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Saturday, June 22, 2024

Ningi’s “Mischief” And Budget 2024

By Reuben Abati

Senator Abdul Ahmed Ningi (PDP, Bauchi Central) is a ranking member of Nigeria’s National Assembly. He has been a member of that Assembly since the return to democratic rule in 1999, first as a member of the House of Representatives – elected in 1999, re-elected in 2003 and re-elected again in 2007. In 2011, he continued his legislative career as a Senator of the Federal Republic representing Bauchi Central.

He was re-elected in that capacity in 2015, 2019, and 2023. In the course of what is an obviously rich and fulfilling time in the National Assembly, Ningi has served as either Chairman or member of many committees including the Niger Delta Committee, Solid Minerals, Teachers Education, and NAFDAC Committee of the House.

Between 1999 and 2002, he was Chairman of the Nigeria Football Association. He would later become House Majority Leader, 2003 – 2007, and Chairman of the ad hoc committee on the Niger Delta crisis, the committee on Jos crisis, and the Constitutional Review Committee. In 2011, he won election into the Senate and emerged as the Deputy Majority Leader, the Senate was then dominated by the PDP. He has been in the Senate since then.

Thus, as far as experience goes, Ningi is one of the most experienced and most durable lawmakers in Nigeria today. His continual re-election shows that he is well appreciated by the people of Ningi, his constituency and Bauchi Central in general. As a person, he is a friendly, avuncular fellow with friends across the landscape and a charming sunny disposition.

He is what you can call a very nice guy. But over the weekend, it would appear that Senator Ningi put a stain, perhaps inadvertently, on his otherwise sterling legislative credentials, when he alleged in his position as the Chairman of the Northern Senators Forum (NSF) that (i) President Bola Tinubu is implementing a version of the 2024 Budget that is different from what was passed by the National Assembly, and (ii) that budgetary allocations for projects and social infrastructure were skewed against the North in favour of the South.

Was Ningi speaking for himself, or for Northern Senators as a group? Ningi alleges that the Budget that was passed in December 2023 was padded with N3 trillion, a budget of N25 trillion that suddenly became N28 trillion, and that out of the total, the Senate President inserted projects worth N4 trillion into the Budget, with “huge damage” done to the North. It will be recalled that President Tinubu presented a budget estimate of N27 trillion to the National Assembly on November 28, 2023. The National Assembly eventually passed a Budget of N28.7 trillion, effective January 1, 2024.

Four Senators have since dismissed Ningi’s claims as baseless and unfounded – Senator Sunday Karimi (APC, Kogi West), Titus Zam (APC, Benue North West), Kaka Shehu (APC, Borno Central) and Senator Ibrahim Jimoh (APC, Ondo South) who insist that Ningi is misinforming the public.

The Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Yemi Adaramodu has also issued a statement to the effect that there was no budget padding, no varied execution, and the budget is a public document. Further, there are indications that when the Senate meets today, Tuesday, March 12, Senator Abdul Ningi would be called upon by his colleagues to defend his allegations, failing which he may be suspended under Order 67(4) of the Rules.

Indeed, it is necessary to ask Senator Ningi to prove his own claims and provide relevant evidence, before his own colleagues. He is said to have back-tracked with an explanation that he was misquoted. He has to prove how that happened. It is a trite principle, and this needs not be explained to lawmakers that he who alleges must prove. Besides, the allegations are so weighty and capable of throwing the country into chaos and strife, that the Nigerian people need to know.

In one broad stroke, the statements attributed to Senator Ningi call the integrity of the National Assembly, the Senate, and the Tinubu administration into question. The Budget is a creation of law, that is why it is called the “Appropriation Act”. If the National Assembly made two different laws detailing the fiscal map for the year, one of which is unknown to the people, that would not only be illegal, it would be criminal. Where did the N25 trillion Budget come from and how did it become N28 trillion? Where was it discussed? Who signed it into law? And what are the details of the implementation of that secret Budget? Senator Ningi owes us a duty to unveil that which is unknown.

He says the Budget was padded. How? It is the duty of lawmakers to receive the Budget and go through it line by line, item by item, before approving it. What is called budget padding is actually a way of saying that both the Appropriation Committee and the entire Senate are made up of idiots. It amounts to self-indictment. And where was Senator Ningi when the Budget was being padded as he claims? Was he asleep or awake at the time? And why he is just speaking up now?

He says “huge damage” has been done to the North in the Budget. He must be made to prove how. This kind of statement is potentially divisive and capable of causing chaos. It is even careless in the extreme for Senator Ningi, an opposition politician, to play such a divide and rule card. Even when politicians disagree with the government of the day, they must be careful not to burn down the country.

This is the key lesson here. Experience may not necessarily mean maturity. There was once a Senator in Nigeria who went about preaching the importance of commonsense. Opposition politicians must learn to play the politics of commonsense. The general elections ended in 2023. We are now in the season of governance, when we must all put Nigeria first. Politicians must be careful what they say. Ningi may want to discredit the Tinubu administration but he must do so, based on empirical facts and not in a manner that puts the same country that has been so generous to him, at risk. We are told that tension has gripped the Senate: the very reason why Ningi’s claims must be investigated and he must be made to prove his allegations in the open court of the Senate. His allegations cannot be covered by privilege, and must not be swept under the carpet.

Other members of the Northern Senators Forum, a body that we assume includes other members from both the ruling party and the opposition also have a duty to tell us what exactly transpired. Is Ningi speaking for them or is he just on his own? One by one, every member of that body must tell us where he or she stands! For them, it must be a matter of honour. Senator Ningi granted an interview to BBC Hausa and he spoke in Hausa. After a fashion, he may come forward to say that what he actually said was lost in translation or that he was quoted out of context by journalists. One of the crass games that Nigerian politicians play, even in the face of overwhelming evidence, when they are caught out, is to blame the media.

Ningi’s statements in BBC Hausa must be played on the open floor of the Senate. Language experts, and other speakers of the language must be asked to review it. Nigeria is too important to be derailed on the basis of partisanship or rumours. If it is then established that Senator Ningi spoke out of mischief, every Senator not being entitled to immunity under our laws, the appropriate punishment for the Senator should not be under the Senate Rules – Order 67(4). When Senator Ovie Omo-Agege was suspended for 90 days under that same rule, he went to court, and he won.

Just in case Senator Ningi is found to be fibbing, and unable to prove his grave allegations, he an Abdul, and an Ahmed, lying in the Holy Month, should be punished under the laws of the Sharia which apply in his home state of Bauchi, and whatever punishment the Court deems fit, should be applied publicly and televised! Even if he insists that he was misquoted, that too should be investigated.

I don’t want to imagine what indictment or punishment may come the Senator’s way under the Sharia, for he is all things considered, ordinarily, a nice guy. But this is a matter that concerns us all.

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