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Budget Padding Scandal: Nemo Judex In Causa Sua, By Godwin Onyeacholem

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…the Speaker, being one of the accused, worsened his case with the clear violation of a sacred legal maxim through that House resolution presided over by him… There can be no better example of sitting as a judge in your own cause. This is against the principle of natural justice, equity and good conscience.

Very few Nigerians will be amazed by the way the House of Representatives handled the allegations of budget padding and abuse of office which Abdulmumin Jibrin, former Chair on Appropriation, levelled against a fraction of the House leadership including the Speaker, Yakubu Dogara; Deputy Speaker, Yusuf Lasun; Minority Leader, Leo Ogor; Chief Whip, Alhassan Ado Doguwa, as well as 10 other members of the House. To ensure that the issue remains on the plate, Jibrin has been consistent in issuing statements through both the traditional and new media, which clearly identify Dogara, Lasun, Ogor and Doguwa as the main targets of his charge. And to press the point, he rightly labeled the clique the QUARTET.

But even in this atmosphere of suffocating change, nothing seems to have changed in the National Assembly, at least not in the House of Reps. Instead of investigating his allegations, the House in its typical, ever-evolving Machiavellian antics that the Nigerian populace has witnessed since the beginning of the Fourth Republic, presented a dubious resolution summoning Jibrin, himself the hunter as Professor Olatunji Dare, the ace satirist, would have characteristically put it, to appear before an ethics and privileges committee. Talk of the hunter being hunted. It’s as if there are no more people with conscience in the green chamber.

And the “honourables” scheming to nail Jibrin at all cost executed their act with a well-choreographed carnival-like fanfare, prancing about the floor without shame, hugging and back-slapping, each brandishing green scarves with the inscription: ‘I Stand with Dogara’. In the end, what ought to be a solemn occasion for demanding answers to the issues raised by Jibrin in the interest of public good, was turned into a grand spectacle of pure self-service and reckless endorsement of corruption.

Though originally well-spoken of by the public, the lawmakers by determinedly choosing the option of closing their eyes to the accused and turning the heat on the accuser shot themselves in the foot. That ugly display on the floor of the House has further reduced their worth in the eyes of the people.

And Dogara should know better. An experienced lawyer that he is, the Speaker knows the meaning of the well-worn Latin phrase deployed in the second leg of the title of this piece. Translated in English it means that, “No one should be a judge in his own cause.” It’s a legal principle that forbids any person from assuming the role of a judge in a case in which he/she has an interest. In this particular case of budget padding and corruption in the House, Dogara, the Speaker of the House is one of the accused persons; to that extent, he is an interested party.

…by refusing to step down and subject himself to investigation, the Speaker leaves one with no other option than to deduce that he has something to hide or, at best, that he is indeed guilty of the allegations against him.

If the House must then investigate as it should the allegations against him and others, the logical step to take is for him to step down from his position as Speaker and allow for a colleague to be elected as Speaker for the purpose of presiding over the investigation. If at the end of investigation he is acquitted, he returns to his seat as Speaker. It’s such a simple process that anyone who is not aiming at covering up would easily accede to in order to preserve honour and integrity. But by refusing to step down and subject himself to investigation, the Speaker leaves one with no other option than to deduce that he has something to hide or, at best, that he is indeed guilty of the allegations against him.

Anyone would be forgiven for drawing this conclusion, given the desperation with which Dogara exploited his position as Speaker to finagle a resolution of the House, glossing over the budget fraud and corruption allegations involving him, and instead recommending his accuser for a most ridiculous trial for all kinds of reasons including “campaign of calumny and infringing on the integrity of the House as an institution.”

But rather than denigrate the House of which he is a proud member, as claimed by his traducers, the former chairman of appropriation merely stated the facts. And countless times he has challenged any member of the House who has evidence of malfeasance, corruption or abuse of office involving him to make them public. Up till the time of writing this piece, no one has picked up the gauntlet.

In fact, the Speaker, being one of the accused, worsened his case with the clear violation of a sacred legal maxim through that House resolution presided over by him, and directing his accuser to appear before an ethics and privileges committee made up of members appointed by him. There can be no better example of sitting as a judge in your own cause. This is against the principle of natural justice, equity and good conscience.

Besides, there is no way Jibrin will not be found guilty if he appears before the committee headed by Nicholas Ossai, who on July 26 told Premium Times that it was wrong for Jibrin to claim that the 2016 budget was “padded.” According to the report, Ossai said the budget was only “amended.” He was also quoted as saying, “In legislature, you don’t talk about padding. Budget is an appropriation bill and is like other bills that you amend. You know in bills you talk about clauses. Every head in the budget is a clause. So, legislators have power to amend it.” How would he now get justice before a man who has made this one-sided statement?

Still, this country has Jibrin to thank for his unprecedented revelations. Now, the depth of the rot in the House of Reps is in the open. Rather than applaud and encourage those working to crucify him, it will serve this country well to focus on his message and squeeze adjustments from it. It is the way to go if Nigeria is serious about entrenching transparency and accountability in public governance.

Godwin Onyeacholem is a journalist. He can be reached on gonyeacholem@gmail.com

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