BREAKING: N4trn budget padding: Senate suspends Ningi for 3 months

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By Olugbenga Salami

Senate on Tuesday suspended Senator Abdul Ningi (PDP Bauchi Central) from National Assembly over allegation that the 2024 budget was padded with a whooping sum of about N4trillion.

The lawmaker is to lose his salaries, allowances and other privileges during the suspension period.

President of the Red Chamber, Senator Godswill Akpabio announced the resolution after voice votes by lawmakers at the plenary.

The chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Solomon Adeola had brought to the notice of the upper legislative chamber through Point of Orders

Senator Ningi had in BBC Hausa Interview on Saturday, alleged that the budget passed by the National Assembly for 2024 fiscal year was N25trillion while the one being implemented by the Presidency is N28.7trillion .

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

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

“Apparently we discovered N3 trillion was inserted into the budgets without locations. This is the highest budget padding happened in Nigerian history under Senator Akpabio watch .

“We resolved as peoples Representatives to see President Tinubu on this issue, with facts and figures, to ask him if he is aware with this embarrassment or not, then from there we will take action.

“Let Nigerians be patience with us. This is a national issue, it effects all Nigerians in respective of party, tribe or religion.”

Though the Senate through its spokesperson, Senator Yemi Adaramodu (APC Ekiti South) refuted the claim Saturday night through a personally signed statement, but the Senate has put machinery in motion to apply legislative sanction on Senator Ningi.

Indication to this effect emerged on Sunday, when the chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriations, Senator Solomon Adeola (APC Ogun West) informed journalists covering the Senate in his office that his earlier plan to react to the allegation, has been withdrawn for due process to be followed .

Senator Adeola, who spoke to the journalists in the midst of other Senators across the Northern and Southern axis, said since allegation of budget padding was made by a serving Senator who participated in the consideration and passage of the budget , the best place to react , is in the Senate Chamber on Tuesday.

“As you people can see, many Senators are here with me across the six geo-political zones to react to what a senator said at the weekend on alleged two versions of the 2024 budget but after realizing that there are laid down procedures and processes to follow in dealing with such a matter involving an insider , we have decided, to shift the venue of reaction to the Senate Chamber on Tuesday, after which, briefings would be made to journalists,” he stressed.

Going by the plan announced by Senator Adeola, as done to some other Senators in the past, Ningi would be accused of breaching their privileges and painting the Senate in bad light which going by its relevant rules, the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions would be mandated to invite Ningi for questioning.

Outcomes of such invitations on affected Senators have been six months suspension from the Senate as slammed on Senator Ali Ndume (APC Borno State) on 30th of March 2017 after amplifying unfounded allegations bordering on corrupt practices fake NYSC certificate, against Senators Bukola Saraki and Dino Melaye in January 2017.

Meanwhile, three senators – Steve Sunday Karimi (APC Kogi West), Titus Tartenger Zam (APC Benue) and Kaka Sheu (APC Borno Central) on Sunday said the allegation of budget padding against Senate President Godswill Akpabio by some senators was unfounded, baseless and a figment of imagination.

They warned against what they described as the antics of blackmailers bent on creating an atmosphere of crisis in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly.

Karimi, Zam and Sheu, speaking on behalf of the Northern Senators’ Forum, also said no room should be allowed for division and acrimony between senators from the North and South by those who may not want to accord priority to national unity and harmony.

In their statement issued on behalf of the Northern Senators’ Forum, said they can not be used to blackmail the budget process, which was done in good faith.

At a meeting last week, some Northern senators accused the Senate President of inserting projects worth N4 trillion in the 2024 budget.

They alleged that the projects, which had no locations, were inserted into the budget, which they also claimed was lopsided against the North and some parts of the South.

The Northern senators also accused Akpabio of railroading the senators to hurriedly pass the budget, adding that it favoured Akpabio and his cronies.

However, shedding light on what transpired at the meeting, Karimi, Zam and Sheu said it was only resolved that the report of the consultant engaged by the Northern Senators Forum be subjected to further scrutiny, as the entire appropriation process was a combination of work, from the executive, actively represented by the minister of budget and national planning and other ministers, the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation and the Senate Committees on Appropriation.

Dismissing the allegation of padding as a ruse, they said while the executive brought a budget proposal of 27.5 trillion, the Senate passed a budget of 28.77 trillion.

They queried: “The difference was N1.27 trillion, coming from all three arms of government. Where is the additional so-called padding of three trillion coming from? It was resolved that the Northern Senators’ consultant report be looked into by essential committees of the Senate and House of Representatives before jumping to a conclusion.”

Karimi, Zam and Sheu urged the Northern Senators Caucus Leader, Abdul Ningi, to “rein in those who think a crisis-ridden Senate would better profit them.”

Noting that the North has provided leadership in Nigeria and enjoyed the support of other regions seamlessly, the representatives of the North should not appear to act as instruments of destabilisation now that power has shifted to the South.

In their view, the North can agitate for a fair share of the national pie, but within the ambits of decency, decorum and dignity.

They added: “Senator Ningi has not given a correct information. He is yet to even give the Senate President or the Speaker of the House of Representatives a copy of what he claims to have discovered in the 2024 Appropriation Act before levelling allegations of budget padding against the President, the Senate President and the Senate.

“President Tinubu presented a budget estimates of over N27 trillion on 28th November to the National Assembly, which passed a budget of over N28 trlllion ; which became an Act of Parliament on 1st January 2024.

“Where did Sen Ningi get his Appropriation Act of N25 trillion?What about the extra requests that chairmen of appropriation committees of both chambers claimed came from the Executive after submission of the initial over N27 trillion proposals by Mr President?

“So, how did Sen Ningi’ s budget analyst get the N3trillion budget padding allegations? Must we attempt to give a dog a bad name to hang it? Are APC members of Northern Senators Forum that PDP Senator Ningi claims to lead oblivious of the anti-Tinubu/Akpabio undertones. The National Assembly should not be denigrated.”