JONAS EZIEKE, EUCLID MYKE, Abuja and IBRAHIM KADIRI
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon Yakubu Dogara, has given a seven-day ultimatum to Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin to tender an unreserved apology to him and retract all allegations made against him or face legal action.
A statement issued by the Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs to the Speaker, Mr. Turaki Hassan, on Wednesday stated that the demand was contained in a letter written and addressed to Jibrin by counsel to Dogara, Professor Joash Ojo Amupitan (SAN). It was signed By Professor Joash Amupitan, SAN, who is the Principal Partner of the firm.
Also on Wednesday, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) sent an urgent appeal to Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights urging him to “use your good offices and position to urgently request the leadership of the House of Representatives of Nigeria to explain the alleged padding of the 2016 budget with N481bn.
SERAP argued that removal of critical projects and replacement of such projects with constituency projects, have not only undermined the fight against corruption in the country but also exacerbated extreme poverty and violations of internationally recognized human rights.
However Dogara’s letter, entitled, ‘Request for a retraction and an apology of a libelous press statement issued by you on Monday 25th July, noted that the claims of the former Appropriations Committee chairman, who was removed for padding the budget and other actions, that the speaker is corrupt and abuses his office is aimed at tarnishing his image at home and abroad and is a clear case of libel.
The letter read in part, “We act as solicitors to Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, Speaker of House of Representatives of Three Arm Zone National Assembly Complex, Abuja herein after referred to as “our client” and on whose instructions we write this letter to you.
“The attention of our client has been drawn to a libelous press statement you issued on Monday 25th July 2016 which was made available to members of the press (print and electronic media) titled “The Corrupt Speaker Yakubu Dogara and His 3-Man Cabal”.
“In the said publication, you published words to the following effect concerning our client and three other principal members of the House of Representatives- Honourable colleagues and fellow Nigerians, I wish to make further revelations.
“Speaker Yakubu Dogara and his senior cabal namely Deputy Speaker Lasun, Whip Doguwa and Minority leader Ogor has (sic) promoted corruption so badly in the House that if President Muhammadu Buhari with his disdain for corruption and corrupt people have the slightest idea, he will ban the QUARTET permanently from the Villa before they eventually allow for proper and unbiased investigation by the House.
Mr. Speaker and Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun diverted millions of Naira all in the name of paying for guest houses and official residence.
“The issue became so messy that the Deputy Speaker openly accused Hon. Herman Hembe of short changing them of millions of naira in the deal to the shock of many Hon Members. Speaker Yakubu Dogara frequently abused his office amounting to conflict of interest by soliciting for inappropriate favours from agencies and multinational companies.
“He forced an agency to grant loans and a construction company blackmailed to do some work at his Asokoro ‘plot’. Speaker Yakubu Dogara has carefully designed a scheme to scam Hon Members through deduction from their salaries certain amount of money for a so called mortgage arrangement to build houses for members.
He has been applying every under hand tactics to ensure members agree to the deal.
“Speaker Yakubu Dogara has consistently refused members access to the financial dealings and internal budget of the House. He runs the financial management of the House like a cult aided and abated by the Chairman House services Hon Babanlle Ila.
“It is no longer news that all over the House, Hon Members are aware of the monumental fraud perpetrated by Speaker Yakubu Dogara in this regard. We are even told that this is a child’s play compared to the mess and allegations of money laundering he left behind as Chairman house services in both the 6th and 7th Assembly.
“The EFCC should have something to start working with in respect to his tenure as Chairman House services if they properly dust their files. These members of the body of principal officers were not comfortable with my independent disposition and my refusal to cover up their unilateral decision to allocate to themselves N40bn out of the N100bn allocated to the entire National Assembly.
“The four of them met and took that decision, in addition to billions of wasteful projects running to over 20bn, they allocated to their constituencies. They must come out clean.
“My inability to admit into the budget almost 30bn personal requests from Mr. Speaker and the three other principal officers, also became an issue.”
“By the said publication and without putting to the public any shred of evidence, our client is portrayed as a criminal, corrupt, dishonest, fraudulent, dishonourable and unfit to hold the position of Speaker of House of Representatives.
“Our client’s reputation has further been brought down in the estimation of right thinking members of the society and he has been thrown into public opprobrium, odium, scorn and ridicule.
“Consequently, we consider your publication on the matter as not only libelous but made in bad faith; an act of vendetta owing to your recent removal as the Chairman of House Committee on Appropriation.
“The said publication is also aimed at causing disaffection between Nigerians and members of the House of Representatives.
“Sequel to the above, we have to request you to submit immediately to us a clear and unqualified apology and retraction of the publication in an equally conspicuous position in all the print and electronic media where the publication appeared.
“TAKE NOTICE that in the event of your failure/refusal to comply with the above mentioned demands within seven (7) days of your receipt of this letter, we have further instructions to institute a suit against you in a court of law. If we have to pursue this course, we shall be claiming aggravated and exemplary damages”.
Meanwhile, SERAP petition dated July 27, 2016 and signed by SERAP Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni stated that, “SERAP considers the alleged budget padding, diversion of public funds and abuse of office by the leadership of the House of Representatives as amounting to a deliberate retrogressive action, which cannot be justified by reference to the totality of internationally recognized human rights, and in the context of the obligation to fully use the maximum available resources to fulfill and ensure the enjoyment of those rights.”
The petition copied to Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention against Corruption and the Inter-Parliamentary Union stated that the alleged corrupt budget process in the House of Representatives in the context of an economy already weakened by years of large scale corruption will jeopardize sustainable development and hurt ordinary Nigerians who rely on the government to provide basic necessities of life such as water, good roads and electricity.
“SERAP notes that the Nigerian constitution 1999 (as amended) grants legislative power to the National Assembly to “make laws for the peace, order and good government. SERAP believes that this power implies that the National Assembly including the House of Representatives will serve as a crucial bastion of transparency, accountability, and the rule of law that are necessary to reduce poverty, establish a corruption-free society, and effective enjoyment of human rights.”
“SERAP is seriously concerned that in the process of alleged budget padding the leadership of the House of Representatives removed key projects such as on roads, electricity and/or drastically reduced their costs. These projects ordinarily would have contributed to reducing the effects and consequences of poverty in the country while also enhancing respect for human rights.”
“We believe that the allegations that the leadership of the House of Representatives worked to abuse the budget process to benefit themselves at the expense of the majority of Nigerians is a fundamental breach of constitutional oath and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to which Nigeria is a state party, which requires states to use their maximum available resources to promote and secure the enjoyment of basic economic and social rights such as the rights to food, to healthcare, to access to quality education and adequate standards of living.”
“Article 2(1) of the Covenant provides that each State party to the present Covenant undertakes to take steps to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized in the present Covenant by all appropriate means, including particularly the adoption of legislative measures.”
The petition reads in part: “SERAP is seriously concerned about the lack of transparency and accountability of the National Assembly, which is not consistent with the behaviour of an institution that is constitutionally mandated to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Nigeria.
“This lack of accountability partly explains why ordinary Nigerians do not trust the National Assembly, and its ability to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Nigeria, and to curb corruption within its systems.
“SERAP is concerned that the longstanding practice of constituency projects by the National Assembly of Nigeria and the corresponding alleged diversion of public funds have continued to systematically drain the country’s “maximum available resources, precipitating poverty and economic crisis which inevitably magnify dispossession, hunger, disease, illiteracy and insecurity,” SERAP said.