Embattled Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, on Saturday backtracked on his comments that lawmakers cannot be probed for carrying out their legislative duties, in an apparent bid to contain the fallout of his claim that the public outrage over the budget padding scandal was misplaced.
“As an Officer in the Temple of Justice, Dogara not only owes unalloyed allegiance to the judiciary but also to the institutions of law enforcement,” Mr. Dogara said in a statement signed by his media aide, Turaki Hassan. “He indeed swore to an Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Mr. Dogara’s shift in tone highlights the impact the scandal, which has remained in the headlines since it first emerged three weeks ago, has had on his political life.
The Speaker has made concerted efforts to push back on allegations that he fraudulently manipulated the 2016 budget to the tune of N40 billion, describing those leading the calls for his prosecution as ignorants.
“Recent efforts seeking to discredit the document are a consequence of inadequate knowledge of the legal framework governing appropriation in a presidential democracy,” Mr. Dogara said at a forum Thursday.
The remark, and other ones he made before it earned him widespread criticism from Nigerians, with many describing his defiance as a hint of his guilt.
But in his latest statement, Mr. Dogara tried to defend the privileges of legislators while also reassuring the public that they weren’t above the law.
“Dogara should not be portrayed as insensitive or arrogant as this is contrary to his true nature of humility and humaneness that has endeared him to his colleagues and Nigerians.”
The disclaimer marked a sharp contrast with Mr. Dogara’s previous public utterances on the demands for a thorough enquiry into the scandal, which he repeatedly played down.
“It doesn’t even make sense and they have forgotten about Section 30 of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act, and others” which says “most of the things we do in the National Assembly are privileged,” Mr. Dogara said during his speech at the forum which was organised by the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center.
“They cannot be grounds for any investigation on the procedure or proceedings to commence against a member of parliament, either the Speaker or the President of the Senate, once they are done in the exercise of their proper functions.”
Mr. Dogara’s position has continued to change as the scandal evolved from what initially appeared like a routine disagreement amongst lawmakers into a full-blown national embarrassment, sparking relentless demand for his resignation from everyday Nigerians and civic groups.
On his Twitter page Saturday, Mr. Dogara said he “had initially chosen to remain silent,” about the allegations, which came largely from Kano lawmaker, Abdulmumin Jibrin, but now speaking to Nigerians because he had suddenly realised that “communication is key.”