The Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, on Sunday faced calls from civil society groups for him to step aside amidst criminal investigation into the unfolding budget padding scandal.
One of the calls was contained in an open letter written to Mr. Dogara by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, a transparency and accountability think-tank, calling on him and other House principal officers named in the scandal to recuse themselves from office pending the outcome of investigation.
Mr. Dogara, his deputy, Yusuf Lasun, House Whip, Alhassan Doguwa, and Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, have faced criticism for allegedly padding the 2016 Appropriation Bill with up to N40 billion earmarked for themselves.
Details and documents relating to the alleged fraud were thrown into the public space by Abdulmumin Jibrin, a lawmaker from Kano State who ceased being the chairman of House Committee amidst disputed circumstances on allegations that he committed serial betrayal of trust against the House leadership and members.
Mr. Jibrin, however, denied the allegations, and immediately launched political and media campaign to have Mr. Dogara and others removed from their positions.
Mr. Dogara and other lawmakers accused of engineering “pervasive corruption” in the House denied all charges against them, saying Mr. Jibrin was acting out of vindictiveness.
Mr. Jibrin’s has, however, remained resolute in his quest to force Mr. Dogara out, visiting law enforcement agencies with documents to compel them to act.
By Friday, the EFCC, ICPC as well as the State Security Service had reportedly commenced broad investigation into the scandal.
A copy of SERAP’s letter seen by this newspaper said, “Following confirmation received by SERAP from the EFCC that it has taken up and looking into SERAP’s petition to the body on the allegations that the leadership of the House of Representatives padded the 2016 budget to the tune of N481 billion, SERAP is now writing to request you to immediately step aside from your position as Speaker of the House of Representatives pending the out outcome of the investigation.”
The letter, dated July 29, 2016, and signed by its executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, SERAP also implored Mr. Dogara to ensure that other officers named in the scandal “step aside from their positions to allow for the investigation by the EFCC and other agencies to go ahead unhindered.”
The group further stated that it had carefully reviewed the documents dumped in the public domain by Mr. Jibrin and concluded that a strong case had been established against the top lawmakers that warranted law enforcement agencies’ investigation.
“SERAP has also reviewed several documents circulating on the internet on the alleged budget padding and we believe that these documents establish a prima-facie case of corruption, which deserves a thorough, transparent, independent and effective investigation by the EFCC and other agencies.”
The group, therefore, reiterated its position that Mr. Dogara and others named in the scandal must stand aside because “the House of Representatives cannot function effectively nor enjoy public trust and confidence as long as the allegations of budget padding continue to trail its leadership.”
The Transition Monitoring Group, a democracy and civic values watchdog, said the calls for Mr. Dogara was appropriate, adding that authorities should not even stop there but ensure that they “investigate and put him on trial” like the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki.
In an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday, Ibrahim Zikirullahi, TMG’s chairman, said Mr. Dogara and other principal officers named in the scandal had allegedly committed grave offences against the Nigerian people.
“What they did is actually a treasonable offence. Because two individuals because of the patronage giving to them can seat and manipulate the budget to the detriment of over 180 million Nigerians.”
Mr. Zirikullahi said the alleged incompetence of the lawmakers in handling the budget was responsible for the delay in forwarding its details to President Buhari, saying the situation marked another proof that the lawmakers “don’t mean well for the Nigerian people.”
“This also tells us that we have not broken away from the past. The past is still haunting us. Those that came in from the PDP, the tendency is still there to continue to make things difficult for the people.”
Mr. Zikirullahi, therefore, urged President Buhari to clamp down on corrupt lawmakers, in order to bring about the much-needed eradication of corruption in public service.
“I think Buhari should damn the consequences,” Mr. Zikirullahi said. “They should be arrested and prosecuted.”
But a Lagos-based legal practitioner, Liborous Oshoma, said the calls for Mr. Dogara to stand aside was “premature” and “undemocratic.”
Mr. Oshoma said Mr. Jibrin’s allegations must be carefully examined by authorities to determine if charges should be brought against those allegedly involved before any calls for him to step aside could be entertained, saying the case was different from Mr. Saraki’s case.
“I will not advise that the Speaker should stand aside because it’s just an allegation. We’ll be endangering democracy with that kind of attitude,” Mr. Oshoma said.
“If an offence has been established against the Speaker, unlike in Saraki’s case in which allegations were investigated and he was charged.”
Mr. Oshoma, however, said he would demand that Mr. Dogara to stepped aside if but “he should be investigated first.
“Allegations can just be a rumour, I think it would be premature to push him aside now.”
Mr. Dogara’s spokesman, Turaki Hassan, did not respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ repeated calls and text messages seeking comments for this story.