Sagay panel begins probe into budget padding, meets Jibrin

The Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, led by Prof. Itse Sagay, on Wednesday, said it had begun “meeting” on the documents submitted to it on the budget padding scandal by leaders of the House of Representatives.

The Executive Secretary of PACAC, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, said this after a meeting the presidential panel held in Abuja with a former Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Abdulmumin Jibrin, who had submitted some documents to PACAC.

Owasanoye confirmed to NAIJANEWSROOM after the meeting with Jibrin that the committee had started considering the petitioner’s submissions and documents.

“What I can tell you now is that we are still meeting on the issue. It is difficult to tell you the outcome or what line of action we are taking next. It will be pre-emptive to say anything at this stage,” Owasanoye said.

Jibrin emerged from the meeting which took place at the secretariat of the PACAC at the Phase 1 of the Federal Secretariat, Abuja, at about 2.49pm on Wednesday, renewing his call for the removal of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, and other principal officers, over the budget padding scam rocking the lower legislative chamber.

Jibrin, who was sacked as the House committee chairman on appropriation for allegedly “abusing” the 2016 budget, had earlier petitioned PACAC, the police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, accusing Dogara, the Deputy Speaker, Yussuff Lasun; the Chief Whip, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa;  and the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, of padding the budget by over N40bn.

Jibrin met with members of PACAC for about four hours on Wednesday following an invitation by the committee.

Fielding questions from journalists after meeting with PACAC members, Jibrin described his deliberations with the committee members as fruitful.

He insisted that Dogara and others had been shown to be corrupt and had lost the moral right to remain in office.

He said, “Yes, we still stand by our position, given the gravity of the allegations against the Speaker, Dogara, Lasun, Ado-Doguwa and Leo Ogor, and the fact that they have not responded to any of the allegations till date.

“Some of these allegations are specific allegations that it will be hard for anybody to deny. We had expected that they should do the honourable thing by resigning and submitting themselves to investigation.

“Of course, the Leader of the House (Femi Gbajabiamila) has led by example; he has submitted himself to the police. But the most important thing is that that position has not changed.

“I want Nigerians to understand that the whole thing is not only about Dogara; it is about changing the system, it is about reforming the system of the House of Representatives.

“I have done my own part of it. I have exposed corruption; I’ve submitted petitions to the anti-corruption agencies and within what is in my control and the control of other members of the National Assembly that believe in this cause, we’ll continue to do everything that we can to ensure that justice is served on Speaker Dogara, Deputy Speaker Lasun, Chief Whip Ado-Doguwa and of course, the House Minority Leader, Leo Ogor.”

Responding to allegations that he owned some posh properties in choice places offshore, he challenged any member of the House of Representatives, with evidence of any crime against him, to personally sign a petition and send same to the anti-graft agencies as he had done against Dogara and others.

He said, “I have also said that anybody who has anything against me should forward it to the anti-graft agencies.

“So far, there is not any member of the House of Representatives that has signed a petition and submitted it to the anti-graft agencies against me.

“Then, additionally, I have written and submitted to the anti-graft agencies and pledged that I will stand as a witness against these corrupt members of the House of Representatives.

“But nobody has done that; no member has come out. All that you’ve seen in the media are proxies; they are using youth organisations here and there to peddle lies. No anti-corruption agency has invited me over any allegation. Not any, up to date. But I will readily submit myself for investigation if such need arises.’’

Jibrin, an All Progressives Congress lawmaker from Kano State, also said the recent twist to his allegation that 10 principal officers of the House had “embezzled” over N10bn allocated as “running costs” between 2003 and this year, was not meant to bring the House of Representatives down.

The officers accused by the lawmaker are Dogara, Lasun; House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila; Ado-Doguwa;  Deputy Leader, Buba Jibril; Deputy Whip, Pally Iriase; Minority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor ;Deputy Minority Leader, Chukwuka Onyeama; Minority Whip, Yakubu Barde; and Deputy Minority Whip, Binta Bello-Maigeri.

He challenged any of them with evidence of judicious use of the funds for the purpose they were meant for to come clean before the public.

“I have said come out to tell the country if you have used it judiciously, if you have not, you will face the law. That is the point. I don’t think anybody should drag the entire House into it.

“The only thing is that those who are corrupt will be flushed out and the institution will remain,” he added.

‘We’ll continue in our offices; we’ve not violated any law’

But Dogara’s office referred NAIJANEWSROOM to the joint statement the Body of Principal Officers of the House issued against Jibrin on August 18.

It said the position of the principal officers was a “sufficient reaction to whatever Jibrin is saying.”

Dogara’s Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Turaki Hassan, said the Speaker had “nothing more to say because the principal officers have said enough.”

On his part, Ado-Doguwa told NAIJANEWSROOM that none of the four principal officers accused by Jibrin would resign because mere allegations did not mean that the four were guilty.

He stated, “Jibrin should know there is a difference between law and morality. Our laws, as enshrined in the constitution, protect the principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

“I, therefore, wonder where the ridiculous Jibrin drew justification for what he claimed.

“We will continue in our offices because we have not violated any law of the land, and above all, we are still enjoying tremendous confidence of our legislative constituents. We will not listen to wishful statements.

“Jibrin should be told that we are operating a modern-day democracy, where the rule of law remains sacrosanct.

“It will be misleading, if at any time, someone could just rise and make unfounded allegations and that alone will cause the resignation of respected government officials.”

N’ Assembly clerk shuns police request

Three weeks after the National Assembly Clerk, Mohammed Sani-Omolori, received a letter from the police, requesting the draft and final copies of the 2016 budget, he has yet to give detectives probing the allegations of budget padding, the required documents.

The PUNCH gathered that Sani-Omolori’s failure to provide the documents to the retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police Ali Amodu-led investigation panel had stalled the probe into the allegations of budget padding against the leadership of the House of Representatives.

It was gathered that the Clerk had travelled to an unknown location and could not be reached.

It was learnt that neither the Clerk nor any bureaucrats had responded to the request of the police panel.

Findings showed that the failure of the National Assembly bureaucrats to submit the required documents was delaying the probe.

Sources informed one of our correspondents on Wednesday that the police panel was expecting the copy of the budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly and the final copy that was passed and returned to the Presidency.

A source said, “The delay in responding to the police’ request by the Clerk is holding up the investigation. The letter requesting the draft copy of the budget and the final copy that was passed and returned to the President was sent about three weeks ago and up till now, the Clerk has not responded. We learnt he has travelled, but the question is: did he travel with the documents?

“We expected the clerk to have sent us the budget copies or delegate another official to furnish us with the copies, but this has not been done. However, we will not be deterred by any moves to frustrate the investigation.”

Sani-Omolori could not be reached on the telephone on Wednesday as several calls made to his mobile did not connect.

Sani-Omolori’s media aide, Andrew Oota, referred NAIJANEWSROOM back to the Clerk when he was told about the police allegation.

He advised one of our correspondents to send a text message to his boss.

The Clerk, however, did not respond to a message sent to him as of press time on Wednesday.

Our correspondents learnt that the detectives needed the two budget versions to identify the grey areas that were allegedly padded.

A source explained that after subjecting the documents to rigorous forensic analysis, collating evidence and arriving at irrefutable conclusion, the panel would then invite the House of Representatives’ leadership for interrogation.

“None of the House leadership will escape interrogation; they would be invited to see the evidence and to defend themselves. The police investigation will be deep and thorough with every angle covered,” the source stated.

Police detectives yet to arrive National Assembly, workers barred

Meanwhile, 31 days after they shut the secretariat of the House committee on appropriation, operatives of the Department of State Services still guard the office.

Findings by NAIJANEWSROOM showed on Wednesday that the operatives barred workers from gaining access into the office.

Investigations also indicated that police detectives had yet to arrive at the National Assembly to comb the office for documents as they had hinted last Saturday.

Sources close to the police panel investigating the alleged ‘padding’ of the 2016 budget had hinted that detectives would visit the office this week to study some documents.

“We are making necessary arrangement anytime in the new week to request the DSS to reopen the secretariat so that we could have access to data and other evidence that were being protected by its operatives,” one police chief had stated.

However, investigations by NAIJANEWSROOM indicated that policemen had yet to visit the office as of the time of filing this report.

One National Assembly official said, “The secretariat remains locked; workers are still not allowed to enter the place.

“It is possible that the police and the DSS are working out the issue regarding how to reopen the office.

“So far, that has not happened to the best of our knowledge.”

The DSS operatives sealed off the secretariat on July 30, a day after Jibrin visited the DSS’ headquarters in Abuja to lodge his ‘budget-padding’ allegations.

Within the same week that he visited the DSS’ headquarters, Jibrin also petitioned the EFCC, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission and the police.

On its part, the House said the allegations would be investigated internally by the Committee on Ethics and Privileges after members would have reconvened on September 13 from their annual recess.

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