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Ningi-gate: Macabre Dance in Public Domain

Ningi-gate: Macabre Dance in Public Domain

Ningi-gate: Macabre Dance in Public Domain

By Prof M.K. Othman

The legislature, judiciary, and executive are three pillars of the presidential system of democratic governance. The relationship between the three arms of government is a perfect complementary system for transparency, accountability, checks, and balances to advance the cause of governance and achieve national development.

The legislature is the most influential and powerful compared to the other two.

The legislative arm is the heart and brain of government, as it can make and unmake the two different arms because it can have an overbearing influence on them, even though the judiciary is always a judge in a tussle between the executive and legislature. The executive formulates, implements, and funds government policies, projects, and programs in line with constitutional provisions, while the legislature regulates and oversees the executive and judiciary. The legislature has the power to summon the executive at short notice to discuss or explain issues of national interest whatsoever.

The Constitution grants the legislature the power to make laws. At the same time, the executive has the power to execute, and the judiciary has the power to interpret statutes and adjudicate as the temple of justice. In addition to making laws, the legislature has to scrutinize and approve budgets, oversee budget implementation, confirm or otherwise confirm executive appointments, ratify treaties, investigate the executive, impeach or remove members of the executive and judiciary, and address constituents’ grievances.
With these statutory powers that highlight the forte powers bestowed on the legislative body, fear of the legislature is the beginning of wisdom to the executive.

However, the legislature in Nigeria has mortgaged its enormous power to the dictates of the executive. At the state level, the governor, with the active connivance of party leaders, dictates the formation of House leadership. With the benefit of hindsight, twice, I witnessed the rejection of the most qualified, experienced, and dynamic candidate to the position of speakership for the most unqualified and retrogressive but anointed candidate.

Since the commencement of the current political dispensation in 1999, after every general election, the most common observable feature is the role of the unseen hands of the executive in directing and dictating the formation of states and national assemblies’ leadership—the installation of friendly leadership, not only to usurp its power but to make it a rubber stamp.

It is why, more often than not, executives have their ways on even the most controversial issues at all times without qualms at both state and national levels.

This compromise situation has deep-rooted implications, causing the legislative arm to be ineffective in discharging its responsibilities, particularly in annual budgetary allocations and implementation.

Budget padding is the primary consequence of a compromised, friendly relationship between the executive and legislative arms of government. Budget padding may not be an illegal function of the legislature, as it has the right to adjust and approve the budget, but how it is done makes it morally wrong for the legislature to do it.

The legislature pads the funding for their so-called constituency projects, involving them in executions with many shady deals, thereby short-changing Nigerians. It is the prism to view the allegations of padding by Senator Abdu Ningi seriously. Why should the overseer be part of the implementation, as in the case of the constituency project?

Why should there be constituency projects at both state and national levels? Members of the national assembly are getting involved in the employment processes of the MDAs. All projects, implementations, and services are the functions of the executive.

Ningi made the allegation in his interview with the BBC Hausa service. He claimed that after the lawmakers hired a private auditor, they learned that N3 trillion had been added to the budget. Furthermore, he told the BBC Hausa. “For example, we had a budget of N28 trillion, but after our thorough checks, we discovered it was a budget of N25 trillion. How and where did we get the additional N3 trillion? What are we spending it for?”

The allegation became a pandora box opening in the public domain, a naked dance in a market square with dire consequences. After seeing the outcries in the upper chamber, Ningi, knowing the gravity of his allegations, developed cold feet, ceded, and tried to refute what was accredited to him to avoid sanction.

“Let me concur with about 80 percent of the translation read out by Yayi. I have never said the budget was padded,” Ningi retorted at the red chamber. The senators were not impressed, and Ningi couldn’t escape the hammer as the three-month suspension was meted out to him. A senator suspended from the Senate cannot participate in oversight duties, committee meetings, or the plenary.

All his rights, including his salary and benefits, will be suspended. Until the suspension is removed, he cannot enter his office and is not expected to be present on the National Assembly grounds.

Ningi would have been a hero if he had diligently done his homework by proving his allegations instead of refuting them. Nevertheless, Ningi’s allegations cannot be swept under the carpet as there are traces of proof. Chief Olusegun Adeniyi, an ace journalist and author of many books, including his recent book, ‘Power, Politics, and Death,’ has brought overwhelming evidence to show many things wrong with the 2024 budget. In his recent article, “Ningi and the ‘Underground’ Budget.”

Adeniyi went through 1000 pages of Volume 1 of the 2024 appropriations. He wrote, “Under ‘Capital Supplementation’ (please don’t ask me what that means or how to explain the details below), many items come with round figure sums, which raises questions about the process by which they were arrived at.” He further wrote, “Any critical observer will see that most of these ‘ONGOINGs’ are just about leaving little money ‘on the table’ for some local operatives, considering the amounts involved. For instance, Ministry of Works has a vote of N4.1 million each (yes, N4.1 million) for more than 20 ‘ongoing’ road constructions/rehabilitations. They include ‘Special Repairs of Ilesa-Ijebu Road in Osun State Route number F117 (Phase 2)’; ‘Special Repairs of Birni Kebbi-Argungu-Kan Iyaka (Sokoto State border) Route 219’; ‘Special Repairs of Talatan-Marafan Sokoto Border Road, Routes 85’ and so many others. If we can excuse all that, what about the vote of N1.4 million for each of these major projects? ‘Reconstruction of Benin-Warri Dual Carriageway (Section 3: Ibada-Elume-Warri) (Km 66+275-KM+800 in Delta State’; ‘Construction of Bidda-Sacci-Nupeco Road across River Niger linking Nupeco and Patigi in Niger/Kwara State’ etc. I know we have magicians in Nigeria, but to construct a road and bridge across River Niger for N1.4 million is something else. Under NEW projects, there is also an N1.4 million vote for the ‘Rehabilitation of Makurdi-Gboko-Katsina-Ala Road.'”

Many senators supported Ningi’s allegation, including Senator Agom Jarigbe: “All of us are culpable. Some so-called senior senators here got N500 million each from the 2024 budget. I am a ranking Senator; I didn’t get anything. No senator has any right to accuse Senator Ningi…”. Senator Jarigbe was shouted down.
Senator Ali Ndumi tried to defend the indefensible. He likened the discrepancy in the allocation of “constituency projects” among the senators to all animals not being equal, similar to the case of Animal Farm, written by George Orwell. He forgot that Orwell’s poetic description of Animal Farm was a situation of a highly corrupt society where different laws are made for different people. All animals are equal in animal farms, but some are more equal than others.

Ningi has spoken, and the Red Chamber has a moral responsibility to thoroughly and transparently investigate his allegations. This is the only way to restore Nigerians’ confidence in the upper chamber. I concur with Chief Adeniyi, who called for reforming the budgeting process as a key to national development. If we are genuinely serious about rewriting our nation’s history, Ningi’s accusation is significant in the chance for a genuine discussion about the budgeting process and its implementation. We are tired of stagnating.

Ningi-gate: Macabre Dance in Public Domain

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