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Budget ‘padding’: Nigerians angry with lawmakers

Nigerians have continued to express displeasure at the alleged padding of the 2024 budget.

Some are concerned about the huge figures involved in the allegations, while others are alleging that the Senate attempted to “sweep under the carpet” the allegations, with the suspension of Senator Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi).

Recall that Ningi was last week suspended for three months over the allegation.

The former chairman of the Northern Senators’ Forum had claimed in a BBC Hausa Service interview that the 2024 budget was padded to the tune of N3.7 trillion.

During the debate over Ningi’s allegation, Senator Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe (Cross River) had revealed that “senior senators” were allegedly allocated constituency projects worth N500 million in the  budget.

This had led to more revelations with several senators having to clarify how much was allocated to them.

Over the weekend, Nigerians explored different platforms, including the social media, radio and television, to express their views on the matter.

Some of those who spoke to Daily Trust yesterday, including former senators, called for a holistic investigation into Ningi’s allegations.

 

N212bn streetlights, N82.5bn boreholes part of insertions

Findings by BudgIT, a foremost civic-tech organisation with specialty in budget analytics, revealed that the National Assembly inserted a total of 7,447 projects totaling N2.24 trillion in the 2024 Budget, with 55 projects with cumulative value of N580.7 billion costing at least N5 billion each.

BudgIT’s findings also showed that N100 billion envelope was earmarked in the 2024 Executive Budget Proposal for lawmakers to nominate constituency/zonal intervention projects in their constituencies, but that the lawmakers went above the amount earmarked “to insert thousands of constituency-like projects in the budgets of 326 MDAs that in most cases neither have the mandate nor technical capacity to implement and monitor the execution of the projects.

“For example, 1,777 projects worth N218.6 billion are to be directly delivered in federal constituencies while 1,308 projects with a value of N176 billion are directly in senatorial districts. Other categories of projects include 1,150 streetlights worth N212 billion, 427 boreholes worth N82.5 billion, 170 ICT projects with a value of N30.95 billion, and N7.61 billion for empowerment of traditional rulers. If our analysis shows that 1,308 projects are to be implemented specifically in senatorial districts, it is not out of place that apart from the constituency projects, lawmakers also added up projects to their constituencies, at least N500 million each.”

Meanwhile, a report that analysed the details of the 2024 Budget has revealed that the senatorial district of the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, comprising 10 local government areas in Akwa Ibom State, might have gotten as much as N90 billion worth of projects, with at least 280 of such domiciled in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security.

A breakdown of the budget shows that N7.2 billion was allocated for construction and equipping of ICT centres; N395 million for construction and equipping of community schools; N957 million for supply of sewing machines, hairdressing/barbing equipment, and deep freezers; N50 million for construction of district head palace; N4 billion for construction of police stations.

Others include N12.7 billion for construction of roads within communities and supply of transformers; N3.1 billion for farm implements, motorcycles, tricycles, welding machine to artisans, and buses; N4.5 billion for empowerment materials and training of women and youths and provision of grants; N474 million for security cars; N1.22 billion for educational materials to selected schools; N1.220 billion for medical supplies and equipment to health centres; N2.996 billion for starter packs for youths and women

Also included is N7.551 billion for solar powered boreholes and streetlights; N1.095 billion for workspace and farm stalls; N475 million for development of agricultural value chains; N4.090 billion for equipment of primary healthcare centres.

 

I got N1bn for constituency projects – Senator

The senator representing Delta North, Ned Nwoko, disclosed that he received N1 billion for constituency projects.

Speaking on a podcast, Nwoko corroborated Senator Ali Ndume’s claims that the allocation of resources to the legislators often varies based on their respective positions in the leadership of the chamber, and the magnitude of their constituency projects.

The lawmaker said: “Senators get what they lobby for, not because they have the right to it. Everybody just goes about doing what they can do for their constituencies and senatorial districts.

“A better approach would have been for senatorial uniformity. So, if they say that everyone should get about N1 billion, be it. But this way, you rely on your weight and contacts to see what you can get for your people.

“We’re not talking about money for the senators. This is for projects within our senatorial districts. If you have road, water, or training programmes, all should aggregate to a particular amount.”

 

‘Constituency projects riddle with corruption’

Bolanle Bolawole, a columnist, faulted the argument in support of the “constituency projects” insertion that lawmakers “want to ensure fair and equitable distribution of projects all over the country.

“Without becoming contractors, they can ensure equity before passing the budget”, stressing that from what we he observed, the constituency projects are riddled with corruption.

“The constituencies seldom get value for money. Carcasses of constituency projects litter the landscape of Nigeria. The system employed is opaque and not transparent,” he stated.

Prof. Tonnie Iredia, a former Director-General of the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA), said: “The argument that legislators have a right to review a budget before approving it becomes puerile when the power to review is abused by distorting the document with new incoherent items in which several projects are inexplicably lumped into the budgets of agencies that have no responsibility for such projects.

“For example, the National Agency for Great Green Wall set up to prevent land degradation and desertification afflicting parts of the country suddenly found within its budget, N1.3 billion for purchasing motorcycles, street lights and other projects outside its mandate.

“If budgeting is not appropriately directed to its proper target, it can be assumed that such distortion is a veiled attempt to budget for nebulous items that would in the end be diverted to private pockets”, he noted.

Iredia said the allegations by Ningi were too weighty to be concluded without a thorough investigation.

“The number of times the courts have held that the National Assembly cannot suspend their members and the fact that the latter continues to disobey the judgment seems to confirm the hypothesis that such suspensions are merely face-saving as well as a device to punish all members who divulge secrets from which the group hugely gains materially,” he said.

Prof. Kamilu Sani Fage, a renowned political analyst, in an interview with Daily Trust, said the allegation of budget padding was a very serious matter, “especially when one looks at the impact the N3.7 trillion mentioned can make in vital social sectors like education, health, water.”

He called for an independent investigation into the matter.

 

Ex-senators slam Senate

Senator El-Jibrin Doguwa, who represented Kano South in 1999, told Daily Trust that he felt bad about “what is happening currently in the Senate because whatever happens, either directly or indirectly affects all other senators who are not even serving, because it’s an institution we’ve established for quite a long time.”

According to him, “in an ideal situation, a senator has nothing to do with projects. But because of the demands of constituents, lawmakers started advocating projects for their constituencies, but a lot of lawmakers have come to abuse this right.”

He said the issue “is not much about the legality of it, but about the management of the projects.”

Senator Alex Kadiri, who represented Kogi East in 1999, also lampooned members of the 10th Senate for suspending Ningi for “blowing the whistle” on the 2024 national budget.

He said instead of suspending Ningi, the 10th Senate should have explained the details of the budget, especially areas not clear to Nigerians.

“Ningi is just a whistle-blower. Why are they punishing Ningi for telling us the truth?” he queried.

Fatuhu Muhammad, who represented Daurawa/Sandamu/Maiadu’a Federal Constituency of Katsina State in the 9th Assembly, said many lapses in the Nigerian budgeting system allowed for the various abuses and corruption.

He said: “We’re operating a faulty budgeting system. It has been the same since independence. When you observe very well, it has been a copy-and-paste system year-in and year-out. We only change the figures.

“The main culprits in these padding and other allegations are the big people in the MDAs. Why I said this is that our budget originates from the executive. They sit down and formulate everything and then the president brings it to the National Assembly for endorsement.

“The National Assembly cannot escape from its failures because it failed to provide the scrutiny needed to have the budget work for the people.

“As long as we have this faulty budgeting system in place, legislators must be ready for the backlash. They allowed themselves to be used. What I mean by being used is that people were made to believe that they can do the work of the executive like the provision of water, roads, electricity and other basic amenities which are outside their statutory functions of making laws and keeping the executive arm in check.

“Since the National Assembly has the power of appropriations, what stops the members in the two chambers from cleaning the system and avoiding the controversies about budget padding and taking the whole blame? They need to wake up and do the needful to protect the image of the National Assembly as an institution and clear themselves of the infractions being perpetrated”, he further queried.

 

N/Assembly has powers to tinker with budget – Senator Urhoghide

Senator Matthew Urhoghide, who presented Edo South in the 8th and 9th Senate sessions, said the parliament was constitutionally empowered to make insertions into what the president presented to it.

He said: “Budget padding is completely misconstrued. It’s a deliberate insertion of some line items into the budget by the National Assembly that were not included by the executive.

“The National Assembly is empowered to make changes to the budget. The law does not say the National Assembly must pass exactly what the president presented to it. If the budget was passed as presented without changes, then there’s no need to bring the budget to the National Assembly,” he said.

Urhoghide, who chaired the Senate Public Accounts Committee in the 9th Senate, expressed surprise at how Nigerians acted in ignorance about constituency projects.

He said it was normal for some lawmakers to get more funds to execute projects than others.

He noted that allocations for constituency projects are shared by geo-political zones and that lawmakers from zones with more states get less funding compared to their colleagues from zones with fewer states.”

He also said Ningi’s suspension was not new to the parliament, urging Nigerians to stop attaching sentiments to the Senate’s action.

 

SERAP, dons demand investigation

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) yesterday urged Senate President Akpabio to refer the allegations of budget padding to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for investigation and prosecution in line “with the lawmakers’ oath of office and the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 (as amended).”

In a letter dated March 16, 2024 and signed by SERAP’s deputy director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “Rather than suspending Senator Ningi, the Senate ought to have used his allegations as a trigger for addressing the lingering problem of budget padding and corruption in the implementation of constituency projects,” the letter added.

It also asked Akpabio to immediately reinstate Ningi, saying “What Senator Ningi has done is a positive act of good citizenship. No whistleblower should ever be penalised simply for making a public interest disclosure.”

A political analyst and senior lecturer at the Department of Political Science, Bayero University Kano (BUK), Aminu Hayatu, said, “Because the budget padding doesn’t happen without the knowledge of all those in the executive arm, especially in the ministries, departments and other agencies on whose behalf these paddings actually take place,” and because of the involvement of the Senate, the best option is for anti-corruption agencies to take up the investigation.

“To suspend a member of the National Assembly because he blows a whistle about alleged corruption, sends a signal to every other member to be warned that this is not a place where corruption will be exposed.

“This is a wake-up call for our anti-corruption agencies to really do their bit, to do their calling in terms of actually investigating independently of the National Assembly in order to understand what are these issues, where the problem lies, and what is the truth about them.”

 

CSOs speak on ‘insertion claim’ by lawmakers, executive

Emmanuel Onwubiko, National Coordinator, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), queried: “What do they mean by zonal intervention? Who are the beneficiaries of these interventions, and what exactly are the interventions that justify the indiscriminate sharing of bulk sums of money to senators under the guide of zonal interventions?

“When were these interventions discussed with the constituents, and how did the senators arrive at the exact type of interventions needed by each of the senatorial zones? What the Senate did is simply “budget padding”, which was exposed by one of them,” Onwubiko said.

Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Ibrahim Zikirullahi, said the Presidency and the National Assembly were expected to vigorously defend “the indefensible aspects of the inflated budget.”

“Furthermore, both levels of governance have taken advantage of the complacency of the people to act with impunity. Otherwise, why would a federal lawmaker have the audacity to claim that a project funded by public money is a personal constituency project?

“What is most concerning, however, is the silence of the once esteemed civil society activists who appear unperturbed by such actions within the National Assembly. Nevertheless, the day of reckoning will inevitably come,” Zikirullahi said.

National Convener, Coalition of Civil Society Network, Adamu Matazu, also noted that the National Assembly is empowered to alter budgets.

“Senator Ningi’s recent allegations of budget padding lack substance and credibility. His claims are devoid of factual evidence and demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of budgetary processes,” he said

Senior Communications Officer at Yiaga Africa, Mark Amaza, said “The practice of constituency projects is one that needs to be overhauled because it not only bloats the budget, but it causes the spending all over the place with seemingly no direction. Not only that, it continues to be controversial.”

Executive Director, CLEEN Foundation, Gad Peter, said “the development clearly is legislative rascality especially that there are people that have been elected; people that only should know the pain, aspiration and help reduce the pressure  that Nigerians are going through in terms of poverty, insecurity.

“But you can see that this current budget insertions and all that is the height of insensitivity. And the worst aspect is that they’re not apologetic about it. We hear them saying that they gave every senator about N200 million, and then those that are leaders, either minority leader, majority leader, the Senate President, the Deputy Senate President and all of these other people went with higher amount of money.”

Tunde Salman, the Team Lead/Convener, Good Governance Team Nigeria, said, “Maybe until the issue of constitutionality of padding is defined, the debate about its appropriateness or inappropriateness would linger as some constitutions empower their legislatures to either reduce or increase executive budget proposals.”

The director and co-founder of BudgIT, Oluseun Onigbinde, said the organisation “was not contesting the legitimacy of the insertions into the budget of the national budget. We’re only saying that most of those projects are not geared towards national development.

“And the scale of the insertion is something that we have not seen in recent history. We find that our projects are around N2.2 trillion. In this current environment, where more fiscal tightening is required, it’s a bit of a shocker. Let’s not forget that in previous years, we had delays in the budget process just because of this constant breaking between the executive and the legislature to ensure that the budget signed into law is focused on national development.

 

Old clip of  Obasanjo’s description of N/Assembly trends

Meanwhile, an old clip of former President Olusegun Obasanjo describing the National Assembly as a “den of corruption” resurfaced at the weekend on social media as Nigerians shared their thoughts on the budget padding allegation.

Obasanjo, who spoke in 2016 during the First Akintola Williams Annual Lecture in Lagos, had said: “The National Assembly cabal of today is worse than any cabal that anybody may find anywhere in our national governance system at any time. Members of the National Assembly pay themselves allowances for staff and offices they do not have or maintain.

“Once you’re a member, you’re co-opted and your mouth is stuffed with rottenness and corruption that you cannot opt out as you go home with not less than N15 million a month for a senator and N10 million a month for a member of the House of Representatives.

“Most of them conduct themselves and believe that they are not answerable to anybody. They are blatant in their misbehaviour, cavalier in their misconduct and arrogant in the misuse of parliamentary immunity as a shield against reprisals for their irresponsible acts of malfeasance and/or outright banditry,” he said.

Another video of an event held in 2014 were also being shared across social media. The former president at this event said “Corruption in the National Assembly also includes what they call constituency projects which they give to their agents to execute but invariably, full payment is made with little or no job done.”

 

Ningi may be reinstated soon- Sources

Sources close to the leadership of the Senate told Daily Trust last night that the allegation of budget padding was a plot to tarnish the image of the National Assembly and distract attention.

One of the sources said the issue, which culminated in Ningi’s suspension “is being resolved amicably.”

He said the suspended senator might be reinstated anytime “if he tenders a public apology to the Senate.”

“I can tell you there is no tension in the Senate. The Senate remains one. The allegation about budget padding is just a ploy to tarnish the image of the senate under Godswill Akpabio who has shown uncommon commitment towards tackling the various challenges confronting the country by fostering effective collaboration with the Executive without jeopardizing the principle of separation of power.

“The N3.7 trillion that was mentioned represents the budget of government owned enterprises (GOEs) and they are expected to come to the Senate to defend their budget because the details are not always in the entire estimate. So, where is the budget padding allegation coming from? The budget was prepared by the executive. The House of Representatives plays more role in scrutinizing the budget and so where’s this allegation coming from if not because some people felt they should be the President of the Senate and not Senator Akpabio.

“There was also the allocation for Zonal Intervention Projects (ZIPs) for members of the National Assembly for their constituencies. The money is not being released to any lawmaker but this is in form of projects for their constituencies”, the lawmaker who did not wish to be name said.

 

By Clement A. Oloyede, Abdullateef Salau, Balarabe Alkassim, Abbas Jimoh (Abuja) & Adelanwa Bamgboye (Lagos)

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