National Assembly didn’t do anything illegal in padding the budget – Minister of Budget and Economic Planning

The Minister of Budget and Economic Planning, Sen. Atiku Bagudu, has said that the National Assembly did not break any law with new insertions in the 2024 budget.

Bagudu, while speaking during a press briefing Thursday in Abuja, said since 1999, it has become a norm in the passing of appropriation for the National Assembly to insert new line items to provide some dedicated projects to their constituencies, which often leads to the rise in approved budget from what was presented by the president.

President of the Senate, Sen. Godswill Akpabio, has been in the eye of the storm following allegations that the senate padded N3.7 trillion into the approved budget, with the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) calling for his resignation.

Senator Abdul Ningi, representing Bauchi Central, who first raised the alarm over budget padding, was suspended for three months by the Senate.

But reacting to the reports, Bagudu said the new insertions did not violate any law because what the president presented to the National Assembly was a bill, but the budget passed with modifications was an act by the assembly.

He said, “The president submitted a budget to the tune of N27.5 trillion and the National Assembly, in its wisdom, increased it to N28.7 trillion. When we presented the budget, it was at an exchange rate of N750 to a dollar but the assembly increased it to N800 to a dollar. That created more revenue. The assembly also appropriated that the Government Owned Enterprises contribute more revenue. Then there was the increase of the budget of the judiciary, legislature and executive.

“The president in signing the 2024 appropriation acknowledged that in democracy, institutions have their power and the National Assembly has the last word.

“The evolution of constituency projects and projects by National Assembly members, which did not begin now but since 1999, is a reflection of the challenge that elected persons are facing.

“There has been a long debate and a former president went up to the Supreme Court to define the appropriation power of the executive and the National Assembly. Later, there was an out-of-court settlement. Till now, this issue has not been resolved. So, what is the power of the National Assembly as regards the budget? There is no Supreme Court judgment and the choice of our democracy is that the National Assembly has the last word. Even when they pass an appropriation that assent is refused, after 30 days it becomes law.

“Do they have the right to increase a budget line? I will say yes.”

He added that there has been a misconception on why budgets for agencies regarded as statutory transfers do not have line items of their budgets disclosed.

“These are transfers for agencies that are created by the constitution or legislation. So, they have the right to draw up their own budget. They can be supervised by a committee but it is not the federal government that appropriates for them; the most popular ones are the NJC, FCT, Tertiary Education Trust Fund, NEDC, NDDC and others,” he said.

Akpabio will not resign

Akpabio has also been backed by his colleagues as the Chairman Senate Committee on Media, Senator Yemi Adaramodu (APC, Ekiti South), has flayed PDP’s call for his resignation.

Adaramodu told newsmen yesterday in Abuja that Akpabio won’t resign because “He has not committed any wrong doing to warrant resignation.”

He said: “The PDP has elevated chicanery to statecraft and fatally failed in their sordid attempt to hoodwink the unsuspecting public on the ineffectual but spurious allegations of budget padding.

“The party’s ludicrous call for the resignation of Senator Godswill Akpabio as the Senate president is unthinkable and shows the party as a massaging balm for falsehood and immoral legislative outbursts.”

He said no amount of lies and fake allegations will distract the 10th Senate, under Akpabio, from delivering good legislation and effective oversight for Nigerians.

Some of us got over N200m – Ndume

Meanwhile, Senate Chief Whip, Ali Ndume, has admitted that 10 principal officers of the senate got over N200 million each for constituency projects in their senatorial districts.

Ndume was responding to allegations by Senator Jarigbe Agom-Jarigbe from Cross River North that some senators got about N500 million each from the 2024 budget.

Agom-Jarigbe had on Tuesday, during a stormy session in Abuja, made the startling disclosure while the lawmakers debated budget padding claims by Senator Ningi.

Speaking on Channels TV, Ndume admitted that he and other leaders of the 10th Senate got more than the N200 million allocations for constituency projects in the 2024 budget.

“My colleagues (floor members) know that I got more than them. All the senators have N200 million each as their constituency projects but I am a leader. That is the difference,” Ndume said.

“Ten of us are leaders including those in the opposition. We get more than the floor members. It’s normal… My colleagues know that I got more than them,” he said.

The current leaders of the 10th Senate are, Godswill Akpabio – Senate President; Jibrin Barau – Deputy Senate President; Opeyemi Bamidele – Senate Majority Leader; Ayelola Yisa Ashiru – Deputy Majority Leader; Ali Ndume – Chief Whip; Lola Ashiru – Deputy Whip; Abba Moro – Minority Leader; Kamorudeen Olarere – Deputy Minority Leader; Osita Ngwu– Minority Whip and Rufai Hanga – Deputy Minority Whip.

Atiku demands probe

Adding his voice to the debate, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar has demanded an “immediate and thorough” investigation into the budget padding allegation rocking the Senate.

Atiku, in a post via his verified Facebook page on Thursday, warned the Senate not to collude with the federal government and deprive the people of good governance, especially in view of the prevailing situation in the country.

This was as he also condemned the suspension of Senator Ningi, saying the suspension without investigation has only fueled the crisis.

The PDP presidential candidate in the last election said, “Over the past few days, allegations have rocked the Senate, questioning the very integrity of the 2024 Appropriation Act, the cornerstone of our nation’s annual planning and development.

“A fiscal policy analytics and advocacy organisation has unequivocally confirmed a disturbing lack of transparency within the 2024 Appropriation Act.

“Furthermore, the sudden suspension of the whistle-blower senator, without adequate explanation, has only fueled the crisis, leaving us with more questions than answers.

“I demand an immediate and thorough investigation into these allegations. Appropriation lies at the heart of governance, and any deviation from serving the people’s interests will be met with fierce opposition. Denials are unacceptable, and the suspension of one senator cannot silence accusations of corruption and illegal fiscal spending by the federal government.”

The former vice president said, “Without a clear explanation to the people of Nigeria, we must treat these allegations for what they are: outright fraud. The accusation of budget padding totaling N3 trillion cannot be dismissed lightly by the government.

“Given the current hardships facing our nation, a padded budget is already translating to a padded hunger, padded poverty, padded insecurity, padded energy crises, padded forex instability, and the soaring cost of living.

“The people of Nigeria cannot afford to ignore allegations that worsen our already dire economic situation.”

He said the National Assembly, as the elected representatives of the people, are constitutionally obligated to legislate for the peace, order and good governance of our nation, without colluding with corrupt elements.

“Failure to do so and persisting in denial will only confirm the government’s complicity in official malpractice,” he said.