The All Progressive Congress, Peoples Democratic Party, Labour Party and some other political parties on Monday, called for a thorough probe into the allegation made by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Population, Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi Central), that N3.7tn was padded in the 2024 budget.

While the parties called for a probe into the allegation, some northern senators disowned the claims made by Ningi, saying the Bauchi State senator did not speak for them

The Bauchi senator, however, maintained his position on Monday that o N3.7tn could not be accounted for in the 2024 budget.

This came as Senator Jimoh Ibrahim called for the arrest of Ningi, on the grounds that the lawmaker was attempting to breach the peace at the National Assembly, among other concerns.

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At a press briefing on Monday, Ningi insisted that N3.7tn was inserted into the 2024 budget.

He, however, stated that he was misquoted, stressing that he never mentioned that President Bola Tinubu was running two budgets.

He further stated that he spoke in the interview as a lawmaker and not on behalf of the Northern Senators’ Forum.

Ningi had in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (Hausa Service) on Saturday, alleged that the budget passed by the National Assembly for the 2024 fiscal year was N25tn, while the one being implemented by the Presidency was N28.7tn.

In the interview, he was quoted to have said, “For the first time in Nigerian history, today we are operating two different budgets. One budget was approved by the National Assembly and signed by President Bola Tinubu and the one was implemented by the Presidency.

“The one approved by us is N25tn while the one being operated by the Federal Government is N28.7tn

“Apparently, we discovered N3tn was inserted into the budgets for projects without locations. This is the highest budget padding that happened in Nigerian history under Senator Akpabio’s watch.”

The Bauchi senator was further quoted to have said, “We resolved as the peoples’ representatives to see President Tinubu on this issue, with facts and figures, to ask him if he is aware of this embarrassment or not, then from there we will take action.

“Let Nigerians be patient with us. This is a national issue; it affects all Nigerians irrespective of party, tribe or religion.”

The Senate through its spokesperson, Yemi Adaramodu (APC, Ekiti South) had in a chat with our correspondent refuted the claim on Saturday night, stating that there was no padding whatsoever in the budget.

But during a press conference on Monday, Ningi told journalists that he never said that the President was running two budgets, rather there was N3.7tn in the 2024 budget yet to be accounted for.

No two budgets

He said, “At no time did I say Bola Ahmed Tinubu is implementing two budgets. There was no time; at no time did I say Bola Tinubu was biased against the North. The Hausa version is there. At no time did I say Bola Ahmed Tinubu is implementing a N25tn budget.

“I said we have established beyond reasonable doubt that about N25tn so far has a nexus in the budget. That means that there is money, there is a project and then there is location. But we have yet to ascertain N3.7tn of that budget. We have established the N3tn of that budget; we have not established its location and the place.”

The Bauchi Central senator insisted that the powers to appropriate reside with the National Assembly and not the President, so it would be ignorant of him to say that the President was running a separate budget.

Ningi said, “What the President proposed to the Senate are proposals. What the Senate passes is appropriation. There is no way I will talk about N25tn and N28tn. The President has no powers for appropriation.

“It is even a misnomer for the executive to tell the National Assembly members, we are bringing a budget and don’t touch it; it is a misnomer.

“The constitution is clear on who has the power for appropriation. I couldn’t have said what they had suggested. There is no way a President will implement a budget that is not passed by the National assembly.”

He explained further, “But I said going forward, the budget evaluation is ongoing. And I said lastly, the intention of the northern senators as regards budgetary allocation was to meet the Senate President with our findings and subsequently meet President Bola Ahmed Tinubu with our findings.

“So if one is questioning our desire to relate with Bola Tinubu, how will I say that the findings of the Northern Senators Forum will go to the senate president and then to the President and Commander-in-Chief?”

Ningi consistently mentioned N3tn at the press conference, when asked to clarify the money with no projects. He said, “N28.7tn was passed as the 2024 budget, N25tn was allocated for, so the money without allocation is N3.7tn.”

Responding to reports that there were plans to suspend him, he noted that he was ready to bear the brunt of his statement even if the punishment that came with it was to get him suspended.

“I am not afraid of suspension by the Senate. I stand by what I said: N3.7tn is not traced to any project in the 2024 budget. I spoke for myself and not on behalf of the Northern Senator Forum. I never said the federal government is operating with two budgets. I only said N25tn was traced to projects and N3.7tn was not traced to any project,” he said.

Parties demand investigation

But the LP, APC, PDP, New Nigeria People’s Party, and Peoples Redemption Party demanded an investigation into the alleged padding of the 2024 budget

The PDP’s National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, stated in an exclusive interview with The PUNCH on Monday that the allegation required attention.

“I would like to receive detailed information to be able to respond appropriately. Having said that, if it’s true, any such issues require attention and should be addressed at the necessary level,” he stated.

On his part, NNPP National Publicity Secretary, Yakubu Shendam, urged President Tinubu to investigate what was happening.

He said, “Mr President should be able to sit down properly because this is his government for which he was given a mandate to lead. If he really wants to stamp out corruption, he should be able to look inside, meaning the people he’s operating with, to find out what is happening about this. Because at the end of the day, it is his government that will be blamed.’’

The PRP Acting National Publicity Secretary, Muhammed Ishaq, stated that if true, it represented gross misconduct and a blatant disregard for the principles of transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility that the nation deserves, especially during these trying times.

On his part, the Chief Spokesman of the Labour Party Campaign Organisation, Yunusa Tanko, told The PUNCH that such an allegation was too weighty to be swept under the rug.

He said, “We support the probe. They have to give us an account of exactly how much is the budget and what the over N3trn is for. There should be a line-by-line examination of the budget as well as further confirmation of the figures as already given by each of the relevant ministries, agencies, and departments.

“It is at that particular point in time we will know and ascertain whether the budget was padded or not. That way, we will also have a clearer understanding of what that particular N3tn is for and who will come out to make the claim. Once that is done, we will know who to hold responsible. But as it is now, both the Federal Government and National Assembly have to come clean as regards the issue of the padded budget.”

The Deputy National Organising Secretary of the APC, Nze Chidi Duru, however, doubted that such a humongous amount could be inserted in such a budget without the knowledge of the two chambers, whose processes were known to be rigorous.

Duru nevertheless demanded that a thorough investigation be carried out to verify the authenticity of the allegation.

The former lawmaker also expressed conviction that if Ningi was found to be gaslighting or raising an unfounded claim, he was certain that necessary sanctions would be meted out on him.

“We are not in the Senate and there is no way one will know the internal workings of the 10th National Assembly. But we know once a budget is passed, there are ways by which it will be harmonised. One will find it strange, to say the least, that such an addition outside of what has been agreed intra-chambers in a bid to have a harmonised budget, can be unilaterally inflated by one person or chamber. It will be one of the eight wonders of the world for them to consider that.

“But assuming without conceding that it was unimaginably possible, that calls for the highest level of investigation. However, I think it is too difficult to believe such a thing can happen in a chamber that is regulated and follows due process in passing the budget.’’

Senators disown Ningi

Senators under the Northern Senators Forum dismissed the claims made by Ningi.

In a statement signed by a cross-section of lawmakers across different Northern zones, they said they were a part of the passing of the budget and would not discredit their collective effort.

The lawmakers said, “We, the undersigned, on behalf of the Senators from the 19 Northern States and the FCT, under the aegis of Northern Senators Forum, hereby state that Senator Ahmed Abdul Ningi of the Peoples Democratic Party, Bauchi Central Senatorial District, who also happens to be the Chairman of our forum, was 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 where we held a meeting and mandated Senator Ningi to address the press on the said matter.”

They added, “The budget was presented to the National Assembly during a joint session of the two chambers – Senate and House of Representatives – by President Bola Ahmed 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 N27.5tn to the National Assembly and the assembly passed a budget of N28.7tn 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 Senator Ningi that the 2024 budget presented to the National Assembly by Mr President was the sum of N25tn was not correct and that should not be taken as the position of the Northern Senators Forum.”

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

Some of the senators who signed the statement include Senator Jibrin Isah (APC, Kogi East), Diket Plang (APC, Plateau Central), Senator Saliu Mustapha (APC, Kwara Central) Senator Lawal Adamu Usman (APC, Kaduna Central), Senator Abdulaziz Yar’ Adua (APC, Katsina Central), Senator Aminu Abass (PDP, Adamawa Central) Senator Ibrahim Bomai (APC, Yobe South).

Reps minority

Meanwhile, the minority caucus of the House of Representatives has constituted a study group to investigate claims by Senator Abdul Ningi that the 2024 budget was inflated with as much as N3.7tn with no projects tied to the huge amount.

Speaking with one of our correspondents on Monday, Minority Leader of the House, Kingsley Chinda described Ningi’s allegations as a “very issue.”

He said, “We have commissioned a study to ascertain the veracity of the claim before we take a position on the same. It is a serious issue if confirmed to be true.”

The position of the minority caucus is in line with calls by some civil society organisations who have called for a probe into the allegations made by the Bauchi federal lawmaker.

Also, some opposition lawmakers in the House of Representatives called for an investigation into the allegation made by Ningi.

Speaking with The PUNCH, a member of the PDP representing Obokun/Oriade Federal Constituency, Osun State, Mr Oluwole Oke, urged Nigerians to be patient, noting that having already passed a motion for the review of the 2024 budget, the House would unravel the truth or otherwise of Ningi’s claims.

He said, “The 2024 budget as passed by the National Assembly is itself, a work in progress in view of the current realities but do not forget that the House in plenary last week, passed a motion to review the 2024 budget.

“This review will reveal whether the allegations reportedly made by Senator Ningi are true or not. However, the budget we passed on the floor of the House is not N25trn but N28.7trn.”

Similarly, the Deputy Chairman, the House Committee on Justice and member representing Ezeagu/Udi Federal Constituency, Enugu State, Sunday Umeha, stated that opposition members of the House would support a probe into Ningi’s allegations if a case of budget padding was established.

Umeha, a member of the Labour Party said, “So far, my investigation of the 2024 budget has not revealed the allegations made by Senator Ningi, but if it is established that indeed there was a case of budget padding, we will definitely call for a probe. I don’t think it is right to speak on speculation because, at the moment, it is an allegation that has not been proven.”

Asked about his position on the matter, a PDP chieftain and Chairman, Public Accounts Committee, Bamidele Salam, simply said, “Only the Minority Leader can speak on behalf of the caucus.”

In a related development, the lawmaker representing Ondo South, Jimoh Ibrahim (APC), has said he will prosecute his colleague for misinforming the public and lying against the Senate.

He said, “What Ningi said is very embarrassing. We are the 10th Senate and will not just fold our hands. The Senate approved only one appropriation for 2024. We never approved two. The presidency of Nigeria cannot operate with two budgets.

“Senator Ningi made this false information and it’s unacceptable. It is causing uncomfortable pains to our integrity; integrity of children and family as people read it all over the world and are raising questions.”

He noted that he had personally taken it upon himself to request the Inspector-General of Police, Kayode Egbetokun, to as a matter of urgency charge Ningi for criminal misinformation and conduct likely to cause a breach of peace.

He said, “If the Senate will not move to do that in the next seven days, I will write a letter, and I have started doing that to the IGP to investigate the circumstances leading to approval of two appropriations and if the IGP will not do it, I will ask for the order of mandamus to compel a public officer to do that.”

“Senator Ningi must be charged to court. The charges must be preferred by the criminal justice department for the governments and after thorough investigation.’’

Additional reports by Adebayo Folorunsho-Francis and Dirisu Yakubu