A Lawmaker representing Bungudu/Maru Federal Constituency and spokesman, integrity group, of the House of Representatives, Hon. Abdulmalik Zabairu Bungudu, in this interview stated why Hon Femi Gbajabiamila should be probed over the issue of budget padding.
What Is The Integrity Group And How Did It Come About?
The integrity group emerged as a result of the existence of two other groups we have so far in the National Assembly- the group led by the Former Chairman House Committee on Appropriation Abdulmumin jibrin and the recent one called Transparency group. As a result of these groups, almost 36 of us representing each state decided to come together to form the INTERGRITY GROUP.
This is a well-established group formed in three days, and we now have 106 members that have so far registered and by our projections, in the next one week, the membership will increase to more than 200. The group has a website created for members to interact with one another and we have specific contacts when we want to deliberate.
The essence of this group is as a result of what was disclosed by the jibrin and the issue of padding of the 2016 budget. After his disclosure, we heard the response of the house leadership through the spokesman, Abdulrazak Namdas, and recently we also heard the response of the transparency group on the padding. We created this group to serve as a platform to express ourselves on these issues, and there are also other issues beyond these in the 8th National Assembly.
What Is The Position Of The Group On The Padding And The Allegations Against Four Principal Officers Of The House?
The actual position of this group on the issue of padding of the budget is that even though Jibrin had disclosed that the four principal officers had hands in the padding, and the transparency group also accused the four principal officers, the main mission of the integrity group is to make a justification that if we are to have transparency and accountability on the issue of padding, we should not limit it to only four principal officers. We have 10 principal officers in the House of Representatives, and we know that all the principal officers are victims of circumstances in the issue of padding the budget. So there is no justification to pitch the allegation on only four people, so that’s why we want to involve ourselves to make a clarification. All the 10 principal officers of the house must account for their deeds and must come and justify what they are alleged to have done in the padding, including the house leader, Femi Gbajabiamila. He is also a principal officer, so there is no objection in this matter. If it comes to matter of truth, nobody should be objected, everybody must account for his deeds, so the integrity group is talking about all the Principal Officers without exception, we are not talking about only four.
Are You Saying All The 10 Principal Officers Are Involved?
Really, all of them are involved, so they must all come to defend themselves besides, our group will not operate like the others, what we have decided to do is to respect law and order, we have a standing rules which guides the way we operate, so we will follow due process, due in the sense that when we come back from recess, we are going to present a motion which has to be deliberated upon based on the facts we have so far on the issue of padding. From these, we are ready to follow up this matter even if it means going to Court.
Some Nigerians are wondering why this entire crisis started just after Abdulmumin’s removal as chairman of the appropriation committee. How do you react to that?
Really, as we all know, all of us swore to serve our people. So, as a matter of fact, what Abdulmumin is doing is not wrong, even though some are looking at it that he is doing it because he was removed as chairman, yes, some people may look at that, but if you look at it very well, you would realize that what was operating in the National Assembly is just jungle justice. We were elected on equal status, but someone may have the privilege of appropriating up to N3 or N4 billion to his Constituency for his people to benefit, but someone else would have only N40 million to N50 million, there is no justification for this. That’s why even before Abdulmumin disclosed all these, there were serious allegations on the matter, and it was not disclosed openly until when he was removed. But as I have said, there were several meetings on the grievances on the 2016 appropriation, so it came to a time that God helped other members that did not have that privilege to have certain amounts appropriated to their constituencies that Abdulmumin just raised this matter, that I tell you, all the aggrieved members of the National Assembly have interest in this matter and we are going to follow it up to a logical conclusion.
Are you saying Abdulmumin just revealed a routine tampering with the budget which had been going on before now?
As a matter of fact, every member was benefitting from the budget, but the way it was operated this year is entirely different from the way it used to be, what was normally done is that each member had some certain amount to establish certain projects in his or constituency for the benefit of the people, to see the essence and impact of their representation at the national Assembly. There is a sharing formula depending on the and constituency. But this issue of padding that emerged this year is very unfortunate, and is a disgrace to the whole institution as far as the integrity group is concerned.
How do you relate this crisis to the present administration’s anti-corruption posture?
It justified the anti-corruption stand of the president because it is no longer business as usual. This is a government of integrity and people are looking at how it can deliver, but it’s not only the executive people are looking at, they some people who are conscious of this decided to do things that are right when others thought it was a time they could play as usual, but it is very unfortunate, because any member that comes to the National Assembly should come with a vision, since we were elected to come and deliver change by providing the needs of our people. As matter of fact, I want to tell you that this thing has happened, and as far as our group is concerned, we are going to follow it to see that justice is done.
Is that the members of the integrity group are taking this action because they did not benefit?
It is not an issue of whether or not they benefited, we are looking at the institution, and there is no justification to help the allegations on only four principal officials. So we are saying, what about the remaining six who we all know that if well investigated will be linked to the matters? All the 10 members must be investigated and if found guilty must face the law.
What do you think is the likely effect of this crisis on the political stability of the country and the 8th national assembly?
This is the tradition of democracy, and we always expect such things to happen in a democracy because everyone has a right to express his or her views. What happening is not very different from what happened in the 7th assembly? Each comes with a different concept. If you can recall, there was crisis in the 7thAssembly over so many issues.
You spoke about other issues your group is concerned about which you intend to iron out soon, can you briefly touch that?
There is this issue of members’ incentives, it is very unfortunate that members receive their monthly remunerations almost 60 days behind schedule and we have evidence that the National Assembly normally gets its funds from the Federal Government at the right time, so what’s causing the delay? It’s also part of our mission but we just want to start with this one thing and I tell you, as a mature group, we don’t want to start beating about the bush or going up and down, no, we want follow due process by starting this issue of padding when we return from recess, and even if this matter needs to go to court, we are ready to follow it.
Have you as a group tried to find out from the house leadership why your remunerations are being delayed?
We are talking about padding now, but subsequently, the issue of remuneration of members will come up. It will be the next step the integrity group will come up with to ensure that our members receive their salaries at the right time. You can’t imagine that when our salaries arrive at the National Assembly there will be unnecessary delays of up to 50 to 60 days without payment of salaries, even when by the Federal Government at the right time.
Do you have any other message to Nigerians?
Yes, the National Assembly is an institution, and the integrity group is ready to protect the institution. We are not ready to protect individuals, whoever he is, whether a Principal Officer or a floor member. What we after is the institution, that is our main objective, because we should not allow some people to spoil this institution in case in the future when we are not there and other people take over, if we spoil the institution now it will affect our future.