Tinubu Meets Akpabio, Jibrin After Senate Suspends Ningi over Budget Padding Allegation

•Jarigbe, spokesperson disagree over alleged N500m largesse to lawmakers
•Senate Leader claims some senators planning to impeach Akpabio before June
•Embattled senator resigns as NSF chair

Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha and Sunday Aborisade in Abuja

President Bola Tinubu, yesterday, met behind closed-doors with President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio, and his deputy, Senator Barau Jibrin, soon after the senate suspended Senator Abdul Ningi over his allegation that the upper chamber padded the 2024 national budget.

But Ningi’s suspension flies in the face of legal precedent, as shown by a 2020 appeal court ruling in the case of some suspended members of the Ondo State House of Assembly.

Nonetheless, Tinubu’s meeting with the presiding officers of the senate, which held at State House, Abuja, came as the senate faced yet another accusation of malfeasance. The senator for Cross River North, Agom Jarigbe, alleged that some ranking senators recently got N500 million intervention from the executive while others, including himself, got nothing.

However, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Adeyemi Adaramodu, while briefing journalists after plenary, quickly denied Jarigbe’s claim, saying no senator got N500 million as palliative.

Similarly, while contributing to the debate at plenary, Senate Leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, alleged that Ningi was acting the script of some people, whom he said were working towards impeachment of the senate president before June.

Ningi, yesterday, resigned his position as Chairman of the Northern Senators Forum (NSF) following the controversy generated by his allegation against the senate.

However, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), yesterday, described as coordinated cover-up the suspension slammed on Ningi by Akpabio’s senate without investigating his claims.

The two presiding officers of the senate met with Tinubu about 5.15pm at State House, Abuja. The agenda of the meeting could not be ascertained as at press time. But all indications point to the fact that the meeting might not be unconnected with Ningi’s suspension over the comment credited to him that Tinubu was implementing a different 2024 budget from what was presented to the National Assembly.

Sources close the meeting said the president was properly briefed by Akpabio on what transpired at yesterday’s rowdy senate session, which culminated in Ningi’s suspension.

Although Ningi had since denied the claim attributed to him, he did not escape the wrath of the majority of his colleagues, including his northern colleagues. The lawmakers insisted his allegation in an interview granted the BBC Hausa Service portrayed the senate in bad light.
Neither Akpabio nor Jibrin spoke to newsmen after the meeting with the president.

But the senate, which suspended Ningi for three months, gave a proviso that he would be recalled only if he wrote a letter of apology to the senate.

The decision to suspend the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senator for Bauchi Central Senatorial District, followed a motion by Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Solomon Adeola.

Adeola, the All Progressives Congress (APC) senator for Ogun West Senatorial District, said Ningi breached his privilege when he accused the senate of padding the 2024 national budget with over N3 trillion.

He also said the embattled senator claimed in the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that projects in the 2024 national budget were skewed in favour of the southern part of Nigeria.

Adeola, in his motion, drew the attention of his colleagues to Ningi’s claims that a team of financial experts hired by the NSF had discovered that N3.7 trillion in the budget could not be traced to any project neither was the location indicated.
Based on the instructions of the senate president, the Ogun West senator read the transcribed English version of the interview granted by Ningi in Hausa Language and notorised at a Federal High Court in Abuja.

The appropriation committee chairman then gave details of the N3 trillion that Ningi claimed was padded. He explained that the amount represented statutory transfers to some arms and agencies of government as first line charge, which did not require details.
Adeola, who said his motion was of Urgent National Importance, stressed the need to address the allegations against the senate and the Presidency on the 2024 Appropriation Act by Ningi.

He gave a breakdown of the N3.77 trillion contained in the statutory transfers.

Adeola said the 2024 Appropriation Bill presented to the National Assembly by Tinubu was N27.55 trillion and the National Assembly eventually passed an Appropriation Act of N28.77 trillion, an increase of N1.2 trillion.

He said the increase, which was assented to by the president, came from the upward adjustment of the benchmark of exchange rate from N750 -$1 to N800-$1 and increase in the Government Owned Enterprises’ revenue.

The increase, Adeola added, was allocated to some critical sectors based on requests from the executive and the judiciary. He added that there was no way the 2024 budget could have been padded by the N3 trillion.

He said 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.

Adeola stated, “If there were no ulterior motives by 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 clarifications on the discrepancies noted by their consultants for more enlightenment on budgeting and parliamentary processes before rushing to the press with misinformation.”

Adeola also said it was apparent that a ranking senator of Ningi’s standing that 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, was completely ignorant of the process.

According to him, “For the records, the N25 trillion Senator Ningi and his ‘consultants’ presented as the budget (N25.45 trillion approximately) being implemented by the Executive is 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, Government Owned Enterprises (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.

“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 passed 2024 Appropriation of N28.77 trillion.

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

“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.”
He, therefore, gave the details to include the make-up of the N3.32 trillion as provided below:

National Judicial Council (N341,625,739,236); National Assembly N344,852,880,669; Public Complaints Commission (N14,460,000,000); Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) N40,000,000,000; Government-Owned Enterprises (Recurrent) N1,059,617,780,421; TETFUND (Recurrent) N35,000,000,000 Government-Owned Enterprises (Capital) N820,908,398,828; TETFUND (Capital) N665,000,000,000.
Total is N3, 321,464,799,154.

Adeola, accordingly, prayed that pursuant to Order 1(b) of the Senate Standing Order 2023 (as Amended), the Senate should allow immediate deliberation on the matter and take appropriate action deemed fit in the overriding public interest and as a matter of urgent public importance to prevent break down of law and order.

He also prayed that further necessary steps should be taken to correct the wrong impression in public domain of 2024 budget created by the BBC interview and other national media houses and social media platforms by Ningi and amplified by Senator Suleiman Abdulrahman Kawu, through his Facebook account and other social media platforms.

Adeola urged the senate to take any further decision as it deemed fit and proper to safeguard the integrity of the 2024 budget, which is pivotal to the revamping of our economy.

His motion was seconded by Senator Joel Thomas.

When Ningi was called upon to speak, he maintained his position that the N3 trillion was missing. He also justified his decision to grant the BBC interview.

There were series of altercations among the senators, causing an uproar, before the senate president calmed the situation by threatening to sanction any member, who spoke without being recognised by him.

Senator Jimoh Ibrahim came up with an additional prayer, seeking the suspension of Ningi for one year. The prayer was amended to three months and it was passed by the senate.

Akpabio ruled on it and Ningi was walked out of the chamber by the sergeant-at-arms.

Earlier, all attempts by some ranking senators to prevail on Ningi to apologise did not succeed.

Some ranking senators clashed over whether Ningi should apologise or not, with Senator Ndume leading those urging him to do so.
Senate Leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, alleged that Ningi was acting the script of some people, whom he claimed were working towards the impeachment of the senate president before June this year.

An obviously enraged Bamidele said, “We must never accept any apology from Senator Ningi. It is ridiculous to do so. He lied deliberately. Mr Senate President, you’re occupying that seat 40 years after a South-south person occupied it.

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

“Don’t be deceived, the losers of June 2023 senate president election are still angry. Some have accepted but a few haven’t.”

Bamidele told Akpabio, “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 sanction.”

Tempers further rose, when the senator for Cross River North, Jarigbe, while contributing to the debate, said some ranking senators recently got N500 million intervention while some, including him, got nothing.

He alleged, “All of us are culpable. Some so-called senior senators here got 500 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 Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Adeyemi Adaramodu, told journalists that no senator got N500 million as palliative.

Adaramodu said, “There is no N500 million largesse anywhere. The senator who raised it had since recanted, claiming that somebody told him somewhere.”

Meanwhile, Ningi, who also resigned his position as Chairman of the Northern Senators Forum, dropped his resignation letter shortly after he was suspended from the red chamber for three months.

The letter was addressed to the Secretary of the NSF, Sadiq Sulaiman (APC, Kwara North).

The letter read, in part, “I will 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.”

HURIWA: Suspending Ningi Without Investigating Claims Amounts to Cover Up

Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) described as a cover-up the suspension slammed on Senator Abdul Ningi by the Godswill Akpabio-led senate over his allegation that the 2024 budget was padded with over N3 trillion by the senate.

HURIWA, in a statement by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, said the suspension was hasty and would inevitably be interpreted as a negative sign that the National Assembly that ought to be the bastion of civil democracy is being turned into a secret society. It said this was because the senators failed to conduct a publicly advertised probe of the damaging allegations made by Ningi.
HURIWA condemned the senators for behaving like political thugs and for being indecorous during the session leading to the suspension of Ningi.

The statement said, “The senate ought to have set up a committee to investigate the allegations and allow the members of the Nigerian public to follow up the process so as to get to the very roots of it with a view to ascertaining the veracity or otherwise of such an extensively damaging allegations.
“But, instead, the senate used legislative blackmail, sledgehammer and threats to shut up Senator Abdul Ningi and we, the people of Nigeria, think that this is an attempt to hide the truth from us. This is unconstitutional and undemocratic.”

Ningi’s Suspension for 3 Months Flies in the Face of Precedent

Yesterday’s suspension of Ningi for three months by the senate ran contrary of extant legal precedent.

In the case of Akinribido v Ondo State House of Assembly, the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the State High Court, which nullified the indefinite suspension of Akinribido by the Assembly leadership.

The lower court presided over by Justice Ademola Bola had ruled that the Ondo State House of Assembly acted arbitrarily by exceeding its power and could only suspend for one day’s plenary sitting.

The court held that in spite of the powers to sanction, the suspension could not be more than one legislative day and that the House of Assembly lacked the power to suspend a member indefinitely.

The decision of the lower court was also upheld by the Court of Appeal in Akure. The appellate court, in its verdict, dismissed the stay of execution suit filed by the Ondo State House of Assembly against the judgement of the High Court nullifying the suspension of four lawmakers by the leadership of the Assembly.

Presiding appeal court justice, Folayemi Omoleye, while delivering the ruling, chided the appellants for bringing a “frivolous” suit before the court.

He, consequently, directed the Ondo State House of Assembly to urgently obey the order reinstating the lawmakers.

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