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What is the Senate trying to hide?

The Senate was up to its usual last week erupting in an uproar on issues of budget padding and constituency projects. The man at the…

The Senate was up to its usual last week erupting in an uproar on issues of budget padding and constituency projects. The man at the centre of it all Senator Abdul Ningi, Bauchi Central, in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa service alleged that though the Senate appropriated N25 trillion as the budget for 2024, what the government was spending amounted to N28 trillion from his own investigations into the 2024 budget.

According to him, this meant that N3 trillion was unaccounted for and may have been padded for purposes not related with the budget. At the plenary that followed, attention of Nigerians outraged by these revelations were riveted to the floor of the Senate for more details of these allegations and expectations that a root and branch investigation will follow to unearth the chaff from the wheat.

But these expectations were disappointingly dashed as the Senate perhaps not wanting to risk what a full disclosure of the pork barrel politics that goes on there will do to the minds and perception of Nigerians squelched further debate. Three Senators where the main culprits in this; Senators Adeola Olamilekan of Ogun West Senatorial district, Senate Majority leader Michael Opeyemi Bamidele Ekiti Central and Senator Jimoh Ibrahim representing Ondo South Senatorial district.

Senator Olamilekan, who is the Chairman Senate Appropriation Committee in which capacity he authored the budget and also known as ‘’Yayi’’, struck the first blow by saying that going by the rules of procedure of the Senate, the allegations by Senator Ningi infringed on his ‘’privileges’’ as a Senator and thus Senator Ningi should be sanctioned. Senator Opeyemi Bamidele who forgot his role as Senate Leader and turned himself into Senate Cheer Leader for Senate President Godswill Akpabio as he tried to filibuster the debate into an unnecessary North vs South one. Then the coup de grace was inflicted on the debate by Senator Jimoh Ibrahim who then moved the motion that Senator Ningi be suspended from the Senate and he was so suspended. That effectively put the kibosh on what would have been the defining moment for the Senate and an opportunity for the upper chamber of the National Assembly to dispel the rather unsavoury reputation that Nigerians have come to have of it as a house of sleaze.

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In the course of the short-lived debate, it came to light that the N3 trillion unaccounted for as alleged by Senator Ningi was actually for Government-Owned Agencies like the National Judicial Commission (NJC) that are on first-line charges meaning that their expenditure is not subject to full disclosure. This prompts the question, how can N3 trillion be allocated in the budget to government agencies without full disclosure of their expenditure profile? If budget and expenditure profile of the office of the presidency including such minute details as cutlery etc are captured why then should so-called government-owned agencies have their expenditure profiles shielded from scrutiny? And why should the Senate not come clean on how this anomaly came about and why it should be continued? In the absence of clear explanations detailing how these agencies spend their allocations, there are bound to be well-founded suspicions that the humongous funds are somehow warehoused in the name of those agencies to be used probably as slush funds on a ‘’nod and wink’’ arrangement between the Senate and heads of these agencies.

Those are the possible incestuous details that Nigerians wanted to know in the relationship between the Senate and the Government agencies for which N3 trillion out of the N25 trillion budgeted was blindsided to the public. What is so special about these agencies that their budgets should be shielded from the public so suspiciously?

Senators Bamidele and Olamilekan who both cited their “privileges’’ being abused over Senator Ningi’s allegations are only being cynical and self-important. What about the privilege and sensitivities of 200 million Nigerians who have been inundated with such in-your-face budget padding and other shenanigans from the National Assembly over the years? Have the senators stopped to think what Nigerians would think of them knowing that in this Tinubu-imposed pain and suffering, the senators are seen sharing N500 million for so-called constituency projects that never get implemented? Is the Senate now more of a development/intervention agency than a law-making institution which the Constitution mandates it primarily to be? If the Senate prefers to play the role of a development agency then it can cause an amendment of the constitution to that effect or set up a Senate Development and Intervention Agency (SDIA) where its budget for constituency projects will be domiciled and acted upon in a transparent manner. That way the Senators could be insulated from the perennial allegations and suspicion of pork barrel and even allow them to attend to their main constitutional duties rather than turn them into Senator-Contractors. It is certainly unethical and demeaning that Senators be allocated monies to do constituency projects without accountability and due diligence.

Can both Senators Bamidele and Olamilekan risk going to the suffering folks in their constituencies in Ilaro, Imeko, Ipokia in Yewaland and Ijero, Efon, Irepodun in Ekiti respectively now that it is public knowledge that they have pocketed between them a billion naira each for constituency projects? How can Senator Bamidele in particular, who used to be a fiery magazine writer fighting against social ills, defend his present position as a partaker in the sort of sleaze he used to vehemently condemn? And for Senator Olamilekan who has been jumping from constituencies’ right from the Lagos House of Assembly to Lagos West Senatorial district and now to Ogun West Senatorial district, it is a matter of addiction to privileges as entitlement. At the bottom of his mind any allegations regarding his work no matter how legitimate from any quarter which should be subjected to scrutiny and investigation as required under our democratic dispensation should be considered as an affront to him which should be snuffed out even if it is the right of the public to know. 

 

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