasoned that the legislature is independent of the executive and so it is free to determine its running cost without recourse to the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal commission.
The Judge said the legislators are at liberty to fix what it deems necessary as running costs for its members. Mr. Belgore also said acquiring a loan and disbursing same as running costs is not a violation of any financial regulation.
“It was not a salary increase or allowance increase but increase in running cost, there was no linkage of the accused with conspiracy or theft which has been established.” Justice Belgore said.
Counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Festus Keyamo, however countered the argument put forward by the judge insisting that section 70 of the 1999 constitution as amended recognizes only the RMAFC as the body authorized to fix all kinds of payment to the lawmakers.
“A member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall receive such salary and other allowances as the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission may determine,” the section states.
Mr. Keyamo argued that the phrase ‘other allowances’ encompasses ‘running costs’ which covers monies collected by public officers to offset expenses other than wages.
Justice Belgore equally exonerated Messrs. Bankole and Nafada over criminal breach of trust because, constitutionally, their powers did not include control of the accounts of the House of Representatives; therefore they were not entrusted with those accounts.
While the court agreed that Mr. Bankole was actually the approving authority regarding expenditure, in conjunction with the Clerk of the House of Representatives, the Court said this was only an illegal usurpation of the powers of the Clerk of the House of Representatives.
Justice Belgore also said the duo cannot be held for theft since the money used was sourced as a loan which was fully repaid.
“The accused did not benefit from the loan. There was no theft as it was a loan that has being liquidated and it was provided for in the budget.”
Counsel to EFCC totally disagreed with the postulations of the judge. A press release signed by the Lagos-based lawyer questioned the judge’s line of thought.
“Since the court had arrived at a conclusion that Bankole usurped the powers of the Clerk of the House of Representatives, should he not be held accountable for misusing that power he usurped? We think he should.” Mr. Keyamo said.