The Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara, on Sunday faced calls from civil society groups for him to step aside amidst criminal investigation into the unfolding budget padding scandal.
One of the calls was contained in an open letter written to Mr. Dogara by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, a transparency and accountability think-tank, calling on him and other House principal officers named in the scandal to recuse themselves from office pending the outcome of investigation.
The Transition Monitoring Group, a democracy and civic values watchdog, said the calls for Mr. Dogara was appropriate, adding that authorities should not even stop there but ensure that they “investigate and put him on trial” like the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki.
But a Lagos-based legal practitioner, Liborous Oshoma, said the calls for Mr. Dogara to stand aside was “premature” and “undemocratic.”
Mr. Oshoma said Mr. Jibrin’s allegations must be carefully examined by authorities to determine if charges should be brought against those allegedly involved before any calls for him to step aside could be entertained, saying the case was different from Mr. Saraki’s case.
“I will not advise that the Speaker should stand aside because it’s just an allegation. We’ll be endangering democracy with that kind of attitude,” Mr. Oshoma said.
“If an offence has been established against the Speaker, unlike in Saraki’s case in which allegations were investigated and he was charged.”
Mr. Oshoma, however, said he would demand that Mr. Dogara to stepped aside if but “he should be investigated first.
“Allegations can just be a rumour, I think it would be premature to push him aside now.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, on Sunday slammed the Nigerian secret police, the State Security Service (SSS) for wading into the unfolding budget padding scandal that has engulfed the House of Representatives for more than a week.
Mr. Falana, in a statement Sunday, said the SSS’ mandate was strictly limited to protecting the country against internal security threats, adding that the agency acted outside its powers launching criminal findings into the alleged fraud.
“Having regard to the recent activities of the SSS and the clear provisions of the relevant laws on investigation of corruption and other economic and financial crimes the SSS lacks the moral right and legal powers to interfere in the investigation of the criminal allegation of padding of the budget in any manner whatsoever,” Mr. Falana said.
in his statement Sunday, Mr. Falana said the SSS was far from being the appropriate agency to investigate the matter, saying any action its operatives take on the matter would be nullified by the court.
“More importantly, by virtue of the provisions of the National Security Agencies Act the powers of the SSS are strictly limited to the “preservation and detection within Nigeria of any crime against the internal security of Nigeria.”
Since the padding of the national budget is a straightforward case of economic crime which is not concerned with the internal security of the nation the SSS should not play into the soiled hands of the criminal suspects in the House of Representatives as they may later turn round to challenge the legal validity of any criminal charge arising from a faulty investigation report,” Mr. Falana said.
“The SSS should be called to order as the nation cannot afford to bungle the investigation of the highly placed politically exposed persons involved in the padding of the budget.”
Mr. Falana, therefore, called on the Nigerian government to allow appropriate law enforcement agencies to continue with the case without the SSS, saying only this option would withstand the test of the law.
“In the light of the foregoing, the Police and the anti-graft agencies should be allowed to get to the root of the criminality of budget padding in the national assembly. To facilitate and accelerate the investigation the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives should be compelled to set out the details of the budget of the national assembly.
“However, it ought to be pointed out that the investigation would not be complete if it is not extended to cover the allegation criminal diversion of over N300 billion via constituency projects purportedly executed by past and serving federal legislators. However, to carry out a thorough investigation the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives should be made to give details of the 2016 budget of the national assembly.
“At the end of the investigation all the suspects who are indicted should be charged to court while the funds allegedly stolen by them should be recovered. In addition, the top civil servants who colluded with the legislators to alter the 2016 national budget should be handed over to the Police and anti-graft agencies for investigation and prosecution. This is the time to stop the looting of the treasury through the padding of the budget by civil servants, ministers and legislators.”