I am told, and I hope I am right, that actions and words of members of parliament, taken, or spoken, inside the parliament, constitutes actions against which no criminal or legal actions can be brought against. I just hope this is wrong. Someone tell me it is not true please. If however it is factual, and also stated in the Powers and Privileges Act of Nigeria’s parliament, this time of the House of Representatives, then, I doubt the result which Jibrin’s invitation to the Police will achieve.
Abdulsalam Adamu Jafaar
There is always a time, in the quarrel between persons, when the emotive self takes the back seat and reason begins to dictate further actions. I think that time is now. In the quarrel between erstwhile Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin and the quartet of Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Yusuf Lasun, Alhassan Doguwa and Leo Ogor, there seems to be one central narrative –the emotive narrative which stems from public angst against official corruption and the chastisement of members of the public by lack of basic needs.
In this emotive outburst, we seem to have already reached conclusions based on allegations by Jibrin. This is not to say that we have mistaken Jibrin’s allegations for truth. No! Rather, we have expressed ourselves in line with government proclivity for name and shame, which however leaves the named without room for defence except in the law court. Even that too, is subject to doubt. Of course, we are humans and counting from our experiences, some of which are built on wrong premise, those experiences may be wrong.
Don’t be lost here. What I am driving at is the need for us, as a people, to always apply the brakes and reason though certain allegations when they hit the headlines. Having flowed with Jibrin, I want to invite you to also sit back and ask questions.
First, was Dogara right when he said there is no such crime in our law books called ‘padding’? The emotive mind would say he was wrong. The rational mind would say he was right. Mind you, Jibrin has at no time accused Dogara, Lasun, Doguwa and Ogor of alteration of the appropriation bill, which, legally, would have constituted an offence if taken outside the purview of the legislative functions and privileges of lawmakers in working on the appropriation bill. Jibrin has also not accused the quartet of forging the appropriation bill. He also did not accuse them of falsification of document. His allegations had rested on the question of padding.
Legally, and procedurally, the parliament is allowed to alter the appropriation bill, like it does any other bill that comes to it for action. Like every other bill, the appropriation bill does not become law until it had gone through the process of legislative scrutiny, during which lawmakers make input and re-adjust expenditures in such a manner that it reflects the cause of a true federal state. This means that by virtue of the privileges enjoyed by lawmakers, they are empowered by rules of parliament, to work on the appropriation bill. This suggests a thorough examination which would necessarily lead to adjustments. These adjustments may also come by way of addition of items which were overlooked in the process of preparing the budget.
If we argue that such adjustments are illegal to the extent of working on the appropriation bill is concerned, we therefore suggest that there is no need for a parliament; we further suggest that the executive has no need to forward an estimate of income and expenditure to the parliament for scrutiny and approval. That scrutiny comes by way of first reading, second reading, defence by MDAs and eventually, passage. During this process, adjustments are made. The only time at which adjustments can no longer be made on the appropriation bill is when it had been signed into law by the President. Any alteration at this point becomes criminal. Not even the President is allowed, by law, to alter the Appropriation Act. However, the constitution allows the president to adjust the Appropriation Act only by way of a supplementary appropriation bill, which must also be sent to the parliament for scrutiny and adjustment.
Understand with me that elementary government teaches us that it is for the legislature to make laws, the executive is to implement and the judiciary is to interpret. These are primary functions of the three arms of government. In law making, the parliament does not read through a bill and stamp ‘approved’ on it. It is legally empowered to tinker with it. In our peculiar situation, tinkering with the appropriation act, or adjusting the appropriation act, takes into cognisance the fact that of the two chambers of the National Parliament, it is the House of Representatives that is closest to the people.
House members are elected on local government representation basis while senators are elected on zonal basis. Simple arithmetic concludes that if each member of the House of Representative is, as legally empowered by his privileges through appropriate adjustment of the appropriation bill to be in tandem with federal character principle of the Nigerian constitution, to attract a university to his constituency, there would be, by the end of the fiscal year, 360 universities. That is not the same of senators who are 109. Logically, it means that even development is faster through the House of Representatives.
It is therefore, for this reason, that government in the past, agreed with the parliament to fast-track even development through instrumentality of constituency projects. This, entitled parliamentarians to, as of privilege, introduce projects that would bring government closer to the people. It was for this that Hon. Jibrin, adjusting the 2016 appropriation bill as chairman of the House committee on Appropriation, introduced projects worth over N4billion for his constituency. He personally attested to this fact in an interview on ChannelsTv where he argued that he had rights, as a lawmaker, to adjust the estimates to accommodate projects for the people of his constituency. It is immaterial at this point that though individual members enjoy such privileges, the outcome has been different.
Please, come along with me in this rational excursion. Let’s get back to Jibrin’s argument. He had alleged that the quartet ‘padded’ some N40b into the appropriation bill. Fine! Let us review this. The budget is not a budget until it has been signed into law by the President. Therefore, legally speaking, the quartet could not have adjusted or inserted or padded the budget after it became an Act. Does the rational mind therefore, suggest that the quartet deceived the President, recalled the Appropriation law and made extraneous adjustments in it? I don’t see how possible that is. If you see, tell me. I like to be better informed.
Now, I have been following Hon. Jibrin’s protests, allegations and arguments. I have read details of his complaints to Police. I guess, he submitted the same allegations and arguments to EFCC and ICPC. Cool! He is doing what he believes, as far as his mind could lead him, to be a nationalist act of puritanism. But wait a minute. Is there a concept of immunity in parliament? I am told, and I hope I am right, that actions and words of members of parliament, taken, or spoken, inside the parliament, constitutes actions against which no criminal or legal actions can be brought against. I just hope this is wrong. Someone tell me it is not true please. If however it is factual, and also stated in the Powers and Privileges Act of Nigeria’s parliament, this time of the House of Representatives, then, I doubt the result which Jibrin’s invitation to the Police will achieve. He may have graciously engaged in a futile exercise which Qohelet, the wise one, would describe as chase after the wind.
If it is indeed true, and I hope it is not, that the Powers and Privileges Act provides that no member of parliament can be investigates or prosecuted for the exercise of his/her legislative duties within the allowances of the constitution, then, I will be princely surprised that our brother failed to know this. It may well be that he is unaware of that provision but does ignorance obliterate guilt?
However, while I engage your mind in reasoning along with me on this development, we must also be weary of the fact that the narrative on the legislature as a most corrupt arm of government is a generalised fallacy. Those who hold the view that our legislature is most corrupt have their right to do so. But, they are wrong. Of the 2016 budget of N6.06 Trillion, the National Assembly got some N115billion. This amount serves the National Assembly for the 2016 fiscal year. When National Assembly is mentioned, there is a feeling that it is about senators and representatives. But many do not realise that NASS management, National Assembly Service commission, National Institute of Legislative Studies, Public Complaint Commission with offices and staff in 774 local government areas and state offices, are funded from the same N115b. As it is only N115 billion is made available to service an arm of government. Compare that to about N520billion for the Ministry of Interior and some N400 billion for the Central Bank of Nigeria which also has some N100m free flowing fund for the governor.
Finally, I think we need further engagement with ourselves in understanding the role of the legislature and the sort of work it does. It is not just about sitting and screaming ‘yea’ or ‘nay’. The parliament is, in our own peculiar experience, the weeping baby of our journey into democracy. It is usually for first victim of military adventure into governance. Executive and judiciary are constant. Therefore, I think we all will serve our parliament better when we make efforts to understand the work it does and the privileges available to members. Not every individual member likes to feed on the ignorance of the public. While some may like to take advantage and feed the public wrong information, many want to preserve that institution and also strengthen it for the critical role it must play is ensuring good governance and accountability. So, when next you are hit with certain allegations, tarry awhile; ask questions. Like Socrates said, question is the foundation of knowledge. I ask that I may know.
Did I make sense?
*Jafaar wrote in from Bauchi