Akpabio Inflated 2024 Budget By N3trn, Northern Senators Allege

Northern senators under the aegis of Northern Senators Forum (NSF) have confronted the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, over alleged padding of the 2024 budget with about N4 trillion worth of projects.

Representatives of the 58-member Forum led by its chairman, Abdul Ningi (PDP, Bauchi), confronted Mr Akpabio at a meeting on Thursday in the latter’s Guest House located in the Maitama District of Abuja.

Members of the Senate leadership present at the tension-soaked meeting, apart from Mr Akpabio, were his deputy, Barau Jibrin (APC, Kano), and Chief Whip, Ali Ndume (APC, Borno).

It was not clear if the Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Adeola Olamilekan (APC, Ogun), was in attendance.

PREMIUM TIMES gathered that during the meeting, convened at the instance of the Forum, the northern senators accused the senate president of inserting projects worth N4 trillion in the 2024 budget.

They alleged the projects, which had no locations, were discreetly inserted 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 Mr Akpabio of railroading the senators to hurriedly pass “the most fraudulent budget in the history of Nigeria”.

They claimed at the meeting that after clinically scrutinising the budget, they came to the conclusion that it was “self-serving in favour of Mr Akpabio and his cronies”.

Our source said Mr Akpabio could not defend the allegation 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.

“He couldn’t defend the allegation. Instead, he said he didn’t know how it happened. He said it may have happened when he was hospitalised,” one senator who attended the meeting, told PREMIUM TIMES.

It was also learnt that the senate president, who claimed ignorance of the insertions, asked Mr Ndume if he knew how it happened but the latter said he was not aware.

Before the meeting ended, Mr Akpabio assured the senators that he would look into their grievances.

The lawmakers did not leave the senate president without asking him to “make amends,” another source said.

However, some senators who attended the meeting said they were surprised that hours after meeting the senate president, some lawmakers loyal to him began to mobilise southern senators to counter the move of their northern colleagues.

The northern senators had days before confronting Mr Akpabio met at an undisclosed location in Abuja, where they resolved to challenge the senate president, who subsequently agreed to meet them last Thursday 7 March.

Northern Senators Forum chair speaks
It was learnt that Mr Akpabio’s move to mobilise southern senators may have informed Mr Ningi’s interview with the 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.

“We are supposed to meet with the senate president and show him the irregularities we saw in the budget and let him know our concerns. we will not agree and support spending money on what we are not aware of. Because apart from the budget National Assembly passed, some people went behind our back and prepared another budget we are not aware of. There were inclusions we don’t know about, but our experts are still working on it.

“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?

“And there are many other issues we have discovered. We are going to meet with the president and show him, we will ask him if he is aware of all these things that are happening. We will show him and ask him if he is aware of it, and what he intends to do to those who partake in the whole manipulations and inclusions.”

When PREMIUM TIMES contacted, Mr Akpabio’s spokesperson, Eseme Eyiboh, he said he was attending a seminar and requested a text message. He has yet to respond to the message as of the time of filing this report.

The Senate spokesperson, Yemi Adaramodu, could not be reached as his telephone line did not connect.

2024 Budget
President Tinubu presented a budget of N27.5 trillion for the 2024 fiscal year to a joint session of the National Assembly in November.

It was his first full budget proposal since he assumed office on 29 May 2023.

However, while passing the budget on 30 December, the lawmakers increased it by N1.2 trillion, bringing the total to N28.7 trillion. This was after they increased the allocations to some Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of the federal government, which they said received inadequate funding.

Some key elements of the budget as approved by the lawmakers are – Aggregate Expenditure -N28,777,404,073,861, Statutory Transfers -N1,742,786,788,150, Recurrent Expenditure – N8,768,513,380,852, Capital Expenditure – N9,995,143,298,028, and GDP – 3.88 %.

President Tinubu signed the budget into law on 1 January.

Budget padding, increment in Nigeria
Budget padding and increment has become a frequent occurrence in Nigeria since the restoration of democracy in Nigeria on 29 May 1999. It, however, became more pronounced during the Buhari Presidency.

In 2016, allegations of budget padding by the National Assembly came up as a major scandal that eventually saw the removal of the then chairperson of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumini Jibrin, from office on 20 July that year.

Mr Jibrin had alleged that the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and three other officials fraudulently short-changed the House and abused their offices by taking away N40 billion out of the N100 billion allocated for constituency projects and distributing same to themselves.

That year also, some projects worth N480 billion were discovered to have been fraudulently inserted in the budget during the defence sessions.

For instance, the then Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, disowned the budget attributed to his ministry, saying “this is not what we submitted, we will submit another one. We don’t want anything foreign to creep into that budget. What we submitted is not there.”

His Information counterpart, Lai Mohammed, also disowned his ministry’s budget, saying “No, that is not possible. That was not what we proposed, this cannot be.”

While signing the 2019 Appropriation Bill of N8.92 trillion into law, former President Muhammadu Buhari accused the National Assembly of raising the budget by N90 billion from N8.83 trillion.

The former resident said the increment would make it difficult to achieve the objectives of his government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).

The following year, 2020, Mr Buhari raised concerns about projects inserted into that year’s budget by the National Assembly. The legislature had increased the budget by about N264 billion. The president said projects were added to the budgets of MDAs with no consideration that their action would trigger incremental recurrent expenditure.

In 2021, the National Assembly reportedly padded the federal budget by over N500 billion.

Mr Buhari, had proposed to the lawmakers N13.08 trillion. But during the budget vetting process,, the lawmakers arbitrarily increased it to N13.6 trillion, an increment of over N500 billion.

In 2022, Mr Buhari lamented some changes, major additions and reductions made by the lawmakers “without justification,” while assenting to the 2022 budget. Among them were an increase in projected federal government independent revenue by N400 billion, reduction of the provisions for the non-regular allowances of the Nigerian Police Force and the Nigerian Navy by N15 billion and N5 billion, respectively.

He also frowned at the new provisions totalling N36.59 billion for National Assembly projects in the Service Wide Vote. Mr Buhari said most of the projects inserted relate to matters that are the responsibilities of state and local governments.

While signing the 2023 Appropriation Bill into law on 2 January, Mr Buhari observed that new projects worth about N770.72 billion were inserted by the federal llawmakers while estimates made by MDAs were increased by about N58.55 billion.

Will Tinubu act?
It is not clear how Mr Tinubu will react to the alleged budget padding by the presiding officers he handpicked.

Some years ago, he had accused the then President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, of hijacking and padding national budgets for the four years they were in power.

Mr Tinubu, as national leader of the APC at the time, claimed that the two presiding officers padded the budgets with pet projects that profited them while they cut funds appropriated to projects that would have benefitted Nigerians.

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