The Anti-Corruption Crusader Or The Vengeance Of A Scorned Comrade

The allegation of budget padding by the National Assembly is not new; however, this is the first time that a distinguished and long-serving senator would accuse his fellow legislators of committing such an act.

The accusation by Senator Abdul Ningi has raised many questions, and one wonders why the senator, who was first elected to the House of Representatives at the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999 and is one of the longest-serving federal lawmakers in Nigeria, would turn on his colleagues and blow the whistle.

Has Ningi suddenly decided to isolate himself from the bad apples and take on the role of an anti-corruption hero, or is this a personal vendetta against his colleagues?

Ningi was the majority leader in the House of Representatives between 2003 and 2007 and deputy majority leader in the Senate for another four years between 2011 and 2015.

Those were privileged positions that made him a principal officer in both chambers of the National Assembly. That also means that the Bauchi senator has participated actively in the passage of the federal budgets at the highest level.

These experiences indicate that the lawmaker understands the nitty-gritty of the legislative and appropriation processes in both chambers of parliament.

However, it seems that Ningi, who has been quiet and amicable during all his years as the nation’s legislator, has finally decided to awaken from his slumber.

Although we cannot be certain what initiated him to arise from his state of tranquility.

How It Began

In December 2023, the two arms of the two arms of the National Assembly passed the 2024 appropriation bill, increasing its size from N27.5 trillion proposed by President Bola Tinubu to N28.7 trillion.

The budget size was increased by N1.2 trillion.

The budget has N1.7 trillion allocated for statutory transfers, N8.7 trillion for recurrent expenditure, and N9.9 trillion for capital expenditure.

However, months after the passage of the budget, Ningi told the BBC Hausa that the lawmakers sought the services of a private auditor and discovered some irregularities.

Example, we had a budget of N28 trillion but after our thorough checks, we found out that it was a budget of N25 trillion. How and where did we get the additional N3 trillion from, what are we spending it for?”

While Ningi allegations should not be overlooked, one must not forget that the senator was a member of the senate appropriation committee, which anchored the processing of the national budget in parliament.

The 2024 Appropriation Bill was signed into law on December 31, 2023. But Ningi waited until March 7, 2024 to draw his colleagues attention to the discrepancy in the budget.

Why did it take an experienced ranking senator and a member of the senate appropriation committee two months and seven days after passage to realise that something was amiss with the Appropriation Bill that was presented to the national assembly on November 29, 2023?

It was commendable that Senator Ningi at least drew the attention of the senate president to his “discoveries,” however belatedly.

2024 budget is the North shortchanged by the South

The Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Ali Ndume, while reacting to Ningi allegations claimed that the senator believed that the budget did not favour the north.

In the first instance, it started when they said capital project was skewed to the South. The total in that budget that was brought before us by the President was not up to N9 trillion, it was N8.9trn and they are talking of skewed capital project to the South and the total adding up to N15 trillion.

That N15 trillion is strange, even with the amendment that we made, the capital component of this budget is not up to that.

“I told him he was wrong. I had even warned him when he brought the issue to me. I had told him to get a consultant to analyze the budget. But he refused to listen to me,” Ndume said during an interview in Channels Television

According to Ndume, Ningi was trying to make the 2024 project an ethnic and political issue.

The senator stated that he could attest to the fact that the North was not shortchanged by the South.

While Ndume has claimed that the North is well represented in the budget, one cannot dismiss the fact that Ningi might feel that the cookie jar has being snatched from him, hence his reason for crying foul.

What Does The Political Analyst Thinks.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Naija News, a seasoned political analyst, Tunji Ojo shares his thoughts on the situation.

Over the years, there have being controversies about budget padding, it tends to connotes something negative.

“Budget is a law of the national assembly, and for every law you can amend and alter whatever is propose because there will be public hearing and due consultations before passage.

“Over the years there have being allegations of budget padding by the National Assembly but when you put in context what Abdul Ningi said, he claimed to be a member of the Appropriation Committee and you ask yourself if due diligence was done why was he blowing the whistle three months after the budget has being passed into law.

“Every member of the National Assembly is supposed to have a copy of the budget but my own take is that the executive and the legislature are being clever by half.

“Do you know that budget 2024 is over 2000 pages long and the president submitted the budget on November 29 2023 and said he wants the budget to be passed before the end of the year. Now, how can you read 2000 pages document in 1 or 2 days if you want to do due diligence.

“What the National Assembly did was to read the executive summary of the budget. And then alter one or two things and went ahead to do budget defence.

“In my own estimation they have every right to alter whatever has being presented to them by the president. Because the president himself in actually sending them documents to alter what he has initially presented now what the national assembly did was that the exchange rate was put at 750 naira to a dollar.

“They increased the exchange rate to 800 dollar so on every 50 naira that was added they felt they can increase the budget.

“So the point is there was no due diligence done in interrogating the budget before the passage because of time constraints.

“And that was why Senator Abdul Ningi hired a consultant to do this after the passage. Even when you look at the way it was communicated to the public, it was like he said they could not find N3.7 trillion to match projects.

“Then you ask whether the entire 25 trillion that he said he could find were all capital expenditure.

“We know for certain that there are different components to budget. You have the current, the capital, the service wise, the debt service. and some agencies whose budget could be broken down but they would still be captured. Like Senator Adeola Olamilekan said this has being the tradition, it is not today that it started

“For instance Tetfund has 700 billion in this 2024 budget, INEC has 40 billion, some agencies funds could not be broken down. So when he says he could not find project cost and location, he cannot find it because there is no break down for those government owned enterprises and some of those agencies under what is called front line charge of the consolidated revenue.

“The whole audit of the budget should have being done before the passage but because they have limited time they passed the budget and just sent it to the president. The president himself did not read it and neither did his aides before signing it.

“They passed the budget on Saturday December 30 and they brought it to the president on January 1.

“Dont forget that the president was in Lagos on vacation through out the period that the National Assembly was working on the budget so the president just came, they presented the budget to him and he signed.

“What I feel is that due process was not followed. The president is supposed to present the budget no less than September of every year. If the president had submitted the budget in September there would have being a 90 days window for the National Assembly to work on the budget.”

Do you think it is unconstitutional for the senate to suspend Ningi without setting up a standing committee to look into his allegations?

It is in two part, Ningi met with the president of the Senate and he told him that he was not aware of the allegation and told him to allow him investigate and get back to him.

“He did not wait for the comeback of the president of the senate before he went address the press last Saturday on BBC.

“He who alleges must find proof.

“He claims he is a member of the appropriation Committee so if he were truly a member why did he not raise the issue at the committee level.

“I agree that the National Assembly has no right to suspend Ningi.

“The court of law in several rulings including Ndume have ruled that the National Assembly has no right to suspend any member because they represent a constituent and when you suspend them the interest of the constituent is jeopardised so they err on the side of law, Ningi can head to court to seek redress.”

Do you consider Ningi’s whistle blowing an heroic act or someone who is carrying out a personal vandetta

Ningi was playing the ethnic card. The bottom line is that when there is fragmentation it is because someone felt cheated. Did you know that Ningi constituency got 500m or 1 billion. May be he felt it is too small.

“He who alleges must prove. And you have to be careful of the listening public so that you are not perceived as ethnic jingoist.

“Because I think Abdul Ningi was trying to play the ethnic card but when it backfires he said he is representing himself and he also refused to apologise.”

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