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Budget padding controversy: SERAP sues Akpabio for failure to recall Ningi

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has dragged the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, to court over “the failure to refer the alleged N3.7 trillion budget padding to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for investigation and prosecution, and to recall Senator Abdul Ningi who blew the whistle on the allegations.”..READ THE FULL STORY HERE▶

The suit with number FHC/ABJ/CS/452/2024 was filed on Friday, April 5 at the Federal High Court, Abuja, by SERAP’s lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare (who is also the organisation’s Deputy Director) and Mrs Adelanke Aremo.

This was disclosed on Sunday in a statement issued by Oluwadare and made available to PUNCH Newspapers.

The organisation added that “Mr. Akpabio is sued for himself and on behalf of all members of Nigeria’s Senate.”

Godswill Akpabio, Nigeria’s Senate President

Senator Abdul Ningi, representing Bauchi Central, was suspended for three months by the Senate on March 12, 2024, over his allegations of budget padding.

Ningi, in an interview with BBC Hausa, alleged that the budget passed by the National Assembly for the 2024 fiscal year is N25tn while the one being implemented by the Presidency is N28.7tn.

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

Sen Ningi In Trouble For Exposing N3.7Trn Budget Padding, May Face Arrest, Suspension

The suit read in part, “It is in the public interest and the interest of justice to grant this application. No whistleblower should ever be penalised simply for making a public interest disclosure.”

SERAP stated that it sought “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Mr. Akpabio to refer the alleged N3.7 trillion budget padding to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for investigation and prosecution of suspected perpetrators.

“An order of mandamus to direct and compel Mr Akpabio to immediately take steps to ensure the reinstatement of whistleblower Abdul Ningi who was suspended from the Senate over his allegations that the lawmakers padded the 2024 budget by irregularly inserting projects worth N3.7 trillion.

“An order of mandamus to direct and compel Mr. Akpabio to put in place transparency and accountability mechanisms to ensure that the trillions of Naira budgeted for constituency projects are not embezzled, misappropriated, or diverted into private pockets.”

The organisation stated that “granting this application would serve the public interest, encourage whistleblowers to speak up, improve public services, and ensure transparency and accountability in the management of public resources,” adding that directing Akpabio to refer the allegations to the EFCC and ICPC “would be entirely consistent and compatible with the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and the country’s international obligations,” and “would also ensure probity and accountability in the budget process.”

Akpabio’s counsel, Umeh Kalu (SAN), had said that the decision and resolution to suspend Ningi was that of the Senate sitting in plenary and not that of his client, Akpabio.

Kalu stated this in a letter to human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) titled, “Re: Request to Lift the Suspension of Sen. Abdul Ningi” and made available to newsmen in Abuja on Thursday.

However, SERAP noted that the “suspension of Senator Ningi by the Senate followed a seriously flawed process and it amounts to retaliation.”

While no date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit, SERAP indicated that “budget padding and corruption” allegations over past years “have contributed to widespread poverty, underdevelopment and lack of access to public goods and services,” adding that proper investigation and prosecution “would end the impunity of perpetrators. It would build trust in democratic institutions with the ultimate aim of strengthening the rule of law.”

The statement read further, “Senator Ningi is a whistleblower, who is protected under article 33 of the UN Convention against Corruption to which Nigeria is a state party. Senator Ningi is a whistleblower because of his public interest disclosures on alleged budget padding and corruption in the Senate in the context of carrying out his work as Senator.

“According to our information, Senator Abdul Ningi, the former Chairperson of the Northern Senators Forum (NSF), recently told BBC Hausa that the lawmakers sought the service of a private auditor and discovered irregularities in the budget.”

“Senator Ningi reportedly said, ‘For example, we had a budget of N28 trillion, but after our thorough checks, we found out that it was a budget of N25 trillion. How and where did we get the additional N3 trillion from, what are we spending it for?.’”

“According to BudgIT, a total of 7,447 projects culminating in N2.24tn were indiscriminately inserted in the 2024 budget by the National Assembly. 281 projects worth N491bn, and 3,706 projects within the range of N100–500m, worth N759bn, were inserted in the budget,.”

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Baba Voss

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