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Budget padding allegation: BudgIT backs Ningi as opposition knocks Senate

 A civic organisation focused on the Nigerian budget and public data, BudgIT, has thrown its weight behind suspended Senator Abdul Ningi on a N3.7 trillion…

 A civic organisation focused on the Nigerian budget and public data, BudgIT, has thrown its weight behind suspended Senator Abdul Ningi on a N3.7 trillion gap in the 2024 budget presented to the National Assembly.

 The Director and co-founder of BudgIT, Seun Onigbinde, made this known during an interview with Channels Television on Wednesday, stressing that Ningi was right if he posited that there was no detailed allocation for N3.7 trillion in the 2024 budget. 

Ningi, representing Bauchi Central senatorial district was suspended on Tuesday by the Senate, over the allegations that two versions of the 2024 budget were passed at the National Assembly. The senator said he stood by his story and also said there was nowhere he said two versions of the budget were being implemented.

The senator from Bauchi, who was also the Chairman of the Northern Senators Forum (NSF), alleged that the budget was padded by N3.7 trillion and that the North has been neglected under the administration of President Bola Tinubu. On the floor of the Senate, the Chairman Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Olamilekan Adeola (APC, Ogun West) on Tuesday moved a motion on breach of privilege and after heated debate by senators, Ningi was suspended for three months.

 ‘Ningi was right’

But reacting yesterday, the BudgIT Director, Onigbinde, stressed that Ningi was right for positing that there was no detailed allocation for N3.7 trillion in the 2024 budget.

 Onigbinde said the allocations of the National Assembly, National Judicial Council (NJC), Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) and others do not carry a detailed breakdown. 

He added that the people have the right to know how the funds earmarked for the aforementioned agencies were being spent.

“Around N2 trillion of the budget presented by the president is the government-owned enterprises budget. So, if Senator Ningi says there is a N25 trillion budget, yes, that is the MDA’s budget. It’s different from the government-owned enterprises budget which was now added. 

“It is factual that he said that, but it doesn’t mean that we are running two concurrent budgets. There is a different conversation that those projects should be detailed. TETFUND should not just get an allocation. 

“What are you spending the money on? INEC is collecting a huge chunk of funds but there are no public details about what the funds are used for, the same thing with NJC, even the National Assembly. “In the current budget, the National Assembly gave a very broad summary of its allocations but there are no detailed allocations on a granular level that everybody can interrogate.

 “These are transparency issues and if you put all these together, that is around N3.5 trillion to N3.7 trillion. So, if that is what he (Ningi) wants to interrogate, there are components of the budget where there is no breakdown. That is very factual. 

“But the National Assembly needs to push back. We need a breakdown. What is NJC spending money on? We give more money to the NJC and say take it arbitrarily. What are they spending that money on? There should be a detailed breakdown to the public. On that point, Senator Ningi is right but to look as if we are running parallel budgets, that is not right.” He said. Contacted by Daily Trust yesterday to shed more light on their finding, Onigbinde said “Ningi’s allegation of budget padding was partly true. “From my fact-checking of Ningi’s statement, we found some parts to be untrue, and we found some parts to be true.

“The only part that we found to be true is that some of the items that were statutory transfers and Government Owned Enterprises (GOEs) do not have a breakdown. “The bigger picture here is about insertion into the budget. Around 7,474 projects worth N2.2 trillion were added to the budget. I think that’s where the bigger problem is.”

But efforts to get the Senate spokesman, Yemi Adaramodu, to comment on the latest development proved abortive, as he neither answered his phone calls nor responded to an SMS sent to him. Senator Adaramodu had explained on Tuesday that the N3.7 trillion alleged to have not been traceable to any project or location was for agencies of government “on first line charge.”

 The Senate Spokesman said, “They include the Public Complaints Commission, INEC, UBEC, TETFUND, and many others. So, the money was not padded. They are allocations of agencies of government that have to take first line charge.”

However, Dataphyte, a research and data analytics organisation, said there was no evidence of padding in the 2024 budget. 

 “What we can confirm is that the 2024 Appropriation Act approved an aggregate expenditure of 28.78 trillion naira, and the figures add up,” Mr Oluseyi Olufemi, the Insight Lead, Dataphyte, told Daily Trust yesterday.

We stand by Ningi – Bauchi gov 

Meanwhile, Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State has declared that the state government is behind Senator Ningi.

 Speaking during the state’s cabinet meeting at the Government House in Bauchi yesterday, Mohammed said, “Yesterday (Tuesday), I was very sad the Senate suspended one of our best from Bauchi for saying the truth, for standing up to be the beacon of the truth. “Equally I don’t know what we will do but we will discuss privately to see what we can do to support him because I support whatever he is doing and that is our best position especially if what he is saying is the truth.” The governor, however, called on all relevant authorities to thoroughly investigate the matter rather than suspending the senator.

PDP asks Akpabio to step aside

 The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has asked Senate President Godswill Akpabio to immediately step aside and allow an independent investigation into the “allegation that a staggering N3.7 trillion was discreetly inserted into the 2024 budget for alleged non-existent projects.”

 PDP also demanded that Senator Akpabio immediately report to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the pending case of “alleged looting of N108 billion belonging to the people of Akwa Ibom State under his watch as governor”.

Debo Ologunagba, National Publicity Secretary of the party, in a statement, said the Senate president should also speak to Nigerians on the “reported N86 billion contract scam in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) during his tenure as the minister of Niger Delta Affairs.”

Ologunagba said, “We ask, why the APC leadership in the Senate not referred the matter to the appropriate Senate standing committee for an open investigation in line with the extant rules of the Senate? What is the APC Senate leadership afraid of and what is it hiding from Nigerians?

 “It is even more absurd that instead of recusing himself, the Senate president sat as a judge in the matter; a situation that can bring the institution of the Senate to further public disrepute.”

Suspension didn’t address budget padding allegation – Obi 

The presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP) in last year’s election, Mr Peter Obi has said that the suspension of Senator Abdul Ningi by the Senate has not addressed vital issues emanating from his allegation of the 2024 budget padding. Obi, in a post on his X handle yesterday, asked senators to disclose to Nigerians the exact amounts allocated to them for constituency projects for appropriate monitoring of implementation by the public. “And if indeed the report from BudgIT is true, that there is about N3.7trn without any detailed project allocations, I strongly urge the Senate to do more detailed work of channelling these funds into the critical areas of development – education, health and pulling people out of poverty, which will in turn, minimise the criminality we are facing today.”

Ningi’s suspension attack on freedom of expression – CISLAC 

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)/Transparency International in Nigeria (TI-Nigeria) also queried the “undemocratic action and questionable decision by the leadership of the Senate to suspend Ningi over the 2024 budget padding controversy.”

The Executive Director of CISLAC/TI-Nigeria, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said on Wednesday in Abuja that it is unacceptable that the suspension was initiated against Ningi for expressing his constitutionally guaranteed concerns and observations on the 2024 budget at this critical moment when the nation is deeply soaked in socio-economic and financial crisis. 

He said that the unjust suspension of a senator who represents an entire senatorial district is similar to a public demonstration of an unguarded culture of silencing, insensitivity, disrespect and marginalisation of the people and dictatorship. Also, Comrade Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), demanded for forensic audit of allocation for constituency projects. He also demanded Senator Abdul Ningi’s immediate reinstatement.

“The Senate leadership made major attempts to undercut Senator Ningi’s charges and swiftly suspended him without conducting a thorough inquiry to check the veracity of his claims. He commended Senators Ningi and Jarigbe for their courage in speaking out against corruption and theft of public resources in the Nigerian Senate.

“Furthermore, we’ve discovered that members in both the Senate and the House of Representatives have developed new methods to sneak fake projects into the budget, making it impossible to monitor.

“This has occurred since the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) collaborated with selected Civil Society Organizations, including CHRICED, to monitor constituency projects across the country, exposing the fraudulent practices of several federal and state legislators.

“One such strategy adopted by them is to insert useless and frivolous empowerment initiatives that are virtually hard to track down and do not fulfil the constituents’ concerns. We saw in the 2024 budget that a lot of projects with billions of Naira earmarked to them had no locations or specifics,” he said. 

 

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