Alleged Budget Padding: Akpabio Given 7 Days To Lift Suspension on Senator Ningi or Face Legal Action

Suspended Senator Abdul Ahmed Ningi, representing Bauchi Central in Bauchi State, has formally requested the Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, and the Senate leadership to lift the suspension imposed on him. Through his lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), Senator Ningi communicated his demand, emphasizing that failure to lift the suspension within seven days would prompt legal action against the Senate, to be pursued in the Federal High Court.

The suspension of Senator Ningi stemmed from his assertion that the 2024 budget was padded to the tune of N3.7 trillion. In an interview with the BBC Hausa Service, he alleged discrepancies between the budget passed by the National Assembly and the one being executed by the Presidency. Following a plenary session on March 12, where he was asked to defend his claims, Senator Ningi was handed a three-month suspension for what the Senate deemed as baseless allegations damaging to its reputation.

Subsequently, Senator Ningi resigned from his position as Chairman of the Northern Senators’ Forum, with Senator Abdulaziz Yar’Adua of the All Progressives Congress appointed as his replacement. Despite his suspension, Senator Ningi continues to challenge the process, asserting that it was flawed. His legal representative, Falana, outlined these contentions in a letter addressed to the Senate President and received at the Senate President’s office on Wednesday.

The development underscores the ongoing dispute surrounding Senator Ningi’s suspension, with legal recourse being pursued to contest the validity of the disciplinary action taken against him. As the situation unfolds, it highlights the importance of adherence to due process and transparency in the conduct of parliamentary affairs.

In the letter, Femi Falana wrote: “On March 9, 2024, our client granted an interview to the BBC Hausa Service on the 2024 Appropriation Act. He expressed his views on the budget of the Federal Government in the exercise of his fundamental right to freedom of speech guaranteed by Section 39 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act (Cap A9) Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.”

He added, “Dissatisfied with the interview, you caused our client to be put on trial before the Senate on March 14, 2024 contrary to the provisions of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act, 2018.”

Femi Falana, in the letter, stated that the Senate President acted as the accuser, prosecutor and judge in the case, saying this was in utter violation of the provisions of Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution.”

The rights activist argued that apart from violating Abdul Ningi’s fundamental right to a fair hearing, the Senate also violated the right of the people of the Bauchi Central Senatorial District to representation in the Senate for three months.

“This is a breach of Section 111 of the Constitution and Article 13 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act,” the SAN said.

“As you are no doubt aware, the Federal High Court had struck down the suspension of some members of the Senate and the House of Representatives who had accused the leadership of both houses of budget padding, corruption or abuse of office.”

He added that, “Specifically, the court declared the suspension of the affected legislators illegal and unconstitutional.”

“As a Senior Lawyer, you (Akpabio) ought to have drawn the attention of the members of the Senate to these decisions and several others where the High Courts of some States and the Court of Appeal have held that no parliament in Nigeria has the power to suspend or expel a legislator and confiscate his salaries and allowances,” he stressed

He added that, “In view of the foregoing, you will agree with us that the suspension of Senator Ningi and the denial of his entitlements are illegal and unconstitutional in every material particular. We are compelled to request you to ensure that the said suspension is lifted forthwith.”

“However, if you fail to accede to our request seven days upon receipt of this letter, we shall not hesitate to pray the Federal High Court for the reinstatement of our client,” he added.

He stressed that, “We shall equally report you to the Legal Practitioners Disciplinary Committee for treating the judgments of the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal with disdain.”