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Senate, come clean on Ningi’s allegations

The Nigerian Senate came out on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 to, once again, wash its dirty linens in the public. This shameless event happened when…

The Nigerian Senate came out on Tuesday, March 12, 2024 to, once again, wash its dirty linens in the public. This shameless event happened when Nigerians were still grappling with the trauma suffered from the abduction of some Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Borno State as well as the kidnap of 287 pupils, students and their principal from schools in Kaduna State. Spending six long hours to discuss the suspension of one of them without sparing six minutes to mention the issue of abducted IDPs and schoolchildren gives credence to the long-standing insinuation that the lawmakers are not only self-serving, but insensitive to the critical concerns of Nigerians.

It would be recalled that Senator Abdul Ningi, representing Bauchi Central senatorial district, had alleged in an interview granted to the Hausa Service of the BBC that the 2024 budget has the sum of N3.7 trillion that was not tied to any project. Shortly after the interview was aired on Saturday March 9, 2024, Ningi came under intense fire from his colleagues for ‘spitting’ in the wrong place; pitching the leadership of the Senate against him. Soon, Ningi resigned from his appointment as the Chairman of the Northern Senators Forum (NSF).

During plenary of the first legislative day after Ningi’s interview on BBC, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Olamilekan Adeola representing Ogun West senatorial district, moved a motion on breach of privilege by Senator Ningi. After a heated debate by senators, Ningi was suspended for three months over the allegation that “two versions of the 2024 budget were passed by the National Assembly.” However, Senator Ningi insisted that while he stood by his story, there was nowhere in the interview he said two versions of the budget were being implemented.

Speaking on the matter, the BudgIT Director, Seun Onigbinde, affirmed that Ningi was right in his claim that details of N3.7 trillion were not provided in the 2024 budget. Onigbinde said although Nigerians had the right to know how the funds earmarked for the aforementioned agencies were being spent, 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 in the 2024 budget. He also explained that over N3 trillion of the 2024 budget presented by the president is the Government Owned Enterprises (GOEs) budget. Onigbinde further clarified that this assertion does not, however, mean that the government was running two budgets.

To buttress BudgIT Director’s position, we strongly opine that TETFund, for example, should not just get an allocation without details of what the money would be spent on. There should be no secrecy or concealment of any sections of the appropriation bill or its Act. After all, details of the budgetary provisions of even the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria are provided. So, why should such details not be given for any government agency in the name of GOEs? The spirit of transparency in governance should be all-inclusive; transcending all aspects of public finance. Nigerians, through their elected political representatives, have the right to interrogate any aspect of the budget enmeshed in transparency issues. The public should know the detailed breakdown of allocations captured under statutory transfers and the GOEs.

Meanwhile, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)/Transparency International in Nigeria (TI-Nigeria) has condemned Senate suspension of Ningi over the 2024 budget controversy; an action it described as undemocratic. The Executive Director of CISLAC/TI-Nigeria, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said suspending Ningi for expressing his constitutionally guaranteed concerns on the 2024 budget was unfortunate.

Whereas Ningi maintained that his position derived from the report of a consultant engaged by the Northern Senators Forum (NSF), a claim debunked by Senator Ali Ndume, Senator Adeola’s declaration on the floor of the Senate about statutory transfers and the GOEs isn’t sufficient to deflate Ningi’s allegations. Clearly, too, none of the three groups that ensued from Ningi’s allegation, including the northern senators who dissociated themselves from the former’s claims, the southern senators who took offence with Ningi for his disclosures, and others who chose to remain silent on the matter, have separately or collectively denied the existence of over N3 trillion that are not tied to any projects in the 2024 budget.

The Senate would have saved its image last week if it had given Ningi every benefit of the doubt by resolving to investigate the truth or otherwise of the allegation. After which it should have taken an action, either to suspend Ningi if his allegation was found to be baseless or to amend the 2024 budget. As it is now, many Nigerians are still not sure of what exactly happened with the budget.

We, therefore, call on the Senate to investigate Ningi’s allegation and to, as a matter of responsibility, provide details of every fund appropriated in the 2024 budget. The same should be done in subsequent budgets. Anything short of this would only portray the lawmakers to be in the Senate for themselves, not for Nigerians.

This is an issue that borders on transparency and it must not be swept under the carpet. As citizens who have the right to know the truth or otherwise of Ningi’s allegation, Nigerians will hold the Senate responsible for its inactions. Also, in order for the Senate to secure its integrity which even the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, noted, was at stake; the findings from the probe of Ninigi’s claims should be made public. Nigerians expect the Senate to come clean on these allegations.

Since its inauguration last year, the 10th Senate under Godswill Akpabio has been enmeshed in one issue or another. The narrative has been from one brouhaha to another and this has to stop, so that the lawmakers can focus on the task of representing their people appropriately.

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