Senate suspends Ningi over ‘false budget padding claim’

The Senate yesterday wielded the big stick against Senator Abdul Ningi for making false budget padding claims.

At a stormy session, aired live on national television channels, Ningi (PDP – Bauchi Central), former chairman of the Northern Senators’ Forum (NSF), was suspended for three months by his angry colleagues through a voice vote.

Also, Senator Sumaila Kawu (NNPP – Kano South) was warned to desist from spreading false information capable of destabilising the Senate.

The “suspension” and “warning” followed the adoption of a motion on urgent national importance.

The motion was titled: “Urgent need to address the false allegations against the Senate and the Presidency on the 2024 Appropriation Act by Senator Abdul Ningi (Bauchi Central).”

It was sponsored by the Chairman of the Committee on Appropriation, Solomon Adeola (APC – Ogun West), and seconded by Joel Onowakpo Thomas (PDP – Delta South).

Ningi had alleged in his interview with the BBC Hausa Service that projects worth N3.7 trillion in the 2024 Budget were not traceable, to the consternation of the majority of senators.

Adeola said the padding claim was unfounded, stressing that the sectoral budgetary allocations were accompanied by projects.

Ningi, who immediately left the chamber following his suspension, also resigned his position as the NSF chairman in a letter to the secretary of the forum, Senator Sadiq Suleiman (APC – Kwara North).

“I would like to resign my position as the Chairman of the Northern Senators’ Forum.

“This is, of course, necessitated by unfolding events in the National Assembly, the North and the nation at large,” he wrote.

After the drama at the plenary, Senate President Godswill Akpabio was sighted at Aso Villa.

Also during the debate, Senator Jarigbe Jarigbe (PDP – Cross River North) made an allegation that some senators got N500 million as palliative.

He said: “All of us are culpable. Some so-called senior senators here got N500 million each from the 2024 Budget. I am a ranking senator. I didn’t get anything. No senator has a right to accuse Senator Ningi.”

But, the Chairman of the Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Yemi Adaramodu (APC – Ekiti South), dismissed the claim as false.

He added, however, that Jarigbe later recanted, saying that he acted on hearsay.

Nothing like padding, says Adeola

Adeola, in his lead debate, said there was no N3.7 trillion provision in the budget without projects.

He said the amount being referred to by Ningi was meant for statutory transfers to organs of the Federal Government on first-line charge.

Adeola said: “There are some unfounded, ignorant and patently false statements credited to Distinguished Senator Abdul Ningi in some sections of the media that the 2024 Budget was padded to the tune of N3trillion and that the executive was implementing a different budget from what was passed by the National Assembly.

“While I do not want to believe that any senator that witnessed the rigorous scrutiny in limited time of the 2024 Appropriation Bill would make such unfounded and false statement of budget padding to the press without seeking necessary clarifications from relevant committees and authorities of the parliament, it is pertinent for me as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations to present the facts and dispel the spurious allegations and blatant misinformation contrived to distract and derail the effective implementation of the 2024 Appropriation Act for the good of Nigerians.

“For the records, the 2024 Appropriation Bill presented to the National Assembly by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was N27.55trillion and the National Assembly eventually passed an Appropriation Bill of N28.77trillion, an increase of N1.2trillion.

“The increase, which was assented to by the President came from the upward adjustment of benchmark of exchange rate from N750 -$1 to N800-$1 and increase in the GOE’s (Government Owned Enterprises) revenue.

“This increase was allocated to some critical sectors based on requests from the executive and the judiciary.

“There was no way the 2024 Budget could have been padded by the phantom N3trillion of Senator Ningi and his consultants.

“The Northern Senators represented by Senator Ningi apparently gave wrong and incomplete information to their ‘consultants’ for them to arrive at a national budget of N25 trillion instead of the passed N28.77 trillion budget.

“If there were no ulterior motives by Senator Ningi and some aggrieved senators targeted at derailing the APC administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu and creating bickering between the Executive and the Legislature, he would have sought for clarifications on the discrepancies noted by their consultants for more enlightenment on budgeting and parliamentary processes before rushing to the press with misinformation.

“It is now apparent that a ranking senator of Senator Ningi’s standing who should be conversant with the budgetary processes and nuances of the National Assembly, having served in both the House of Representatives and the Senate as a parliamentarian is completely ignorant of the process or is only being mischievously partisan against the administration of President Tinubu and the existing cordial and harmonious relationship between the executive and the legislature.

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“For the records, the N25 trillion Senator Ningi and his ‘consultants’ presented as the budget (N25.45trillion approximately) being implemented by the Executive are the details of the budgets of all MDAs.

“It is unfortunate and regrettable that Senator Ningi and his consultants did not take into account that the budgets of some bodies are not captured in the details but in the summary of the Appropriation Act as passed.

“All appropriations for Statutory Transfers, GOEs and TETFUND are only in the summary of the Act and not in the details.

“The total sums of these appropriations captured in the summary and not in details as it is constitutional and in line with our budgetary process is N3.32 trillion.”

Adeola explained the breakdown of the N3.32trillion as follows: National Judicial Council – N341.6bn, National Assembly – N344.8bn, Public Complaints Commission – N14bn, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) – N40bn, Government-Owned Enterprises (Recurrent) – N1.059trn, Tetfund (Recurrent) – N35bn, Government-Owned Enterprises (Capital) N820.9bn and Tetfund (Capital) – N665bn.

He added: “A simple arithmetic by Senator Ningi and his ‘consultants’ of the MDAs’ details and the figures of Statutory Transfers, GOEs and TETFUND in the summary, would amount to exactly the figures of the 2024 Appropriation of N28.77 trillion.

“So, the Executive is implementing the 2024 Appropriation Act as passed by the National Assembly and not the ‘dual’ budgets that Senator Ningi is leading the Nigerian public to believe.

“From this false figure of the 2024 Budget as N25 trillion, it is not surprising that a false claim of ‘the Senate President inserting projects worth N4 trillion in the 2024 budget’ without location ‘was discreetly inserted’.

“This is false and the Northern Senators are challenged to name such projects worth N4trillion without location if any of such exist.

“It is also ridiculous for the Northern Senators to allege that the 2024 Budget was lopsided ‘against the North and some parts of the South’ in the story.

“It would have been helpful if evidence of such lopsidedness against the run of passing a national budget is provided.

“The National Assembly passed a national budget targeted at national development in tandem with the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework that was earlier passed by the parliament.

“The budget as passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives, including the Northern Senators, is being implemented as passed and any claim to the contrary is in the imagination of those who want to create national division for some ulterior motives yet to be ascertained.”

The Senate Leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, moved the motion that Adeola’s motion be referred to the Committee of the Whole for deliberation.

The motion, which was seconded by the Minority Leader, Abba Moro, was approved by the Senate when the request was put to voice vote by Senate President Godswill Akpabio.

Other senators who contributed to the motion vented their anger.

Senator Adams Oshiomhole (APC – Edo North) said: “We have been stripped naked in the market. The minimum requirement is for Ningi to remedy what he has done.

“Ningi has a duty even to his own children, not to be in front of television cameras saying what is wrong. Northern senators deserve to be told the truth.

“If all of these have taken place and we are now suspect, it is for both of them to recant and say it was a mistake. Each time we try to destroy one of us, we destroy all of us.”

Senator Sunday Karimi (APC – Kogi West) said: “What has been established here is that N3 trillion padding allegation is a lie. All information being passed around is from Senator Kawu and Ningi. That has been established.”

Senator Godiya Akwashiki (SDP – Nasarawa North) said: “I think, to some extent, we don’t need to waste time on this issue. Ningi is the chief actor.”

Akpabio said: “I think it is a straightforward matter. We have a role to be stabilisers of the Senate.”

On the core allegation of budget padding, he said: “Everybody is saying Akpabio, Akpabio, Akpabio. I don’t think anybody ever called Tajudeen Abass, Tajudeen Abass, Tajudeen Abass!”

The Minority Leader of the Senate, Abba Moro (PDP – Benue South), and his deputy, Senator Olalere Kamarudeen Oyewunmi (Osun West), dismissed Ningi’s claims that the leadership of the minority parties was imposed by the leadership of the Senate.

Moro and Oyewunmi said they were duly elected by their colleagues, who signed their signatures to make them leaders.

Senator Adamu Aliero (PDP – Kebbi Central), raising a constitutional order, pleaded that Ningi be given a fair hearing by allowing him to defend himself.

Ningi, in his defence, said 80 per cent of the translation of his interview with the BBC Hausa Service as read out on the floor was correct.

He also said that at no time did he say that the Senate passed N25 trillion as the 2024 budget or that the Executive is implementing two sets of budgets.

Ningi said the findings of the consultants were only known to him, adding that he did not share them with members of the NSF.

He, however, insisted that projects worth N3.7 trillion in the 2024 budget were not traceable according to findings by consultants he commissioned to scrutinise the budget.

He also alleged that he has five statutory aides like other senators, but cannot say how many aides the Senate President and his deputy, Barau Jibrin, had.

He also claimed that some senatorial districts were allocated over N100bn while his district has only N2 billion.

Akpabio said when Ningi met with him on the issue, he had demanded a copy of the report but was never given.

At this point, there was rowdiness in the chamber. Many senators were on their feet while others besieged the seat of the Senate President.

The Senate President stood up and invoked relevant rules of the Senate, which provide that all senators must take their seats and remain quiet when the Presiding Officer is on his feet to address the chamber.

He warned that he was also empowered to direct the Sergeant-At-Arms to walk out any unruly Senator.

At this point, the chamber became calm and the lawmakers resumed the debate.

I never criticised budget, says Kawu

Kawu said he did not author the message credited to him on the alleged operation of two budgets by the Executive and N3.7trillion padding.

He said he only posted it on the platform of the NSF for their information.

Kawu said after posting the message, Senator Aminu Tambawal and Deputy Senate President Barau called him and said he should not grant media interview on the matter. He said he kept to the advice.

Bamidele: It was a failed coup

Senate Leader Bamidele said for the first time, he intended to speak as senator representing Ekiti Central, and not as a principal officer.

He said the padding allegation against the Senate was a continuation of the Senate leadership struggle that started in June last year.

Bamidele said while Senators Ahmad Lawan and Tambuwal had declared that they have put the past behind them, some northern senators are bent on removing Akpabio before the 10th Senate attains one year in office in June.

He added that what Ningi planned to do was tantamount to a civilian coup, which has failed, using the platform of the NSF.

Bamidele said: “We must never accept any apology from Senator Ningi. It is ridiculous to do so. He lied deliberately against the Senate President. You’re occupying that seat 40 years after a Southsouth person occupied it.

“The last time a Southerner was there was during Obasanjo and they were changed every time. It was only stable when it returned to the North. David Mark spent eight years, Saraki completed his four years, and Lawan spent his four years.

“Don’t be deceived, the losers of the June 2023 Senate presidential election are still angry. Some have accepted, but a few haven’t. They have plotted to remove you before June 2024.

“That is why you must not allow this deliberate mischief by Ningi to go away. He did it on purpose. He knew he was lying. He set the public against you. He will do it again. We must apply our rules.”

Bamidele called for punitive measures against Ningi to serve as a deterrent to others.

Akpabio put the following prayers in Adeola’s motion to voice vote.

They are: “Pursuant to Order 1(b) of the Senate Standing Order 2023 (as Amended) allow immediate deliberation of this matter and take appropriate action deemed fit in the overriding public interest and as a matter of urgent public importance to prevent a break down of law and order;

“Take further necessary steps to correct the wrong impression in the public domain about the 2024 budget created by the BBC interview and other national media houses and social media platforms by Senator Abdul Ningi and amplified by Senator Suleiman Abdulrahman Kawu through his Facebook account and other social media platforms;

“Take any further decision as the Senate deems fit and proper to safeguard the integrity of the 2024 budget which is pivotal to the revamping of our economy.”

The prayers were approved by the Senate.

Senator Jimoh Ibrahim (APC – Ondo South), moved that Ningi be suspended for 12 months, without benefits and entitlement and that the Senate should send a warning letter to Kawu to stop spreading fake news.

Senator Ede Dafinone (Delta South) supported the motion.

Senator Mohammed Monguno said the prayer should be amended so that the matter be referred to the Senate Committee on Ethics and Petitions for further deliberation in line with relevant rules of the Senate.

Akpabio said it was not possible since Ningi’s infraction did not take place inside the Senate.

Senator Asuquo Ekpenyoung said the suspension should be reduced to six months.

The suggestion was supported by Senator Mpigi Barinada (Rivers South East).

Senator Abdulfatai Buhari proposed a three-month suspension, with an opportunity for an apology.

Senator Garba Musa Maidoki (Kebbi South) proposed three months with a clause of recall the very next day after the written apology. It was backed by Senator Sani Musa.

Senators approved that Ningi be suspended for three months when the motion was put to a voice vote by the Senate President.

Implication of suspension, by Sani

In a tweet, former Kaduna South Senator Shehu Sani, explained the consequences of the three-month suspension slammed on Ningi.

Sani said: “Suspension in the Senate means a senator will not be allowed to attend the plenary and will be prohibited from attending committee meetings and participating in oversight functions.

“His salaries, allowances and all entitlements will be blocked; he will not have access to his office and he is expected not to be seen within the premises of the National Assembly until the suspension is lifted.”

According to him, he would have been suspended for making public the salaries and running costs of lawmakers, but the then Senate President (Dr. Bukola Saraki), who intervened.

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