Indeed, the media has been awashed with the word “padding” after the 2016 budget estimates was submitted to the joint session of the National Assembly in December 2015. The lawmakers went on Christmas and New Year break shortly after the budget was presented by President Muhammadu Buhari. On resumption from the break, it was later discovered that the original budget estimates had been tempered with by an “unseen hand”.
Following the allegation that trailed the budget padding, President Buhari immediately approved the appointment of Tijjani Abdullahi as the new Director-General in charge of the Budget Office of the Federation. The president also approved the appointment of Ben Akabueze as the Special Adviser on Planning to the Minister of Budget and National Planning.
Before the much touted “executive padding” could settle down, that of the National Assembly, precisely in the House of Representatives, hit the airwaves like a thunder bolt.
Abdulmumin Jibrin was eventually removed as the appropriation committee chairman of the House of Representatives after it was discovered that he used his position to allocate over 20 projects to his constituency in the 2016 budget, thus raising the total sum to about N4bn. Shortly after his removal, Jibrin alleged that Dogara requested for the insertion of about N30 billion worth of personal projects in the budget. He also accused the the Deputy Speaker, Hon Yussuff Lasun and the entire body of principal officers – the Chief Whip, Hon. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa and the Minority Leader, Hon. Leo Ogor of inserting personal projects in the 2016 budget worth up to N100 billion.
While some lawmakers argue that padding is not corruption, others insist that padding is an act of corruption and those involved should be prosecuted accordingly.
One lawmaker, who argued that padding is not corruption, is the Chairman, House Committee on Army, Hon. Rima Shawulu. He is of the view that they are in the National Assembly to attract projects to their constituencies. The lawmaker maintained that padding has no definition as far as legislative process is concerned.
“Well, I have no definition for padding as far as legislative process is concerned. But, I know that the House procedure on money bill, which derives its powers from the constitution, gives every member the right to speak for five minutes during debate on money bills.
“After reading the bill for the second time, the rule provides that it shall be committed to the Committee on Appropriation. Other standing committees automatically become sub-committees of the committee on appropriation.
“The sub-committees consider the budgets of MDAs and report back to the committee on appropriation. Now, after deliberating on the report of the sub-committees, it shall then report to the main House. This procedure was breached by Jibrin.
“What does budget padding mean in law? Let me tell you one truth; we are all here in the National Assembly to attract projects to our constituencies. Assuming there was padding for the sake of argument, the person who single-handedly did the padding was Jibrin”, Shawulu asserted.
Even the Speaker, Hon Yakubu Dogara has insisted that budget padding is not an offence.
According to him, “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. If I don’t know, you are the media, research the law and let me know”.
The presidency has even made bold to say that padding is not corruption. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang has dismissed the budget padding allegations by Jibrin. He said there is nothing like padding in the legislature.
“In all our years of legislative engagement, we have yet to find in the legislative lexicon the word, ‘padding.’ When the budget is presented before the legislature, the legislature is to consider the budget and pass as it deems fit.
“So, what the legislature passes becomes the appropriation act upon assent. Therefore, any word which has yet to crystallise in legislative lexicon, you cannot hear us mention it”, Enang noted.
But on the contrary, Speaker of the Kwara State House of Assembly, Dr. Ali Ahmad, argued that even though there is legitimate padding of budget, the changes must be known to the relevant committees and the entire House. Ahmad, however, described the imputation of items and amounts into the budget not approved by the relevant committees and the House as corruption.
“When a budget is presented before the House of Assembly, for instance, from the president to the National Assembly, it is the duty of the legislature to look into the budget proposal, make necessary additions or subtractions of both the items and the amounts budgeted for. The changes, however, must be known to the relevant committees and the whole House.
“The legitimate padding which involves the House analysing the budget items and the amounts, to know their relevance and feasibleness, is a normal legislative function.
“The imputation of items and amounts into the budget, unknown and not approved by the relevant committees and the House as illegitimate budget padding.
“Budget padding depends on what we mean by budget padding. We have heard of a lot of stories about it and by now, Nigerians should be educated enough about legislative process. Nigerians know very little about legislative process.
“Our belief is that once the president lays the appropriation bill, it should come out the way it is laid. So any addition or subtraction is not good. If that is what we mean by padding, then it is wrong.
“Today some of the members are saying that somebody inserted something that the whole house is not aware of. If there is evidence to that, then that is illegal padding.
“Illegal padding is corruption because you are corruptly using the name of the House, putting something in the budget which the House does not know and which after signing you can now go and use it and the House does not know. That one is corruption”, Ahmad explained.
Similarly, the Deputy Speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly, Mr. Fatai Olotu, maintained that Dogara should stop defending the act of padding because it is a corrupt practice and called on him to resign and allow thorough investigation into the matter. Olotu described budget padding as a corrupt practice and blamed President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the All Progressives Congress for keeping silent on the matter.
Perhaps, the current budget padding allegations has certainly confirm what former President Olusegun Obasanjo said about thieves and rogues occupying the National Assembly. In 2012, Obasanjo described the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly as institutions filled with “rogues and armed robbers”. He, however, said the best way out of the current mess was to ensure that only men of integrity are elected into the National Assembly.
In the 2016 budget, about N6.06 trillion was approved by the National Assembly. Out of this figure, N100 billion was set aside as zonal intervention funds. As has been the tradition, the Senate takes N40bn, while the House takes N60bn. The leadership of the two chambers takes N40bn of the fund and the remaining N60bn is shared among the six geo-political zones at N10bn. The zones in turn share the envelope among the states equally. Afterwards, members now nominate projects to the tune of the amount of money that is in the envelope.
But unfortunately, some lawmakers, especially committee chairmen, now connive with some of these bureaucrats at the ministries, departments and agencies of government to make unnecessary and indiscrimate insertions to their respective constituencies.
These lawmakers are fond of saying that the constituency funds are normally dociled with the relevant ministry and what they normally do was to initiate the projects and leave the ministry to execute. But it has been found out that some of them sell it in the process or connive with the relevant persons to inflate the contract sum.
Of course, budget padding could be described as corruption depending on who padded what, how and when the padding took place. Whether the word “padding” is unknown in legislative lexicon or not does not really matter as long as the act has a hidden and dishonest agenda.
In this case, the other accused persons will be as guilty as Jibrin, who has been relieved of his position, if they are eventually found to have dishonestly padded the budget to their own advantage.