Budget padding allegation: Akpabio’s men fight back, plot against Ningi

The fight over claims that the 2024 national budget was padded with about N3 trillion, maybe far from over, as some northern senators loyal to the President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, have dissociated themselves from the claims made by Senator Abdul Ningi.

Ningi, in an interview with the BBC Hausa Service, made some startling revelations. He had claimed that Tinubu was operating two national budgets, one approved by the National Assembly, and the other unknown to the Parliament.

Reacting to Ningi’s interview on Sunday in Abuja, the Presidency dismissed his claims as unfortunate, coming from a high-ranking senator.

“There is no truth whatsoever in the allegation made by Sen. Ningi that President Tinubu is operating two budgets for 2024,’’ Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Mr Bayo Onanuga, stated.

He explained that on November 29, 2023, President Tinubu presented a budget of N27.5 trillion to the joint session of the National Assembly. The budget was made up of N9.92 trillion recurrent expenditure; debt servicing of N8.25 trillion and capital expenditure of N8.7 trillion.

Addressing newsmen in Abuja, yesterday, Ningi expressed fears that he might be suspended by his colleagues, following his media outburst, wherein he made serious allegations.

He said though he did not implicate President Bola Tinubu, he reiterated his earlier claims that about N3 trillion captured in the budget could not be traced to any capital component of the budget.

Sources said Ningi may be referred to the Senate Committee on Ethics, where he may be recommended for suspension. The suspension may, however, be discarded if the caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) intervenes.

He said: “I’m not representing Northern senators. The interview I gave was in my capacity as a senator. The interview had no bearing with my position as chairman of the Northern Senators Forum. On Sunday, I was confronted with a press release from Bayo Onanuga. I was surprised that the Bayo I used to know would come out with a press release against my person without knowing anything.

“I granted my interview in Hausa. Those who carried the interview tarnished my image and Bayo called me a liar. Bayo didn’t listen to my interview and didn’t get the translation. I didn’t say that President Bola Tinubu was implementing two budgets.

“I didn’t say that Tinubu was biased against the North. I didn’t say that the President was implementing a N25 trillion budget. I was speaking on the state of the nation, and I lamented how the North was doing.

“The first example I made was about President Goodluck Jonathan who refused to dredge the Niger River. And I spoke about President Muhammadu Buhari who refused to fix Ajaokuta and other projects in the North. I said I don’t blame Tinubu because Northern leaders didn’t extract any commitment from him during the campaign.

“I also said that President Tinubu doesn’t understand how to run Nigeria. I was at a loss. We’re yet to ascertain N3 trillion of that budget and its location. We don’t know its place. Budget evaluation is ongoing. The intention of Northern Senators was to meet with Akpabio with our findings and also President Tinubu. They tried to narrow me down as a regional person.

“I’ve never spoken as a regional person. But I’m a proud Northerner. But it doesn’t mean that I see Nigeria from an ethnic perspective. I switched off all my phones to avoid any senator following me. I’m not afraid or scared of anything. If I’ll be suspended for saying what I said, so be it.

“I spoke as a senator. What the president sent to the Senate was a proposal. The President has no power of appropriation. I couldn’t have said what they are suggesting.”

In the meantime, seven senators from the Northeast, Northwest and North Central, have dissociated themselves from Ningi’s position, maintaining that there’s no wrongdoing in the 2024 budget.

The statement was signed by Senators Aminu Iyal Abbas (Adamawa); Ibrahim Bamai (Yobe); Abdul Azeez Yar’Adua (Katsina); Lawal Adamu Usman (Kaduna); Jibri Isah (Kogi); Diket Plang (Plateau), and Saliu Mustapha (Kwara).

The lawmakers said their position is representative of all the senators from the North. They said he is on his own in the claims he made on the BBC Hausa Service on the 2024 budget.

“As such, the view he expressed was his personal opinion, sentiment and unfortunately skewed, incorrect and misleading.

“There was never a time when we held a meeting and mandated Senator Ningi to address the press on the said matter. The budget was presented to the National Assembly during a joint session of the two chambers, Senate and House of Representatives, by President Bola Tinubu on November 29, 2023, in line with the requirement of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

“Both chambers of the National Assembly diligently and meticulously debated, processed and passed the proposal of the President. And satisfied with it, the President assented to it.

“It is clear that Mr President presented a budget of N27. 5 trillion to the National Assembly and the Assembly passed a budget of N28.7 trillion based on the need to make increases or decreases in the appropriations of the various MDAs which is in tandem with the legislative powers of the National Assembly in order to address critical projects and services across various sectors. Therefore, the statement made by Sen Ningi that the 2024 budget presented to the National Assembly by Mr President was N25 trillion was not correct and that should not be taken as the position of the Northern Senators Forum.

“To the best of our knowledge, there was no budget padding whatsoever that was done to the 2024 budget. The assertion by Sen Ningi that certain things were done to the bill is his personal opinion. It is not the view of the generality of us, the senators.

“Hence, we strongly and collectively dissociate ourselves from his action, which was grossly unparliamentary. We, the Northern senators, are solidly behind President Tinubu, and we will continue to support him to succeed in addressing the challenges facing our country.

“Nigeria, at this particular moment, does not need ethnic sentiments but collaborations of all to bring prosperity to our beloved country, the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We will continue to work with our brothers and sisters from the southern part of the country to move our country forward for the benefit of all and sundry.”



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