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Lawyers condemn Ningi’s suspension over N3tn budget padding allegation

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Prominent Nigerian lawyers have condemned in totality the three-month suspension of Bauchi Central legislator Abdul Ningi by the 10th Senate leadership due to charges of budget padding.

Chronicle NG reports that Ningi stated in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (Hausa Service) that the National Assembly placed N3.7 trillion into the 2024 budget without any verifiable projects to back it up.

During a raucous session during Tuesday’s plenary, Ningi stayed firm, saying that he was misquoted in some sections of the interview.

However, after a lengthy debate, the lawmakers slapped Ningi with a three-month suspension when he failed to apologise to his colleagues.

In response to the development, Mike Ozekhome, a constitutional lawyer, criticised the Senate’s move, claiming it sent incorrect information to citizens.

Ozekhome said, “The Senate was wrong. It gave the impression that Ningi is being punished for exercising his freedom of speech in Section 39 and carrying out the oversight functions donated to him by Sections 188 and 189 of the 1999 Constitution.

“It also suggests the Senate has much to hide and is angry that Ningi opened Pandora’s box and the beautiful white sepulchre of the Senate for the dirty decaying bones to be seen.”

Furthermore, he raised concerns that the money being talked about was likely to be borrowed, thus “making Nigeria a perpetual borrower nation preyed upon by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.”

Abdul Mahmood, an Abuja-based lawyer, contended that the Senate had no business acting as the complainant, prosecutor, and judge in this case.

He said, “The Senate ought to have known that budget padding is a criminal issue. It is both a forgery and criminal misrepresentation, an offence perpetuated against the Appropriation Bill.

“Section 88 of the Constitution of 1999, under which the Senate appears to rely each time, clearly provides that it is subject to other provisions of the Constitution. So, why didn’t the Senate turn the allegations of Senator Ningi to the police, a creation of the Constitution 1999 to investigate?

“The Senate continues to follow the pattern it sets as a lawbreaker when, in 1999, it suspended a former police AIG and Senator who alleged that the Senate was populated by criminals he investigated for crimes while in the Police Force.”

In his speech, Auwal Rafsanjani, Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, chastised the Akpabio-led Senate for attempting to deprive Ningi’s constitutional right to free expression.

Speaking on behalf of CISLAC and Transparency International, Rafsanjani stated, “We are not unaware that the suspension was initiated against Senator Ningi for expressing his constitutionally guaranteed concerns and observations on the 2024 budget at this critical moment when the nation is deeply soaked in socio-economic and financial crisis.”

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