A year after he was sacked by the Supreme Court from the House of Representatives, Herman Hembe is enmeshed in alleged influence peddling leading to insertion of projects worth N827 million in Nigeria’s 2018 budget.
Mr Hembe lost the seat for Vandeikiya/Konshisha Federal Constituency of Benue State in June 2017 after the Supreme Court declared he was not the validly nominated candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), which won the seat for the constituency in 2015.
A year after his sack, investigations by PREMIUM TIMES showed Mr Hembe, an ally of House Speaker, Yakubu Dogara, was still able to influence Nigeria’s 2018 budget leading to the insertion of the projects, particularly through two agencies.
The projects vary in scope but contain incongruous items such as the construction of a road that leads to Mr Hembe’s house in Benue and distribution of motorcycles.
BUHARI LAMENTS INSERTIONS
President Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2018 budget proposal to the National Assembly in November 2017, five months after the Supreme Court sacked Mr Hembe.
After several months, the budget was passed by the National Assembly in May 2018.
During the signing of the budget a month later, Mr Buhari lamented that lawmakers inserted projects worth N578 billion in it.
“The National Assembly made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.
“Some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualised, designed and costed and will therefore be difficult to execute,” Mr Buhari said.
The lawmakers defended their actions, saying they had the right to alter the budget.
Although he condemned the insertions, the president was probably not aware, or at least gave no indication he was aware, that some of the insertions were influenced by someone who had no right whatsoever to tinker with the budget (Hembe).
The president has, however, indicated he would not fund the inserted projects.
THE ‘HEMBE’ BUDGET INSERTIONS
Shortly after he was sacked by the Supreme Court, Mr Hembe was appointed by President Buhari as chairman of the governing board of Michael Imodu National Institute of Labour Studies (MINILS).
The institute, which is located in Ilorin in Kwara State, is a parastatal under the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
The institute, according to labour ministry’s website, is saddled with the responsibility of undertaking initiatives aimed at building the capacity of workers and their union; promoting exchange between industrial relations parties in the interest of industrial harmony; developing international linkages to encourage best practices and global solidarity and advancing the frontiers of knowledge on labour matters.
It is in the budget of this institute, whose function is purely administrative, that Mr Hembe allegedly influenced the insertion of a large chunk of the projects, about N652 million.
Also, even though the institute is based in Kwara State, 12 of the 28 projects approved for the institute by lawmakers are located in Mr Hembe’s constituency in Benue State, outside the jurisdiction of the institute.
The inserted projects under MINILS include construction of a road that leads to Mr Hembe’s personal house in Makurdi, Benue State at N95 million.
The road, popularly known as Nyor Hembe Road was disguised in the budget to read ‘Nyor H Road’, possibly to avoid suspicion.
Other projects include construction of a solar-powered borehole and streetlights in eight communities of Mr Hembe’s constituency at the cost of N50 million, and supply of 100 motorcycles at N37.5 million.
Others range from construction of classrooms, rural electrification, construction of town halls, supply of tractors and sinking of boreholes all valued at N465 million.
These projects shocked the labour ministry, whose spokesperson was surprised when told about them.
“The place is like our university, members of NLC, TUC go there for training,” Sam Olowookere, the labour ministry spokesperson, said.
“Even Labour members from Ghana and other countries come to Nigeria to train there,” he added, expressing surprise that the institute had road construction projects in a separate state, Benue, in its budget.
Mr Olowookere told this newspaper that the mandate of the institute is to train members of the labour unions and as such it could not embark on such projects.
For specific enquiries on how the insertions came to be, he said such should be made to the spokesperson of MINILS, whom he identified as Wale and provided his phone number.
However, calls and text messages sent to Mr Wale did not go through as at the time of filing this report.
Apart from the labour institute, another agency through which the insertions were made is the Lower Benue River Basin Development Authority (LBRBDA).
OTHER BUDGET INSERTIONS
Mr Hembe, who defected to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after his sack from the House of Representatives, allegedly influenced the addition of two projects worth N175 million in the authority, under the Ministry of Water Resources.
The two projects are both located in Mr Hembe’s constituency. One is an earth dam at Tse-Saior Gbogbo Konshisha Local Government Area of Benue State at N100 million and another earth dam at Mbajor, Mbawar, Konshisha Local Government Area of Benue State at N75million.
The head of the LBRBDA confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that the two projects, like most others in the agency’s budget, were inserted by federal lawmakers.
Mayas Adoyi, Executive Director (Engineering) of Lower Benue River Basin Development Authority, said lawmakers often inserted their zonal intervention projects to the line items of his agency’s budget.
“In the course of the budgetary process and preparation, projects that do not emanate from the agency appear under its budget because maybe somebody has put it as a zonal intervention,” Mr Adoyi said; explaining that he could not say who specifically inserted the two Benue earth dam projects because he does not have the details yet.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr. Hembe, he denied any role in the determination of the controversial projects.
He said there was no way he could influence the budgetary process of the House ”since he is no longer a member of the house”.
“That is impossible. I am not a member of the House anymore and as such the allegations are baseless,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
“The purported road that you said links my house in Makurdi is a public road, there is nothing wrong in constructing a public road.”
He accused his political opponents of being behind the allegation.
“I know this is coming from the ‘person’ who replaced me (Mato). I advise her to go and prepare for the election, the Supreme Court won’t help this time around.”
Despite Mr Hembe’s claim, multiple sources in the House of Representatives as well as persons very close to the sacked lawmaker confirmed he influenced the insertions.
IF NOT HEMBE, WHO ELSE
If Mr Hembe did not influence the insertions, it could have only been done by his successor in the House, Dorathy Mato.
Lawmakers told this newspaper it was ordinarily impossible for such constituency projects to be inserted in the budget without the active input of the lawmaker representing that constituency.
“Why will I abandon my constituency and propose a project for another?” a lawmaker, Johnson Agbonayinma (Edo-APC), told this newspaper.
“I have never heard of it.”
Mr Agbonayinma said the only time a constituency project can be sited in a location without the consent of its representative is when it is brought by the executive in the budget proposal; which is not the case in that of the controversial projects.
In other words, either Mr Hembe or his successor, Ms Mato, is responsible for the projects.
MATO ALSO DENIES
“I only saw the projects in the budget. I don’t know where they came from,” Ms Mato, inaugurated on October 12, 2017, told PREMIUM TIMES.
She added that most of the projects she requested for were not granted, but instead ”she saw strange projects in the approved budget that she did not ask for”.
The Chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, Mustapha Dawaki, and House spokesperson, Abdulrazak Namdas, did not reply PREMIUM TIMES enquiries on the insertions.
The multi-million naira insertions, however, add to the controversies surrounding Mr Hembe since his sack by the Supreme Court.
When the Supreme Court sacked Mr Hembe in June 2017, the court not only ordered he vacate office for Ms Mato, who was the authentic APC candidate in 2015, he was also ordered to pay her N1.2 million as damages.
That payment is yet to be made.
Mr Hembe was also ordered by the Supreme Court to refund to the National Assembly, within 90 days all monies he collected as salaries and allowances.
There is no evidence he and other lawmakers so sacked by the Supreme Court refunded such monies. The National Assembly has refused to reply PREMIUM TIMES enquiries on the matter.
Mr Hembe is not new to controversy. As chairman of the House Committee on Capital Market, Mr Hembe conducted a controversial probe of the capital market collapse that ended with allegations that he demanded up to N30 million from the Securities and Exchange Commission — a body his committee supervised. Then director general of the commission, Arunma Oteh, said Mr Hembe and other members of the committee also illegally took money from the commission purportedly for a conference in Dominican Republic, but failed to attend the event. Amidst the uproar that followed, Mr Hembe was suspended as committee chairman by speaker Aminu Tambuwal. The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission later tried unsuccessfully to prosecute Mr Hembe.