A rights advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, has faulted the claim by the Speaker of House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara that “budget padding is not a crime under Nigerian law.”
According to the organisation, “budget padding is corruption.”
Dogara had been in the eye of the storm since the former Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, accused him and three other principal officers of the House of padding the 2016 budget to the tune of about N400bn.
SERAP had written petitions to anti-graft agencies in the country calling for the probe of Dogara and others and also demanded their resignation from office pending the outcome of the probe.
SERAP, in a statement on Sunday by its Executive Director, Adetokunbi Mumuni, in response to Dogara’s comment where he reportedly said he was unperturbed by the raging budget padding allegation as he believed that budget padding was not recognised by any Nigerian law.
Dogara was quoted to have said that, “Budget padding is not an offence. What is padding? I studied Law and I have been in the legislature and all this period I have never heard of the word padding being an offence under any law…Why should I be worried. As far as I am concerned, I am not worried over anything.”
SERAP, however, argued that contrary to Dogara’s view, budget padding was tantamount to corruption, which was against Nigerian laws.
The group said budget padding was in the class of offences such as abuse of office, embezzlement, diversion and misappropriation of public funds, conspiracy to act corruptly and illicit enrichment, which, it said were a violation of the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party.
SERAP also argued that provisions of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act and the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act criminalise budget padding.
It said, “The allegations against Mr. Dogara and other principal officials of the House of Representatives also suggest a subversion of the budget process, which in itself is a crime but also a fundamental breach of constitutional provisions and an affront to internationally recognized human rights.
“A prima-facie case of corruption is established when elected officials are allegedly influenced to act contrary to their obligations of office by the prospect of financial gain to themselves.
“Budget padding also amounts to corruption as the action is against the public interest. Any appearance of corruption in the budget process can result in a cynical public to losing interest in political participation altogether. And democracy can’t work unless Nigerians have faith in those who govern.”
SERAP reiterated its demand for Dogara’s resignation to allow for an effective and transparent investigation and the allegations against him and others.
It said failure of Dogara to resign would seriously undermine the ability of the House of Representatives to function as “a watchdog and credible guardian of the public interest would be seriously compromised.”