Alleged budget padding: Senators nailed Ningi

Fresh revelations at the Senate plenary, on Tuesday, indicated that  ranking senators  got N500m each for their constituency projects   in the   2024 budget passed by the National Assembly..

According to the Senate rules, any lawmaker who has spent at least a term in the House of Representatives or Senate,  is considered a ranking senator.

On the list of senators in the 10th Senate, at least 34  of them are ranking. With the revelation at the plenary on Tuesday that  senior   senators got N500m each, the ranking senators,   must have got a total of  N17bn as their constituency projects votes.

Senator Jarigbe Jarigbe (PDP, Cross-River North), during the debate of the motion on breach of privilege moved by Senator Olamilekan Adeola (APC Ogun West) against Senator Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi Central) over Ningi’s interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (Hausa Services), alleged  that senior senators got N500m each.

Ningi was  suspended for three months on Tuesday. He also resigned as the Chairman of the Northern Senators’ Forum

Jarigbe’s revelation led to a rowdy session at the plenary with some senators denying collecting the amount.

Jarigbe later clarified, in an interview on Arise TV that the money was for constituency projects, not for personal palliatives of the Senators.

Adeola had come under orders 9, 10, 41, and 51 to move a motion of privilege and issue of national importance against Senator Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi Central) over Ningi’s interview with the BBC (Hausa Services)

Ningi, in the BBC interview on Friday, alleged that N3.7tn was not tied to specific projects in the 2024 budget.

Also, at a press conference on Monday, the senator insisted on the allegation, adding that he was not afraid of suspension.

Contributing to the debate on Tuesday, Jarigbe said issues about the missing N3.7tn as alleged by Ningi had been clarified under the Government Owned Enterprises and the first line charge.

He said, “I thought this issue should have ended when the chairman of the Committee on Appropriation explained that the N3.7tn was under GOEs and the first line charge.

“That explains everything.We are going back and forth on this issue and coming up with the issue of budget and individual issues concerning what comes into our various constituencies.

“If we want to go into those issues, all of us are culpable. Some senators here—the so-called senior senators—got N500m each. I am a ranking senator, but I didn’t get it. Did I go to the press? Most of you here got it.”

However, when given another chance to speak, he clarified that it was Ningi who told him that some senators got N500m.

Jarigbe said, “This is an important clarification. I was speaking when the microphone went off. I was told by Ningi that some ranking senators got N500m. Ningi came to me and said that there were discrepancies in the budget and I told him that let’s go to the Senate President.

He explained further, “Senator Yayi (Adeola) has cleared the air on the N3tn, so there is no padding anywhere. Senator Ningi told me that he got N500m worth of projects in the budget. I said Senator Ningi shouldn’t be the one speaking about certain things.’’

But Senator Opeyemi Bamidele (APC, Ekiti Central), stated that though the senators got N500m, it was for constituency projects.

“I was going through online and it’s trending that every senator got N500m here today and I am not going to deny anything. My appeal to Nigerians today is not about what was said here today because I am not going to deny that.

“But we have 12 months to implement this budget and see whether any of these senators here will not implement boreholes, enough solar street lights, road construction, training, and empowerment that will not be up to N500m.”

Meanwhile, Bamidele alleged that Ningi planned a coup against the President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio.

He said, “What Abdul Ningi wanted to do was tantamount to a civilian coup. It is always about Akpabio, never about the House of Representatives or the President. It is not about North and South, it is about our rules.

“I am speaking as Bamidele, not as a Senate Leader. The last time a South-South person was ever given the opportunity to become president was over 40 years ago. We have another peaceful Senate, but why is it always about Akpabio?”

Bamidele went ahead to state that “we must do this right. He (Ningi) said some of us got N100bn, why do we need an apology? If I have anything here, it is not money put in my pocket, they are for constituency projects. Let us do the right thing.”

Senator Sani Musa (APC, Niger East), however, expressed disappointment over the actions of Ningi and Kawu saying, “Any discovery that I have not seen, to me it is not a discovery.

“Distinguished Senators Ningi and Kawu, I am not a second-class northerner. If there is anything that happens in the Northern Senators Forum, they do not inform me. If anybody says he has seen anything, provide the evidence.

“But when I saw the post from Senator Sumaila Kawu, I was disappointed. We will deal with the budget, but we have to also deal with our ethical standards in this Senate.”

In his defence, Ningi stated that he never mentioned padding in the 2024 budget.

“I have never issued a statement of this to anybody anywhere and anytime. What is being forwarded is the distorted version of what I said. Mr Chairman, you would recall last Tuesday that Kawu and I said we wanted to have an audience with you.

“The Northern Senators’ Forum met with you on Tuesday and this copy is with me. I am the only one who has a copy of our findings. At the end of our conversation, you said that the way the budget was brought to us didn’t allow us to vet it accurately.”

Ningi stated that in the BBC interview, he never mentioned Akpabio and budget padding.

“I know that the budget was increased by N1.2tn, but I am not aware of the National Assembly budget or what was increased. We discovered some anomalies.

“Some things were repeated in the budget, Some senatorial districts have N120bn, some N50bn, some N30bn while my senatorial district just has N2bn and others have less than N1bn. I do not know the takeoff pay of the Senate President while you know mine,” he stated.

Ningi, during an interview with the BBC Hausa Service on Saturday, alleged that the budget passed by the National Assembly for the 2024 fiscal year was N25tn, while the one being implemented by the Presidency was N28.7tn.

In the interview, he was quoted to have 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 N25tn while the one being operated by Federal Government is N28tn.

“Apparently, we discovered N3tn 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 Bauchi senator was further quoted to have said, “We resolved as the peoples’ representatives to see President Tinubu on this issue, with facts and figures, to ask him if he is aware of this embarrassment or not, then from there we will take action.

“Let Nigerians be patient with us. This is a national issue; it affects all Nigerians irrespective of party, tribe or religion.”

Also commenting on the matter on Tuesday, Senator Ali Ndume said the issue was about the integrity of the Senate.

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