SERAP sues Akpabio ‘over failure to recall Ningi, refer N3.7t budget padding to EFCC, ICPC’

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project has filed a lawsuit against the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, 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.”

The suit: FHC/ABJ/CS/452/2024, filed on Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, is against Akpabio and other senators.

The suit, filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Adelanke Aremo, 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.

“Directing Mr Akpabio to refer the allegations to appropriate anticorruption agencies would help to address the lingering problem of budget padding and corruption in the implementation of constituency projects.

“Directing Mr Akpabio to refer the allegations to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) would also ensure probity and accountability in the budget process.

“Investigating and prosecuting the allegations of budget padding and corruption would end the impunity of perpetrators. It would build trust in democratic institutions with the ultimate aim of strengthening the rule of law.

“Years of allegations of budget padding and corruption in the implementation of constituency projects have contributed to widespread poverty, underdevelopment and lack of access to public goods and services.

“Allegations of budget padding and corruption in the implementation of constituency projects have also continued to have negative impacts on the fundamental interests of the citizens in several communities and the public interest.

“Combating budget padding would improve access of Nigerians to basic public goods and services, and enhance the ability of ministries, departments and agencies to effectively and efficiently discharge their constitutional and statutory responsibilities.

“Section 15(5) of the Nigerian Constitution requires public institutions to abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.

“Section 16(2) of the Nigerian Constitution further provides that, ‘the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good.’

“Section 13 of the Nigerian Constitution imposes clear responsibility on the National Assembly including the Senate to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of Chapter 2 of the constitution.

“Section 81 of the Nigerian Constitution and sections 13 and 18 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act constrain the ability of the National Assembly to unilaterally insert its own allocations in the budget without following the due process of law.

“Nigeria has made legally binding commitments under the UN Convention against Corruption to ensure accountability in the management of public resources.

“Articles 5 and 9 of the UN Convention against Corruption also impose legal obligations on the National Assembly including the Senate to ensure proper management of public affairs and public funds.

“Article 33 of the Convention requires government institutions including the Senate to ensure the protection of whistleblowers against any unjustified treatment. Granting this application would ensure that these commitments are fully upheld and respected.

“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.

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“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 759bn were inserted in the budget.”

No date has been fixed for the hearing of the suit.

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