To hold executive session tomorrow •Your claims wild, strange, false, Presidency replies Ningi


From Fred Itua and Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja

More than 24 hours after a former deputy leader of the Senate and serving lawmaker from Bauchi State, Abdul Ningi, alleged that the 2024 national budget was padded with about N3 trillion, leaders of the upper legislative chamber have been thrown into panic.

Acting under the banner of Northern Senators’ Forum (NSF), Ningi told the BBC Hausa Service that President Bola Tinubu was operating two national budgets, one approved by the National Assembly, and the other unknown to the parliament. He claimed that the National Assembly debated and passed N25 trillion as the 2024 budget and not the N28.7 trillion that is being implemented by the Federal Government.

He noted that the northern senators had engaged some experts to review the budget.

Ningi, who is chairman of the Northern Senators Forum, had alleged that ‘huge damage’ has been done to the north and the entire country in the budget.

“We have engaged consultants to review the budget for us. We have some experts that are working on it line by line. We have seen the huge damage that was done, not only to the north, but also the entire country in that budget. We are supposed to sit with the senate president to inform him about what we have observed,” he said.

In a rebuttal yesterday, the Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, dismissed Ningi’s allegation as wild, false and strange.

But, Daily Sun gathered that since the interview, leaders of the Senate, particularly Godswill Akpabio, has been restless and has reached out to key lawmakers to hold fire.

Akpabio, who has been fighting many battles since his emergence as Senate president in June last year is at the centre of the current scandal, having presided over the passage of the contested budget.

Chairman and members of the Senate Appropriations Committee had scheduled a press briefing for yesterday, but called it off at the last minute, claiming that an elaborate meeting by senators will be held tomorrow.

Solomon Olamilekan, who chairs the Committee, according to investigation, is said to be one of those being fingered as the main mastermind of the scandalous claims by Ningi.

The source said Olamilekan, who is a close ally of President Tinubu, is panicking that the issue could snowball into something bigger that could claim his seat as chairman of the coveted appropriations committee.

The source revealed that senators, who are already divided along party and regional lines, are expected to confront Olamilekan on Tuesday to offer explanations on the grievous allegations raised by the Northern senators.

Ahead of tomorrow’s executive session, Daily Sun has gathered that Akpabio and principal officers elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) are expected to meet with President Tinubu to harmonise their position.

A senator privy to the details of the proposed meeting said Akpabio wants to rely on the current crisis to secure a firmer commitment from President Tinubu to protect him from a planned impeachment move being hatched by some aggrieved senators.

A ranking senator, who met with some journalists in Abuja, gave more insights into the raging issues. The senator, who is from the North, said Ningi did not speak for the region.

“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, where is it skewed to? Who prepared the budget? All the committees were the ones that did the budget. 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 the Minister of Finance. Is he from Lagos? Who prepared the budget? Who gives each MDA a ceiling? Then, in the budget team, the southerners are in the minority.

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

“The chairman in the House said if you total the budget, the North has more than the South. So you see, it has now become an argument and I don’t want to start talking to you without facts. I’m not a speculative person. Last time if you remember, they said that the capital allocation had been skewed to the South.

“So how does that add up? If you say that the South has taken more, and the whole capital budget is N9.9 trillion, and you are saying the capital budget is N15 trillion, where did they get the N6 trillion?” he queried.

Responding in a statement, titled: “The facts about 2024 budget,” Mr. Onanuga said Tinubu never presented a budget of N25 trillion on November 29, 2023, but N27.5 trillion to the joint session of the National Assembly made up of N9.92 trillion recurrent expenditure, debt service N8.25 trillion and capital expenditure N8.7 trillion.

He described Ningi’s view as strange, stating that there was no way the Senate could have debated and passed a N25 trillion budget, when such a budget was not presented to the National Assembly.

He advised the ranking Senator to pay due attention to details before making wild claims.

The statement said contrary to the strange view expressed by Ningi, there was no way the Senate could have debated and passed a N25 trillion budget that was not presented to the National Assembly.

“We don’t expect a ranking Senator not to pay due attention to details before making wild claims.

“It is also important to let Nigerians know that the budget that President Tinubu signed into law on January 1, 2024 ,as passed by the National Assembly was N28.7 trillion.

“The National Assembly, in its wisdom, increased the amount proposed by the Executive by N1.2 trillion.

“In the spirit of democracy, which allows give and take, President Tinubu didn’t withhold his assent to the Appropriation Bill as passed by the National Assembly. We want to stress that if the budget figure was increased and made to be different from what the Executive proposed, it was the National Assembly that jacked it up in exercise of its power of appropriation.

“On the uncharitable claim that the 2024 budget was anti-North, we found such a position as canvassed by Sen Ningi as too far-fetched and unbecoming of a leader of his status.

“President Tinubu is leading a government that is fair and equitable to every part and segment of Nigeria. In terms of funding, distribution of capital and priority projects, the 2024 Appropriation Act was not skewed against any section of the country.

“The North, as an integral part of the country, is well covered in all areas, from security to agriculture, healthcare, education, and other important infrastructure, such as roads, rail, dams, power and irrigation projects to support all year-round agriculture.

“It is concerning that a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can employ such primordial antics to fuel divisive rhetoric at a time well-meaning Nigerians are joining hands with President Tinubu to raise the spirit of national cohesion, unity and inclusive politics.

“We want to use this opportunity to commend Senator Yemi Adaramodu, Chairman Senate Committee on Media and Publicity for setting the record straight. We also commend Senators Steve Sunday Karimi (Kogi), Titus Tartenger Zam (Benue) and Kaka Sheu (Borno) for their forthrightness, and for coming out against the misrepresentation of facts by Senator Ningi.

“President Tinubu is a firm believer in the rule of law and constitutional democracy. As an avowed democrat, he will not engage and indulge in any unconstitutional action, or act in any manner that assaults the constitution of Nigeria by operating any budget outside the one approved by the National Assembly, which he dutifully signed into law.

“We want to state categorically that the only 2024 budget that is being implemented is the N28.7 trillion budget passed by the National Assembly and signed by the President.

“Included in the budget are statutory transfers to the Judiciary, National Assembly, Tetfund and others.