• Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Budget padding scandal puts Senate under close scrutiny

Akpabio’s 10th Senate breaks tradition, operates without legislative agenda

After hours of drama and arguments, the Nigerian Senate on Tuesday suspended Abdul Ningi, a senator representing Bauchi Central Senatorial District, over the budget padding allegation levelled against the leadership of the red chamber.

It also emerged at the plenary that some senior members of the upper chamber of the National Assembly were given N500 million for constituency projects, a revelation that sparked an immediate uproar among the lawmakers.

The 10th National Assembly has come under fire several times since it was inaugurated last year over public funds.

President Bola Tinubu, in the Supplementary Appropriation Bill in July 2023, allocated N70 billion to help the lawmakers settle in – a development that caused public outcry.

The National Assembly raised its 2024 budget allocation by N74.23 percent to N344.85 billion. The initial allocation in the budget submitted by Tinubu was pegged at N197.93 billion.

The increase in allocations to the Senate and House of Representatives came amid a worsening cost-of-living crisis in the nation, with millions of Nigerians battling for survival.

N3tn was inserted into the budgets for projects without locations, Ningi alleges

In an interview with BBC Hausa last weekend, Ningi, the then-chairman of the Northern Senators Forum, alleged that the 2024 budget was padded.

He 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. Apparently, we discovered that N3 trillion was inserted into the budgets for projects without locations. This is the highest budget padding that happened in Nigerian history under Senator Akpabio’s watch.”

The interview generated a lot of controversy as senators and the presidency countered the allegation made by Ningi.

Ningi, however, denied the reports on Monday, saying he was quoted out of context because he spoke in Hausa.

However, the issue led to a drama at the Red Chamber on Tuesday after Solomon Olamilekan Adeola, representing Ogun West, had come under orders 9, 10, 41, and 51 to move a motion of privilege and issue of national importance against Ningi over his interview.

All ranking senators got N500m each, I didn’t get – Jarigbe

Speaking on Ningi’s claim, Jarigbe Jarigbe, representing Cross River North, said on the floor of the Senate that ranking senators got N500 million each.

He said: “I thought this issue should have ended when the chairman of the Committee on Appropriation explained that the N3.7 trillion were under GOEs (government-owned enterprises) and the first line charge.

“That explains everything but if we want to express our grouse, I also have mine and we are all culpable. After all, all the ranking senators got N500 million each. I am a ranking senator and I didn’t get.”

Jarigbe’s microphone went off immediately after he made the statement, while the Senate was thrown into a rowdy session that lasted for several minutes before order was restored by Senate President Godswill Akpabio.

7,447 projects worth ₦2.2trn inserted in 2024 budget by National Assembly – BudgIT

The National Assembly included 7,447 projects totaling ₦2.24 trillion in the 2024 budget, a report by BudgIT says.

The report, which was released on Wednesday, highlighted a pattern in the National Assembly of adding projects without national importance, focusing instead on personal interests.

The report detailed that 55 projects valued at ₦580.7 billion exceed ₦5 billion each. Additionally, 281 projects valued at ₦1 billion each, totaling ₦491 billion, and 3,706 projects ranging from ₦100 million to ₦500 million, amounting to ₦759 billion, were inserted into the appropriation bill signed by the president.

The report was released amid Abdul Ningi’s budget padding allegation levelled against the Nigerian Senate.

Ningi, who has been suspended for three months by the senate, claimed in an interview with the BBC that ₦3 trillion was inserted into the 2024 ₦28.7 trillion budget.

The report specified that most budget insertions were for federal constituencies and senatorial districts, with 1,777 projects worth ₦218.6 billion for federal constituencies and 1,308 projects valued at ₦176 billion for senatorial districts.

It listed 1,150 streetlights at ₦212 billion, 427 boreholes at ₦82.5 billion, 170 ICT projects at ₦30.95 billion, and ₦7.61 billion for traditional ruler empowerment.

“Apart from the N100bn constituency projects, most of the insertions in the budget are for federal constituencies and senatorial districts.

“For example, 1,777 projects worth N218.6bn are to be directly delivered in federal constituencies while 1,308 projects with a value of ₦176 billion are directly in senatorial districts. Other categories of projects include 1,150 streetlights worth N212bn, 427 boreholes worth N82.5bn, 170 ICT projects with a value of N30.95bn, and N7.61bn for empowerment of traditional rulers”, the report read.

Also, 1,308 projects will be implemented in senatorial districts, with each constituency receiving projects valued at least ₦500 million.

The report revealed that 3% of the projects, valued at ₦632 billion, were added to the Ministry of Agriculture’s budget, increasing its capital budget from ₦332 billion to ₦963 billion.

BudgIT’s previous analysis showed that the National Assembly inserted 1,125 and 1,522 projects in the 2021 and 2022 Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development budgets.

In the Ministry of Science and Technology, 757 projects valued at ₦207 billion were added, and 263 projects valued at ₦242 billion were inserted by the National Assembly.

The report identified targeted agencies and organisations, such as the Nigerian Building and Road Research Institute, Lagos, and Federal Cooperative College, Oji River, for project insertions by National Assembly members.

National assembly has power to increase budget – Bagudu

Atiku Bagudu, the minister of Budget and National Economic Planning, defended the National Assembly’s right to insert new projects into the 2024 budget during a press briefing in Abuja on Thursday.

He emphasised that this practice has been ongoing since 1999, highlighting the legislature’s authority to allocate funds to their constituencies.

Bagudu noted that the budget initially proposed by the president was increased by the National Assembly, resulting in additional revenue and adjustments in various sectors.

The minister acknowledged that while there have been media reports of projects exceeding the executive’s proposals, this is a common aspect of an evolving democracy where elected officials prioritise community needs.

Bagudu highlighted the ongoing debate on the powers of the executive and the legislature regarding the budget, stating that there is currently no supreme court judgment on the matter.

He affirmed that according to the democratic process, the National Assembly has the final say on budget matters, including the authority to increase budget allocations, if necessary.

“So what is the power of the National Assembly as regards the budget, there is no supreme court judgment and the choice of our democracy is that the national assembly has the last word. Even when they passed an appropriation that assent is refused, after 30 days it becomes law. Do they have the right to increase a budget line, I will say yes,” he said.

Ningi suspended for three months

Ningi, a chieftain of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), was suspended from legislative duties in the upper chamber for three months as a result of the allegation.

Jimoh Ibrahim, a member of the Appropriation Committee in the Senate, initiated the motion to suspend him for 12 months, citing allegations of criminal misinformation and breach of peace in the National Assembly and the country.

However, other lawmakers, including Asuquo Ekpenyong from Cross River South Senatorial District, and Abdulfatai Buhari from Oyo North, proposed amendments to reduce the suspension to six and three months, respectively.

Akpabio, deeming Ningi’s offences as grievous, conducted a voice vote, with most lawmakers supporting a three-month suspension.

On Monday, Ningi had said he was ready to carry his cross, even if it meant suspension from the upper legislative chamber.

What it means to be suspended by Senate – Shehu Sani

Reacting to Ningi’s suspension, Shehu Sani, a former Senator of Kaduna extraction, on his X account on Tuesday, explained how he escaped suspension in a similar circumstance and what it means to be suspended from the red chamber.

Sani said the then-Senate president saved him from suspension after he disclosed the salaries and running costs of lawmakers.

Sani, in an interview in 2018, revealed that he and his colleagues received N13.5 million monthly as “running costs.”

He said that the running cost does not include a N700,000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances, which they also received.

He said: “Suspension in the Senate means a senator will not be allowed to attend the plenary and will be prohibited from attending committee meetings and participating in oversight functions. His Salary, allowances and all entitlements will be blocked. He will not have access to his office and he is expected not to be seen within the premises of the National Assembly until the suspension is lifted.

“When I publicly disclosed the salaries and running costs of lawmakers, it was the then-Senate president who saved me from suspension. If you talk too much, your ‘bodi go’ tell you, that is why even opposition ‘no fit’ oppose too much.”

Ningi’s suspension was to stop others from exposing malpractices in the senate – Analyst

Okunade Adekunle, a political analyst, said that the suspension of Ningi was to signal a warning to opposition from making public the malpractices in the senate.

“It is just a signal to other opposition in the senate not to make public any malpractice going on in the chamber,” he said to BusinessDay.

Adekunle dismissed the notion that Ningi is a saint, saying that he voiced out because he was shortchanged in the sharing formula and not because he loves the masses.

Speaking on the padding allegation, the renowned journalist said it is common for lawmakers, both at state and national level, to pad budgets sent for approval by the executives.

He added that the budget padding allegation showed that the ruling elite are taking the masses for granted, particularly now that they are urging the people to tighten their belts.

On the suspension of Ningi, Adekunle said it is unfair for the senate to suspend a senator because they will be shortchanging his constituents which he is representing at the red chamber.