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  • Politics
  • Updated: March 20, 2024

Budget padding: Akpabio faces integrity test at senate over Ningi's allegation

Budget padding: Akpabio faces integrity test at senate over

The raging controversy over alleged padding of the 2024 national budget to the tune of N3.7 trillion has, again, put the National Assembly under the searchlights, as Nigerians, have been voicing concerns that the federal legislature may well be a cesspit of corruption.

The raging controversy has also called to question the suitability of the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio for the office as many have come to doubt his ability to lead a functional National Assembly devoid of controversies.

The National Assembly, under Akpabio as Chairman, has waded through different controversies since its inauguration in June 2023.

Allnews.ng recalls that the federal legislature came under severe criticism for procuring expensive state of art Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) for its members both the Senate and at the House of Representatives at a time Nigerians were grappling with hardships occasioned by the removal of fuel subsidy by the President Bola Ahmed Tinubu's administration.

Akpabio also had his integrity questioned after he told lawmakers on live television that money had been sent to their bank accounts to allow them enjoy their holidays. 

Though Akpabio tried to cover up the gaffe when his attention was called to the fact that he was on live television, the damage was already done, with information leaking out later that each of the Senators received N2 million for their vacation.

The budget padding allegation may, however, be the biggest and most controversial the National Assembly under Akpabio may have had till date.

Senator Abdul Ningi, (PDP, Bauchi), who was the Chairman of the Northern Senators Forum, in an interview with the BBC Hausa, alleged that the 2024 budget was padded to the tune of N3.7 trillion.

Though there were backlashes from Ningi’s colleagues and the Presidency, which faulted the claim, including an allegation that the budget was tilted against the Northern Part of the country, Ningi insisted on his allegation, explaining that the N3.7 trillion in question were not tied to specific projects.

The Senate, during a heated plenary session, however, suspended Senator Ningi for three months for daring to make unsubstantiated allegations against the Red Chamber.

If the Nigerian Senate thought the controversies and storms that followed Ningi's allegation will easily go away with his suspension, they were wrong, as new revelations have come to the fore, even as the lawmakers deliberated on the allegation during plenary.

 Jarigbe speaks

Senator Jarigbe Agom-Jarigbe representing Cross River North, however, threw new set of spanners into the wheel, when he alleged that some senators got the total of N500 million each from the 2024 Budget.

Agom-Jarigbe, who commented on the allegations by Ningi, alleged that some Senators are guilty of such practice, adding that some senior senators got N500 million each from the 2024 Appropriation Act.

“If we want to go into this issue, all of us are culpable. Some senators here, so-called senior senators got N500 million each. I am a ranking senator, I didn’t get. Did I go to the press? Most of you got. We don’t have to go into those issues,” he said.

 Ndume plainly explains

Corroborating Agom-Jarigbe, the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Ali Ndume, revealed that he got more than others he described as 'floor members' of the Senate.

He said: “My colleagues know that I got more than them [floor members].

“All the senators have N200m (each) as their constituency projects but I am a leader. That is the difference. 10 of us are leaders including those in the opposition. We get more than the floor members. It’s normal…My colleagues know that I got more than them.”

Responding to a question on whether the claim by Agom-Jarigbe was true, Ndume said: “It’s disparity now, we are not the same; all animals are equal but some are more equal than the other. That’s what the case is. They have agreed to that.

“That decision is taken by the senators. We have the Senate budget committee before but now the floor members entrusted that to the presiding officers. That’s the difference. So, most of the senators don’t know what I get and I will not tell you.”

It shouldn't be so - Ned Nwoko

Also lending his voice to the disparity and lopsided allocation of resources for constituency projects under Akpabio, Senator Ned Nwoko representing Delta North, claimed that he got over N1 billion for his constituency projects.

According to Nwoko, what you get depends on your networks and reach and how much you can lobby.

Nwoko said: “Senators get what they lobby for, not because they have the right to it. Everybody just goes about doing what they can do for their constituencies and senatorial districts.

“A better approach would have been for senatorial uniformity. So if they say that everyone should get about N1 billion, be it. But this way, you rely on your weight and contacts to see what you can get for your people.

“We are not talking about money for the senators. This is for projects within our senatorial districts. If you have road, water, or training programmes, all should aggregate to a particular amount,” the lawmaker revealed in a podcast released on Saturday.

Asked if he got as much as N1 billion in allocation, the senator replied, “Of course, I did. That’s why I am who I am. But these are projects for my people.”

What these revelations have shown, according to analysts is that the National Assembly, especially the Senate under Akpabio, is an institution where anything goes.

 Analysts take on Akpabio

An analyst, James Adeniyi, who spoke to Allnews.ng, said recent revelations on how Senators pad the national budget with the so called constituency projects have shown that the resources of the country are not being shared proportionally among the different components of the country.

"It is actually laughable reading what Senator Ali Ndume said about these revelations. Using the analogy of Animal Farm is highly offensive and saying all animals are equal but some are more equal is derogatory not just to the senators he referred to as floor members but also Nigerians who are their constituents.

"And of course, all these point to the kind of leadership the Senate has in the person of Godswill Akpabio. The 10th Senate, with the way things are going, may just turn out to be the most controversial and most deficient in terms of integrity since the beginning of the 4th Republic", Adeniyi said.

 PDP passes verdict

Weighing into the budget padding allegation and the subsequent suspension of Ningi, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), to which Ningi belong, called on Akpabio to step down and allow a proper independent investigation into the allegation.

The party, in a statement issued by its National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, said it stands with Senator Ningi and condemns his suspension.

The party said: “The PDP firmly condemns the suspension of Senator Abdul Ningi by the All Progressives Congress (APC) leadership in the Senate without a detailed inquest into the issue of budget padding which he raised"

The PDP also alleged that Ningi’s suspension is “apparently a desperate move to suppress investigation, conceal and sweep the facts under the carpet”, adding that the senate should have referred the claim to a 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 has the capacity to bring the institution of the Senate to further public disrepute.

“This is especially as the issues at hand heavily border on alleged gross misconduct and criminal betrayal of public trust which are serious offences under our laws.”

“Our Party therefore stands with Senator Ningi for his courage in seeking probity and accountability in the polity", PDP said in the statement.

 Akpabio allocate chunk to self

In a bizarre revelation, BudgIT analysis of the 2024 Budget showed that over N90 billion worth of projects was allocated exclusively within the constituency of Akpabio, North West Senatorial District of Akwa Ibom State in the budget of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.

The analysis of the budget shows that a significant chunk of the projects are outside the mandate of the ministry. 

BudgIT, a civic-tech organization warns that the allocation does not only surpasses the ministry’s capacity but also raises concerns about potential economic stagnation.

Akpabio's constituency covers 10 local government areas which comprise Abak, Essien, Etim Ekpo, Ika, Ikono, Ikot Ekpene, Ini, Obot, Oruk Anam and Ukanafun.

An analysis of the ministry’s budget shows that Akpabio’s district received at least 280 projects, the highest chunk of the allocation to Akwa Ibom state, but no fewer than 15 projects were allocated to other Senatorial districts.

A breakdown of the budget shows that , N7. 291 billion was allocated for the construction and equipping of Information Communication and Technology Centres ; N395 million for the Construction and equipping of Community schools; N957 million for the supply of sewing machine, hairdressing/barbing equipment, and deep freezers; N50 million for the construction of district head palace; N4 billion for Construction of police stations.

N12.721 billion for the construction of roads within communities and supply of transformers; N28.111 billion for the construction of roads within communities: N3.111 billion for the provision of farm implements, motorcycles, tricycles, welding machine to artisans, and buses

Others are N4.538 billion for the empowerment materials and training to women and youths; and provision of grants; N474 million for the provision of security cars; N1.286 billion for the provision of educational materials to selected schools; N1.220 billion for the provision of medical supplies and equipment to health centres; N2.996 billion for starter packs for youths and women

Also included is N7. 551bn billion for the drilling and provision of solar powered boreholes and street lights; N1.095bn for Workspace and farm stalls; N475 million for development of Agricultural value chains; N4.090 billion for construction and equipping of Primary Healthcare Centres; N4.701bn for construction of Town Halls/ equipping and construction of community centres; N1.565bn for provision, and installation of transformers; N1.2 billion for construction of intensive care unit, N1.5 billion for erosion control; N691 million for the distribution of grains to cushion the impact of hunger.

BudgIT also reported that an estimated 30 percent of projects worth N632bn were inserted in the  Ministry of Agriculture’s budget, raising its capital budget from N332bn to N963bn.

“How will these agencies, without the requisite knowledge regarding these projects, properly monitor and appraise performance?”, the organization queried in the report.

 Northern leaders unhappy

Meanwhile, there are reports that some Northern governors and senators have vowed to unseat Akpabio and have given President Bola Tinubu time to ensure that the Senate president is removed or there will be a dire consequence for the country. Though this cannot be substantiated yet, there is no doubt that the northerners are unhappy with the Akpabio-led NASS..

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