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Tension as Senate meets over N3tr alleged padding of 2024 budget on Tuesday

There is palpable anxiety in the National Assembly over alleged N3 trillion padding of the 2024 budget.

This is even as it was learnt that the Senate would meet on Tuesday over the allegations before making its position on the issue known.

Also, the allegation by the chairman of the Northern Senators Forum, Senator Abdul Ningi (PDP – Bauchi Central) has divided the body.

A section of the Forum on Sunday in a statement made available to reporters, attacked Ningi over his comments which they described as being laced with anti-Tinubu/Akpabio undertones.

Also, a source who spoke on the issue in confidence described Ningi’s claims as a self-indictment.

The Northern Senators Forum had on Saturday vowed to meet President Bola Tinubu over alleged N3trillion padding it ‘discovered’ in the 2024 budget.

The chairman of the Forum, Senator Abdul Ningi, made the claims during an interview aired by the BBC, Hausa Service.

Ningi said the forum had commissioned consultants to thoroughly scrutinize the 2024 budget to reveal how N3trillion was surreptitiously added to the amount passed on the floor by lawmakers.

He also said the Forum would soon confront Senate President Godswill Akpabio with its findings concerning the N3trillion alleged ‘padding.’

The Senate Committee on Appropriation had on Sunday, March 10, scheduled a press conference with Senate Correspondents apparently to respond to Ningi’s claims of padding the 2024 budget to the tune of N3trillion.

But the Press Conference was later cancelled after the Senate Committee on Appropriation met.

Speaking to reporters after the panel’s meeting, the Chairman of the Committee, Solomon Adeola (APC – Ogun West), said the press conference was put on hold to allow the Senate to meet and deliberate on the allegations on Tuesday and thereafter make its position known.

“The Senate has its procedures and rules. Since the allegations did not come from an outsider but a serving Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Senate will meet and deliberate on them on Tuesday before briefing the press,” Adeola said.However, a source said what Ningi did amounted to self-indictment.

The source said: “Number one, what Ningi did was self-indictment. There’s this saying in Hausa that if the person speaking is a fool, the person listening will not be a fool.

“Yes, this budget, when they say it’s skewed, it is skewed to where? Who prepared the budget? All the committees were the ones that did the budget.

Our own is to compile the budget. Our mandate did not say, to make sure that the North got an equal amount with the South. No. So what are they talking about? It’s self-indictment. Who passed the budget?

And then, who is the budget minister? Is he not from the North? Atiku Bagudu is from the North. It is not the Minister of Finance who is from Lagos that prepared the budget. He executes the budget. Who prepared the budget? Who gives each MDA a ceiling? Again in the budget team, the Southerners are in the minority in both chambers.

“The chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation is from North West and the bulk stops there. Solomon Adeola is the chairman of the Appropriation Committee and he is from Southwest, but he did not prepare the budget.

“Now, they said they have a document and they employed a consultant and that the consultant said that the budget is skewed. And that the budget is actually N25 trillion.

“Now who are you inducting? So it means the National Assembly padded the budget with N3 trillion. Who added the N3 trillion?

Not only Ningi, the members of the caucus or senators from the north are more than the number of Senators from the south. They are just trying to indict us.

“He said in his interview that the work is in progress, that it is an interim report. A meeting of the Northern Senators Forum was called and we met the Senate President.

“Some of us didn’t want to go but they insisted. We demanded for evidence to justify their claims that the North had been short-changed. We even asked them to make the report of their investigation on the alleged skewed budget, with relevant documents.

“At the meeting, the Senate President told our colleagues in the NSF that he was not aware of any budget padding and challenged Ningi to submit to the Senate leadership, a copy of the report presented to him by the team of consultants which allegedly spotted the padded N3trillion.”

Meanwhile, the NSF is now sharply divided over the allegations as three of its members have openly disagreed with Ningi and his claims.

The three senators – Steve Sunday Karimi, Titus Tartenger Zam and Kaka Sheu – yesterday, said the allegation of budget padding against Senate President Godswill Akpabio by some senators was unfounded, baseless and a figment of imagination.

They warned against what they described as the antics of blackmailers bent on creating an atmosphere of crisis in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly.

Karimi, Zam and Sheu, speaking on behalf of the Northern Senators’ Forum, also said no room should be allowed for division and acrimony between senators from the North and South by those who may not want to accord priority to national unity and harmony.

In their statement, Karimi, who is from Kogi State, Zam from Benue State and Sheu from Borno State, on behalf of the Northern Senators’ Forum, said they cannot be used to blackmail the budget process, which was done in good faith.

The senators claimed that at a meeting last week, some northern senators accused the Senate President of inserting projects worth N4 trillion in the 2024 budget.

They said it was further alleged that the projects, which had no locations, were inserted into the budget, which they also claimed was lopsided against the North and some parts of the South.

The northern senators were said to have also accused Akpabio of railroading the senators to hurriedly pass the budget, adding that it favoured Akpabio and his cronies.

However, shedding light on what transpired at the meeting, Karimi, Zam and Sheu, said it was only resolved that the report of the consultant engaged by the Northern Senators Forum be subjected to further scrutiny, as the entire appropriation process was a combination of work, from the executive, actively represented by the minister of budget and national planning and other ministers, the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation and the Senate Committees on Appropriation.

Dismissing the allegation of padding as a ruse, they said while the executive brought a budget proposal of 27.5 trillion, the Senate passed a budget of 28.77 trillion.

They queried: “The difference was N1.27 trillion, coming from all three arms of government. Where is the additional so-called padding of three trillion coming from?

“It was resolved that the Northern Senators’ consultant report be looked into by essential committees of the Senate and House of Representatives before jumping to a conclusion.”

Karimi, Zam and Sheu urged the Northern Senators Caucus Leader, Abdul Ningi, to “rein in those who think a crisis-ridden Senate would better profit them.”

Noting that the North has provided leadership in Nigeria and enjoyed the support of other regions seamlessly, the trio said the representatives of the North should not appear to act as instruments of destabilisation now that power has shifted to the South.

In their view, “the North can agitate for a fair share of the national pie, but within the ambits of decency, decorum and dignity.”

They added: “Senator Ningi has not given the correct information. He is yet to even give the Senate President or the Speaker of the House of Representatives a copy of what he claims to have discovered in the 2024 Appropriation Act before levelling allegations of budget padding against the President, the Senate President and the Senate.

“President Tinubu presented a budget estimate of over N27 trillion on 28th November to the National Assembly, which passed a budget of over N28 trlllion; which became an Act of Parliament on 1st January 2024.

“Where did Senator Ningi get his Appropriation Act of N25 trillion? What about the extra requests that chairmen of appropriation committees of both chambers claimed came from the Executive after the submission of the initial over N27 trillion proposals by Mr President?

“So, how did Senator Ningi’s budget analyst get the N3 trillion budget padding allegations? Must we attempt to give a dog a bad name to hang it? Are APC members of the Northern Senators Forum that PDP Senator Ningi claims to lead oblivious of the anti-Tinubu/Akpabio undertones? The National Assembly should not be denigrated.”


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