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March 13, 2024

Alleged budget padding: Rumpus as senators bicker over money sharing

Convert abandoned Shell Airstrip in Oloibiri to Air Force base - Senate tells FG 

FILE PHOTO: Senator Godswill Akpabio presiding over the Senate

By Henry Umoru, Johnbosco Agbakwuru & John Alechenu, ABUJA

The sharing formula of funds for constituency projects yesterday threw the Senate into a rowdy session, as Senator Jarigbe Jarigbe, representing Cross River North, alleged that while senior senators got N500 million, others got as low as N75 million.

Recall that the Chairman of the Northern Senators Forum, Senator Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi Central), had alleged that the 2024 budget was padded by N3 trillion.

Tempers rose as the lawmakers debated Ningi’s allegation, sequel to a motion by Senator Solomon Adeola (APC, Ogun West), who said his privilege as a senator had been breached.

Two former senators, George Sekibo, and Shehu Sani, in their immediate reactions, described what happened on the floor of the Senate yesterday as embarrassing, saying the matter ought to have been discussed behind closed doors, after which it should have been referred to the Ethics and Privileges Committee to save the Senate embarrassment.

Budget padding allegations

Ningi had said in an interview with BBC (Hausa service) that the budget passed by the National Assembly for the 2024 fiscal year was N25 trillion, while the one being implemented by the Presidency was N28.7 trillion.

The National Assembly had passed a budget of N28.7 trillion for the 2024 fiscal year. President Bola Tinubu had proposed N27.5 trillion but the lawmakers jerked it up by N1.2 trillion.
The Ogun West senator said his privilege was breached because he participated in the budgeting process.

“Ningi had maintained that N3 trillion in the budget was not linked to anything,” Adeola said, adding: “My privilege has been breached because I was one of those who participated in the preparation of the budget. With what has transpired in the last three days, my privilege has been breached.”

Ningi got a chance to defend himself, saying he had documents to prove the anomaly.

But the upper legislative chamber immediately descended into chaos when Jarigbe Jarigbe, the senator representing Cross River North, claimed that some “senior senators” got N500 million in the budget for constituency projects.

“Let us wash our dirty linen in public. If we want to go into those issues, all of us are culpable. Some senators here… so-called ‘senior senators’… got N500 million each. I am a ranking senator, I didn’t get N500 million. Did I go to the press? I got only N75 million,’’ Jarigbe said.

After intense debates that lasted several hours, senators across the country agreed that Ningi erred and was suspended for three months.

In the interview, Senator Ningi said: “For the first time in Nigerian history, today we are operating two different budgets. One budget was approved by the National Assembly and signed by President Bola Tinubu and the one was implemented by the presidency.

“The one approved by us is N25 trillion while the one operated by the Federal Government is N28 trillion.

“We discovered N3 trillion was inserted into the budgets without allocations. This is the highest budget padding in Nigerian history under Senator Akpabio’s watch.

“For example, it was said that there was a budget of N28 trillion but what was passed was N25 trillion. So there is N3 trillion on top. Where are they, where is it going? So, we need to know this. There are a lot of things. We are coming up with a report and we will show the president himself and ask him if he is aware or not.

“We resolved as representatives to see President Tinubu on this issue, with facts and figures, to ask him if he is aware of this embarrassment or not, then from there we will take action.
“Let Nigerians be patient with us. This is a national issue, it affects all Nigerians irrespective of party, tribe or religion “

How it started

Trouble started when Adeola, chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations, raised a point of order, saying that he was one of those who prepared the 2024 Budget and that with what had transpired in the last three days, his privileges had been tampered with.

Senator Adeola who came under Order 9, 10,41 and 51 of the Senate Standing Orders 2022 as amended, read out the notarised transcription of the interview Senator Ningi granted the BBC( Hausa Service) last Saturday.

According to Adeola, Ningi raised the alarm of N3 trillion budget padding in the N28.7trillion 2024 Appropriation Act, and that the budget passed by the National Assembly for 2024 fiscal year is N25 trillion while the one being implemented by the Presidency is N28.7 trillion.

Adeola’s motion was seconded by Senator Joel Onowakpo Ewomazino (APC, Delta South) who also lambasted Ningi for coming up with such dangerous allegations.

At this point, the Senate leader, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti Central) also raised Orders 9 and 10 and the Senate resolved to the Committee of the Whole and was seconded by Senator Neda Imasuen (LP, Edo South).

The Senate was thrown into confusion when Ningi was asked to defend himself following a Constitutional point raised by Senator Adamu Aliero (PDP, Kebbi Central) that Ningi be given a fair hearing.

Ningi, Jarigbe’s cans of worms

In his remarks, Ningi opened a can of worms when he said that that senators did not know how much the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio was earning and the number of vehicles he had bought. He also said that some constituencies were getting N150 billion and some less than N2 billion.

Defending himself, Ningi clarified that he had never asserted that the country was operating two budgets, stressing that it is a false allegation.

He said: “I think Yayi (Solomon Olamilekan) has done a fair job except on some issues that they do not understand. I have never said the budget was padded.

“I have never issued any of these statements. This is a fake contribution that was forwarded, I do not know the author of this.

“In this budget, Yayi presented to you, I have facts, constituency by constituency, some N120 billion, some N60 billion, some N30 billion and some have less than N1 billion.

“As I am talking to you, Mr President, I do not know your take-home pay. I don’t know how much you are spending on your cars and other principal officers.

“I have targets just like every other member, I do not know your aides or their number. Everything in the budget is my concern.”

Fuel was added to the flame Senator Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe (PDP, Cross River North) raised an alarm that ranking senators got N500 million each while he got N75 million.

Bamidele decries gang-up against Akpabio

Condemning Ningi’s allegation, Senate Leader, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti Central), lamented that some senators were still not happy that Akpabio is Senate President since his election on June 13, 2023, adding that what Senator Ningi had done was tantamount to a civilian coup.

Bamidele also said a few senators have refused to work with Akpabio after he was elected Senate president, saying: “I stand to say that what my big brother, Senator Abdul Ningi, who I respect so well planned to do was tantamount to a civilian coup, which has failed.

“In doing this, he wanted to use this platform of the Northern Senators Forum. God bless all those who have dissociated themselves from it.

“A few people who felt they will not give you (Akpabio) more than one year as chair of the Senate want to do everything possible before July 13 to remove you. That is why it is always about Akpabio, never about the Senate, House of Representatives and D-G, Budget Office. All of us passed this budget, never about the president who signed the budget. It is always about Akpabio.”

How Ningi was suspended

After contributions from Senators Ali Ndume, Adams Oshiomhole, Sani Musa, Abba Moro among others who insisted that there was no padding of the budget, the Senate resolved to suspend Ningi for three months.

The Senate however cautioned Senator Sumaila Kawu, NNPP, Kano South and warned him against posting emails that could affect the peace and unity of the country.

According to the Senate, under Order 1(b) of the Senate Standing Order 2023 (as Amended) the Senate resolved to take appropriate action deemed fit in the overriding public interest and as a matter of urgent public importance to prevent break-down of law and order; and take further necessary steps to correct the wrong impression in the public domain of 2024 budget created by the BBC interview and other national media houses and social media platforms by Senator Ningi and amplified by Senator Suleiman Kawu through his Facebook account and other social media platforms.

Senate resolutions

Resolutions of the Senate yesterday was sequel to a motion of Urgent National Importance, titled “Urgent need to address the false allegations against the Senate and the Presidency on the 2024 Appropriation Act by Senator Abdul Ningi (Bauchi Central) and sponsored by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Olamilekan Adeola (APC, Ogun West) on the allegations raised by Ningi.

Adeola, who read a transcribed version of Senator Ningi’s BBC Hausa Interview, disclosed that budget details of some agencies on first line charge were not documented in the 2024 budget document. According to him, these agencies include the Judiciary, National Assembly, INEC, TETFUND, North East development Commission (NEDC), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Government Owned Enterprise (GOE).

Earlier, Senator Jimoh Ibrahim (APC, Ondo South) in an additional prayer had asked the Senate to suspend Ningi for an initial period of 12 months including his entitlements and privileges and ensure that he does not get into the National Assembly premises for the period of his suspension.

Senator Ibrahim, who urged the Senate to send a warning letter to Kawu and ensure he apologises to the Senate, said: “Everything can go wrong but one thing cannot go wrong and that is the law.
We are sitting here today to make regulations to ensure the executive of the Federal government is not in doubt.”

He was seconded by Senator Edeh Dafinone (APC, Delta Central).

Another additional prayer was moved by Senator Asuquo Ekpenyong (APC, Cross River South) that the suspension be reduced from twelve months to six months and his motion was seconded by Senator Barinada Mpigi (PDP, South East).

On his part, Senator Buhari Abdulfatai (APC, Oyo North) said that it should be reduced to three months.

Senator Garba Musa Maidoki (PDP, Kebbi South) said Ningi should be suspended for three months and was seconded by Sani Musa (APC, Niger East).

The additional prayer for suspension for three months was raised by Senator Musa Garba Madoki (PDP, Kebbi South) and that if he tenders an apology the following day, he should be recalled immediately. He was seconded by Senator Sani Musa (APC, Niger East).

Soon after, the additional prayer was put to vote by Senate President Akpabio at 3.19 pm, and Ningi was suspended for three months. Thereafter, Senator Ningi immediately packed the heavy documents he came with and left the hallowed Chamber.

Ningi quits as NSF chairman

Meanwhile, Senator Ningi, after plenary, announced his resignation as chairman of the Northern Senators Forum, NSF.

He said in a statement: ‘’I would like to resign my position as chairman of Northern Senators Forum, NSF. This is, of course, necessitated by unfolding events in the National Assembly, North and the nation at large.

“I would like to specifically thank members of the forum for the opportunity given to me for the last eight months to spearhead this very important forum. I believe this forum is very important and fundamental to the progress and development of northern Nigeria.’’

Tinubu, Akpabio meet in Aso Rock

Shortly after the storm in the Senate, President Tinubu met behind closed doors with Senate President Godswill Akpabio and the Deputy Senate President, Barau Jibrin at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

The agenda of the meeting was not made public at the time of filing this report, but it was reliably gathered that it was not unconnected with the suspension of Ningi.

The President of the Senate did not talk to journalists when he finished the meeting with the President.

Very embarrassing, say ex-senators

Reacting to the development in the Senate yesterday, the former senator representing Rivers East senatorial district, George Thomson Sekibo, described the ruckus on the floor of the Senate as embarrassing.

Sekibo, who explained that the matter could have been better handled with the benefit of hindsight, said: “What should have been done was for the Senate to discuss these matters during a closed session, then refer it to the committee on ethics and privileges.

“It is the committee that will investigate the matter, give all parties a fair hearing and make recommendations to the Senate for whatever sanction or sanction it seems fit.

“What happened appeared to be pre-arranged. That said, the matter brought up by Senator Jaribe is also worth looking at.

“There are privileges attached to being a senator and the funds he referred to are most likely funds allocated for constituency projects. It used to be between N150 million and N200 million but is likely to have gone up due to inflation.

“What should be paramount among leaders at all levels across party lines at this time should be how to improve the security and welfare of all Nigerians. “

Speaking in a similar vein, the former senator representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani, said the amount mentioned by Senator Jaribe is huge, considering what Nigerians were currently passing through.

He said: “The Distinguished Senator said some got N500 million. If you do the mathematics, it means two people got N1 billion, multiplied that by 109.

“There are a lot of things we need to revisit to get things right in our country. The National Assembly is also an arena where politics is played but we must all bear in mind that the interest of the majority of Nigerians should always be paramount.”

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