10th Assembly’s many battles for integrity

The 10th Senate, since it’s inauguration in June of 2023, has been enmeshed in one form of crisis or the other. It is a case of one week, one trouble. It’s President, Godswill Akpabio, a former governor, minister and a minority leader of the Senate, has been at the centre of all the controversies in the last nine months.

First, his ascension to the coveted seat of the President of the Senate, sparked a strong resistance from key lawmakers, especially former governors and his colleagues from core northern states. After surviving the scare, Akpabio was again greeted with a series of threats of impeachment over allocation of chairmen of standing committees.

The Akwa Ibom-born politician was yet to recover from the threats, when he incurred the wrath of Nigerians for making statements during plenary that were termed insensitive. Akpabio’s ‘expensive’ jokes during plenary, have also been criticised by lawmakers and other critical stakeholders as unnecessary and demeaning to his office as President of the Senate.

Again, he has also faced sharp criticisms for his perpetual lateness to the chamber, despite repeated complaints by lawmakers, who have refused to accept his many excuses of stating plenary sometimes at noon. The inability of the Senate to pass any signature bill into law in almost one year has also been at the front burner, unlike previous assemblies headed by Bukola Saraki and Ahmad Lawan.

The latest upheaval in the Senate, has again put to test, Akpabio’s ability to manage diversity and accommodate dissenting voices. The suspension of Abdul Ningi from Bauchi State by loyalists of Akpabio, has opened up a new curve that has birthed crises in the months to come.

Many stakeholders, including senators, believe that Ningi’s claims about a padded budget are true. Peter Obi, the Labour Party presidential candidate in the 2023 general elections believe that the Senate still owes the people some explanations as regards the budget padding scandal rocking the Upper Chamber. Obi said the claims and counterclaims over the alleged N3trillion which was padded into the 2024 budget, requires proper explanation as to what Nigerians must need to know regarding management of the nation’s resources.

“The fuss over the alleged N3 trillion padded into the 2024 budget raised by a Senator still rages as the Senate’s reaction of suspending the whistle-blower has not addressed vital issues emanating from the allegation. The Senator is insisting on his allegation and the Executive agreed that there was only N1.2trillion padded and not N3trillion as alleged by the Senator. Fresh allegations have also cropped up over indiscriminate and unbalanced allocation of constituency projects by the Senate leadership,” Obi noted.

Similarly, BudgIT, a civil organization which simplifies the Nigerian budget, promoting transparency and fostering active citizen engagement, through its co-founder and CEO, Seun Onigbinde, threw its weight behind Ningi’s claims that over ₦3 trillion was allocated in the 2024 budget without details or expenditure items for what of the allocation was provided.

Onigbinde said, “There should be a detailed breakdown of the budget. On that point, Ningi is right. But to say that we are running two parallel budgets, I don’t think that is factual. “While acknowledging the absence of a breakdown for approximately N3.7 trillion in statutory transfers, Onigbinde however said this practice was not uncommon historically.

“If Senator Ningi says there is a N25trn budget, yes, that is the MDA’s budget. It’s different from the government-owned enterprises budget. In the current budget, the National Assembly gave a very broad summary of its allocations but there are no detailed allocations on a granular level that everybody can understand. TETFUND should not just get an allocation.

“What are you spending money on? INEC is collecting a huge chunk of funds but there is no public details about what the funds are used for.

“If you put all these together, that is around N3.5 trillion to N3.7 trillion. So, if Ningi wants to interrogate that there are components of the budget where there is no breakdown, that is very factual.

“To say this, the N3.7 trillion amount somewhere does not have a breakdown; we can’t find that in the budget in our own analysis. I expected him (Ningi) to bring his own breakdown. There are statutory elements in the budgets that do not have breakdown, but that does not seem unusual, it seems like the situation is from the past.”

Emmanuel Onwubiko, the national coordinator, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), said: “No lawmaker can deny the fact that the 2024 budget wasn’t padded.

He said:” So far nobody has denied that about N3.7 trillion is not pinned down to any specific project in the 2024 budget. Nobody can even deny that, because it has been established. Even BudgiT, the Civil Society Organization (CSO) that specializes in national budget analysis, has even backed the position that the said amount of money isn’t traceable to any project in the budget.

“And it is increasingly becoming clearer that what happened was that the senators allocated the huge sum to themselves. Some of the senators got N200 million; some got N500 million. As we have seen so far, most of the senators have been coming to the media to explain this. So nobody is going to deny anything again. It is now an open secret, but it is just very unfortunate that Nigeria has a senate that is not very transparent and accountable.


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