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Constituency projects tear National Assembly apart

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Constituency projects tear National Assembly apart

– With N2 trillion wasted in 20 years

 

Revelations by Senator Abdul Ningi that the National Assembly padded up the 2024 Budget by N4 trillion, which invariably meant more money for the legislators in form of an illegal arrangements called Special Intervention Projects commonly called constituency projects, may have torn apart the National Assembly along its primordial fault lines earlier identified when the 10th National Assembly came on stream.

The constituency project has had a 21- year inglorious history, as it birthed in 2003, when President Olusegun Obasanjo designed for lawmakers what many people, including constitutional lawyer Itse Sagay, say is illegal and unconstitutional- to appease the lawmakers, who were at intervals baying for Obasanjo’s blood at the time.

Before the can of worms was opened by Ningi, a ranking Senator, who represents Bauchi Central at the Senate, on the budget padding, Northern senators under the aegis of Northern Senators Forum (NSF) had confronted the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, over alleged padding of the 2024 budget with about N4 trillion worth of projects.

in the N28.7trillion 2024 Appropriation Act.
Ningi had also alleged that the budget passed by the National Assembly for 2024 fiscal year was N25 trillion while the one being implemented by the Presidency was N28.7 trillion.

Representatives of the 58-member Forum led by its chairman, Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi), openly confronted Akpabio at a meeting on Thursday in the latter’s Guest House somewhere in the Maitama District of Abuja.
Members of the Senate leadership at the tension-filled meeting, aside Akpabio, were his deputy, Barau Jibrin (APC, Kano), and Chief Whip, Ali Ndume (APC, Borno).

Sources, who confided in Business Hallmark, said the Chairman of Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Olamilekan Adeola, Yayi, was not at the meeting.

It was gathered that at the meeting, held at the request of the Forum, the northern senators pointedly lashed out at Akpabio’, accusing him of inserting projects worth N4 trillion in the 2024 budget. They said some projects, which had no locations, were secretly put into the budget. They also claimed that the budget was lopsided against the North and some parts of the South.
The northern senators also accused Akpabio of manipulating the senators to hurriedly pass “the most fraudulent budget in the history of Nigeria”. They were said to have told Akpabio that after thorough scrutiny of the budget, they came to the conclusion that it was “self-serving in favour of Akpabio and his cronies”.

Competent sources informed this medium that Akpabio could not offer any discernible defence, but said that the projects complained about were probably inserted into the budget by unknown persons while he (the senate president) was hospitalised during the budgetary process.

It was also learnt that the senate president, who claimed ignorance of the insertions, aske Ndume if he knew how it happened but the latter said he was not aware. Before the meeting ended, Akpabio gave his word that he would look into their grievances.

Things quickly moved in different directions as some senators, who attended the meeting the Northern Senators earlier had with Senate president, said they were taken aback that hours after meeting the senate president, some lawmakers loyal to Akpabio began to mobilise southern senators to counter the move of their northern colleagues.

Sources said before meeting Akpabio northern senators had some days earlier met in the house of one of their own, where they took the decision to confront Akpabio’, who agreed to meet with them on Thursday 7 March.

Our Sources hinted that Akpabio’s move to mobilise southern senators actually fuelled why Mr Ningi preempt him and moved the matter to public arena by granting the controversial BBC interview +BBC Hausa Service), where he claimed that there were two federal budgets in operation.

He said, “For the last three months, we have employed private financial auditors to extensively examine the 2024 budget. We have uncovered significant unauthorized changes and additions in the budget that would have a widespread negative impact on the nation as a whole.

“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?

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The matter had not been settled as at March 12, 2024 when the Senate met to discuss “matter of urgent national importance” which turned out to be Ningi’s interview.
Adeola, who read a transcribed version of Senator Ningi’s BBC Hausa Service interview, had stated that some agencies were not documented in the 2024 budget document.

According to him, these agencies include the Judiciary, National Assembly, INEC, TETFUND, North East Development Commission (NEDC), Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Government Owned Enterprise (GOE).
At the end of the rowdy arguments that led to a chaotic session, opening of can of worms, especially, on funds for Constituency projects, how the sum of N500 million were in the hands of some Senators, while others did not get close to that, thereby suggesting lack of uniformity.

When it was time for the former Deputy leader and the immediate past Chairman of the Northern Senators Forum, NSF, Senator Abdul Ningi to speak, he said, “I think Yayi (Solomon Olamilekan) has done a fair job except on some issues that they do not understand.

“I have never said the budget was padded. I have never issued out any of these statements. This is a fake contribution that was forwarded, I do not know the author of this. In the budget Yayi presented to you, I have facts, constituency by constituency, some N12bn, some N60bn, some N30bn some have less than N1 billion.

Leading the debate on the issue, Majority Leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, alleged that the action of was a large plot by northern senators against the leadership of Akpabio, who they did everything to stop his aspiration. He claimed that the north had led the Senate for 12 years, eight under David Mark and four under Ahmed Lawan, without any incident or crisis. He called their action a civilian coup.

At the end of the day, the Senate suspended Ningi for raising the alarm of N3 trillion Budget Padding in the N28.7trillion 2024 Appropriation Act and for claiming that the budget passed by the National Assembly for 2024 fiscal year is N25 trillion while the one being implemented by the Presidency is N28.7trillion. The Senate also resolved that if Senator Ningi writes to apologise during the period, he shall be recalled to resume his legislative.

Sources say Northern Senators are discretely meeting on how to remove Akpabio given what they say is a long list of his “sins” , they also make allusions to his many caustic, unparliamentary remarks, which have serially put the Senate in disrepute, such as when he said that Senators should check their emails for Christmas prayer, that the poor should be allowed to breath, and they should check their alerts when Nigerians were being asked to exercise patience over the pains of fuel subsidy removal, his statement in Port Harcourt, where he deliberately created unsavory altercation with Sim Fubara, the Rivers State governor, and many others.

Sources say they are perfecting the plot with a timeline of June as the time to execute the coup against Akpabio’.
Many have condemned the illegal constituency projects as a drain on the lean resources of the nation.

The most recent became public knowledge during plenary recently when a senator, Agom Jarigbe (PDP, Cross River North) alleged that ranking senators got N500 million each in the 2024 budget for constituency projects, while other senators got between N75 million and N200 million.

Professor Adeagbo Moritiwon, a political scientist, has called for the ” total scrapping of the special intervention project or constituency projects, saying, “it’s illegal and a way to siphon funds meant to develop the constituencies.”

Backstory

The Constituency projects, which have a yearly budget of N100 billion, were established by the Obasanjo administration with the aim of bringing government closer to the people of the grassroots, especially those in the rural areas, just as it was not designed for lawmakers to determine directly what projects should go to their constituents or to be the ones, who should provide contractors.

Though many commentators like Moritiwon believed former President Obasanjo used it as a bargaining chip to ease the stranglehold the National Assembly had on him, it was settled that the Federal Government should set aside the huge sum of money to finance constituency projects and to ensure implementation through the Office of the Special Adviser on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in agreement with lawmakers.
In 2019 former President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the wanton theft called constituency projects, saying after over N1 trillion the constituencies were still in poverty, with no records of substantive projects across 774 local governments.

It’s on record that at least N2 trillion has been expended on constituency projects from 2003 to date, and at least, between N95 billion and N100 billion so far been allocated to the projects every year and shared among the 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives.

In sharing the funds, however, they consider ranking like in the Senate, where there are two presiding officers, the President of the Senate and the Deputy Senate President, and eight principal officers: Majority Leader; Deputy Leader; Chief Whip and Deputy Whip.
Business Hallmark gathered that while presiding and principal officers could pocket N500 million and above, no senator gets less than N200 million, especially those, who have been around and not principal officers.
Many believe the constituency projects initiative has shamelessly descended into an ugly cesspool of sleaze and corruption.
BudgIT, a civic-tech non-profit organisation, said the NASS inserted 7,447 constituency projects worth N2.24 trillion in the 2024 budget. The organisation said most of the projects have “no national significance but narrowed to personal interests.” This is diabolical.

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