Members of the House of Representatives are poised for a showdown with Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila over allegations of unfair distribution of $15million largesse from the executive arm of government.
The aggrieved lawmakers specifically alleged that Gbajabiamila had an underhand deal with the executive on behalf of the House to pass the N22.7trn Ways and Means borrowing from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) but ended up short-changing his colleagues in sharing the $15million made available to the House to sweeten the deal.
The brewing crisis, it was learned, had forced Gbajabiamila to postpone resumption of plenary which was already slated for Tuesday so as to buy more time and pacify the aggrieved members.
The speaker adjourned the plenary under the guise that the earlier date was announced in error.
The clerk of the House, Yahaya Danzaria, in a terse statement on Monday said, “This is to inform all Hon Members and the general public that the House of Representatives will not resume plenary on Tuesday 16th May, 2023 as earlier announced. The next adjourned date will be Wednesday 17th May, 2023 at 11:00am. Please disregard earlier notice and date; it was made in error. All inconveniences are highly regretted.”
It is, however, unclear whether the strained nerves had not been calmed as at the time of filing this report.
One of the lawmakers who confided in our correspondent said the majority of the lawmakers had an axe to grind with the speaker and that the House may be engulfed in a free-for-all when plenary is reconvened.
The House had on Tuesday, 31st January, authorised the president to borrow a fresh N1 trillion from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to fund the 2022 supplementary budget. While the House approved restructuring of the N1tn WMAs, the lawmakers dropped the request for N22,719,703,774,306.90 from the CBN.
After several negotiations with members of the concerned committees of the House and other critical stakeholders, Gbajabiamila secured commitment of the House to pass the request on Thursday, 4th May.
LEADERSHIP also gathered that the $15milion was allegedly negotiated for by Gbajabiamila but he kept it away from his colleagues until last week when lawmakers got wind of the funds and accused him directly.
It was further gathered that the speaker immediately ordered disbursement of $10, 000 to each lawmaker, amounting to $3.6 million, as their own share of the largesse, and adjourned plenary. A rough calculation of the amount suggested that the speaker might have kept over $11million to himself.
“You can see that he didn’t allow the plenary to reconvene as planned. He knows that there is a crisis and he doesn’t want the deputy speaker to preside over a plenary with the situation on ground. How can only one person even take more money than the entire 360 members and call himself a leader. He is too greedy,” the member said.
Another member who spoke to our correspondent alleged that short-changing lawmakers had been Gbajabiamila’s stock in trade and that the speaker already bit more than he could chew.
“Let me tell you, this is not the first time. The executive released about N10bn for members of the House ahead of the elections; we only got $10, 000 each. Members are asking, what did Femi do with the balance? A similar amount was approved for the Senate and each Senator received about $40, 000,” he said.
The lawmaker said members who could not physically collect their own share were asked to send names and photos of their trusted aides to the staff in Gbajabiamila’s office as authorisation for pick-up.
A senior legislative aide (SLA) who collected on behalf of his principal confirmed the information.
“Your principal would have to send your name and photo to the speakers’ SA via WhatsApp and you will pick-up the money with your National Assembly ID card,” the female SLA said.
Gbajabiamila Keeps Mum, Plot To Adjourn House Indefinitely Thickens
All efforts to get reactions from Office of the Speaker were abortive.
The special adviser to the Speaker on media and publicity, Lanre Lasisi, refused to answer his calls or respond to text messages via his WhatsApp Portal on Monday and Tuesday.
Another aide of the Speaker who was central to the transaction picked his call but as soon as the question was put to him, he hung up the phone on our correspondent and never picked repeated calls made to his mobile phone.
A returning lawmaker from the North Central confirmed to our correspondent that the money was shared and he got his own $10, 000 share.
When pointedly asked if it was for passing the N22.7 trillion, the ranking lawmaker said, “That is what they said, it is true, I have collected my own.”
The member representing Makurdi/Guma Federal Constituency of Benue State, Benjamin Mzondu, however, denied knowledge of the transaction.
Mzomdu in a telephone conversation with our correspondent yesterday said, “I am not aware of this, I am hearing it from you for the first time. I am a lawmaker and I didn’t get any money.”
When our correspondent argued that the information was released on the lawmakers’ group chat, Mzondu said, “I didn’t see it on our platform, I am not aware of it.”
The Ways and Means provision allows the government to borrow from the apex bank when in need of short-term or emergency finance to fund delayed government expected cash receipts of fiscal deficits.
The federal government had said it would repay the loan, which as at December 2022 stood at N22.7 trillion, with securities, such as treasury bills and bonds issuance.
President Buhari in December last year asked both chambers of the National Assembly to approve his proposal but the lawmakers, who had promised to consider it before proceeding for the election break, failed to do so.
While presenting reports on the Ways and Means to the plenary in January, the chairman, House Committees on Finance, Banking and Currency and Aids, Loans and Debts Management, Hon James Faleke, said, “The committees looked into the request of Mr Buhari to restructure the N22.7 trillion ways and means advances.
“In the report, the committees recommended that the government take the N1 trillion CBN loan ‘based on the observations and the exigencies of the federal government’s current fiscal situation’ for the “implementation of the 2022 Supplementary Appropriations Act as passed by the National Assembly.”
It further recommended “further engagements with the executive by the joint committee to allow for thorough and detailed work and submissions on the larger part of the advances, which amounts to N22.7 trillion.”
Buhari, in December 2022, asked the National Assembly to authorise the conversion of the N22.7 trillion and a fresh N1 trillion CBN loan into federal government securities.