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Editorial

Alleged Budget Padding: Need For Transparency 

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Senator Abdul Ningi’s revelation about the padding of Nigeria’s 2024 budget with an enormous N3.7
trillion has sent shockwaves throughout the country. Budget padding has unfortunately become a regular occurrence in Nigeria since the return of democracy in 1999. Even former President Olusegun Obasanjo had criticised the National Assembly for their practices of budget bloating during his time in office between 1999 and 2007.
The budget padding scandal started off quietly with a meeting between the Northern Senators Forum and President Bola Tinubu regarding the alleged N3.7 trillion insertion in the 2024 appropriation. Senator Ningi revealed that the budget passed by the Senate for 2024 was N25 trillion, not the N28 trillion being implemented by Tinubu. The discrepancy raised concerns about transparency and accountability in the budgeting process.
Ningi’s interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa Service exposed the deal and sparked concern among the Senate leadership. In the interview, the senator mentioned that the Forum would look into the “additional sum of N3 trillion” and other budget items that were not previously disclosed to the Senate. This caused a push to penalise him, with backing from the Presidency. Many Northern senators chose to distance themselves from Ningi rather than support him.
Apart from the budget lining accusations, Senator Jarigbe Agom-Jarigbe disclosed during the debate on the breach of privilege motion raised by Senator Olamilekan Adeola against Ningi for his interview with the BBC, that senior senators received N500 million each. Additionally, there were claims that the government authorised N2.5 billion for Senate President Godswill Akpabio to procure deep freezers, generators and other items for his constituency as part of empowerment projects.
Budget padding continues to be a persistent challenge within the National Assembly, a fact that has been acknowledged by previous Presidents. In 2016, the chairperson of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumini Jibrin, made accusations against the former House of Representatives Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara and three other officials. Jibrin claimed that they fraudulently took N40 billion from the N100 billion allocated for constituency projects. This scandal caused a major uproar and Jibrin was subsequently removed from his position for exposing the supposed fraud.
Projects worth N480 billion were fraudulently inserted into the budget during the defence sessions that year. In 2019, fraudulent projects worth billions were discovered in Nigeria’s defence budget. Former President Muhammadu Buhari accused the National Assembly of increasing the budget by N90 billion, making it difficult to achieve his government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).
Buhari also conveyed his disappointment with the modifications made to the budget by lawmakers in 2022. These changes included a N400 billion increase in federal independent revenue, a reduction in allowances for the Nigerian Police and Navy and the addition of new provisions for National Assembly projects. During the signing of the 2023 Appropriation Bill on January 2, federal lawmakers introduced new projects totalling approximately N770.72 billion and estimates provided by MDAs were raised by around N58.55 billion.
Regrettably, President Tinubu addressed allegations of the budget alterations by asserting that those levying such accusations lacked a comprehensive understanding of budgetary processes. He stressed that the budget figures were meticulously calculated and grounded on a strong basis, while also affirming the senators’ integrity. Tinubu’s comments were intended to elucidate any misconceptions and uphold the transparency of the budgeting procedure. However, the President’s stance on the issue may inadvertently foster corruption among the legislators.
Senator Ningi’s suspension lacks legitimacy and therefore he should be reinstated immediately. Rather, the Senate leadership should address his allegations of budget padding sincerely and stop chasing shadows. If BudgIT’s report is accurate, the Senate must allocate the N3.7trillion towards essential areas like education, health and poverty alleviation. We commend Senators Ningi and Jarigbe for speaking out. We think that an independent panel of inquiry should be established by the Federal Government to investigate their concerns.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) are well aware of their responsibilities and do not need to be instructed before discharging them. They have to apprehend and prosecute all individuals involved in the alleged budget fraud to end the corrupt practice. No one should be exempt from investigation, as there should be no sacred cows in the fight against budget graft.
Our lawmakers must shun this rip-off because it diverts funds from essential sectors to projects that may not serve the public interest. This is detrimental to economic development. It worsens inequality, undermines public trust in government institutions and can lead to inflation by injecting unauthorised funds. It can also reduce citizens’ purchasing power, divert resources from productive investments, hinder progress, perpetuate poverty and facilitate corruption within government agencies.
To prevent budget padding, oversight mechanisms such as the Budget Office of the Federation and the National Assembly should be strengthened. Transparency and accountability in the budgeting process play a critical role in identifying and preventing padding. Legislative reforms should be put in place to streamline the budget process and ensure compliance with fiscal discipline. The establishment of independent budget monitoring committees can also help enhance accountability and curb the menace.

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Editorial

For Peace In The M’East

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Tensions in the Middle East have been a cause for concern for decades now. The region has been plagued by conflicts, violence, and instability, with countries such as Israel, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria being at the centre of many disputes. The failure to resolve these concerns may have devastating consequences for the people living in the region. It also has what it takes to escalate into much larger encounters.
If the international community fails to act swiftly to end the hostilities, there is a real risk that a Third World War might ensue. The clashes in the region are perplexing and passionately rooted in historical, religious, and political distinctions. The inability to address these underlying matters and uncover peaceful solutions has only fueled the fire of discord and contentions among the nations involved.
The Middle East is a crucial geopolitical region, with significant reserves of oil and natural resources, as well as being a hotbed of religious and cultural diversity. The fracas in the region has far-reaching socioeconomic aftereffects. Any intensification in the brunt could have widespread upshot for global security, trade, and stability.
No one should take the probability of a Third World War arising from the region lightly. The use of nuclear weapons, the involvement of major world powers, and the potential for an expansive regional conflagration could have catastrophic backlash. The international community must unite to address the root causes of the apprehensions in the region and work towards sustainable solutions.
The ongoing feud between Iran and Israel suggests that there may be challenging days ahead for international peace. It is troubling that what started with Israel’s offensive on Iran’s consular building in Syria on 1st April may not end with Tehran’s Operation True Promise. The bombing in Damascus, which killed at least two top Iranian generals, resulted in the first-ever direct strikes launched against Israel from Iranian territory. The Jewish State’s recent reprisal for the Iranian onslaught may open a new vista in the conflict.
During the intrusion, Iran reportedly launched more than 300 missiles and drones. Almost all were annihilated by Israel’s air defences, augmented by forces from the United States, United Kingdom and Jordan. The Iranians had made their intentions clear, giving Israel and its allies time to prepare themselves, and quickly issued a statement at the United Nations in New York that their retaliation was over.
With the current war in Gaza between Israel and Palestinians, there are fears that the region is on the brink of an all-out war, with conceivably fatal aftermath. This is a defining moment in the Middle East. That is why it is right for world leaders to pressure Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to exhibit restraint. Then both Israel and Hamas could engage in talks to free Israeli hostages and end hostilities.
In addition to the Israel-Palestine strife, the civil wars in Syria and Yemen have further exacerbated the crisis in the region. The fray has resulted in massive deracination of people, extirpation of infrastructure, and loss of lives. The international community must seek a political solution to these inessential wars and provide humanitarian abetment to those affected by the violence.
Moreover, the rise of extremist groups such as ISIS has also destabilised the region, posing a threat to global security. Nations in the locale and beyond should interface and combat terrorism and extremism. A coordinated effort is required to address the very causes of the commination, such as poverty, lack of education, and political marginalisation. Clearly, the status quo in the bailiwick is unsustainable. A new approach is vital to end the dire straits in the region.
Intense diplomatic endeavours, dialogue, and cooperation are cardinal in resolving the impasse in that portion of the world. The use of military force or unilateral actions will only further escalate the situation and increase the risk of a larger conflict. It is time for all parties involved to set aside their disparities, and build a stable future for the Middle East.
Global amity is indispensable for the well-being of all individuals and nations. It is the foundation upon which sustainable development, economic prosperity, and human rights can thrive. The United Nations was established with the primary goal of advancing peace and security among countries, and it is obligatory that the organisation achieves this objective.
Super powers should animate collaboration and diplomacy to attain harmony. These nations have the wherewithal to make necessitous strides in promoting stability and security on a global scale if they set aside political dissimilarities and focus on common goals. Through open communication and mutual respect, super power countries can lead by example and inspire other nations to follow suit in creating a more nonbelligerent world for present and future generations.
Efforts must be made to avert a Third World War. Its idea is deeply disturbing and contentious. It is one that evokes fear, uncertainty, and global disquietude. The possibility of such a cataclysmic event occurring is something that many would rather not think about, yet the signs and anxieties among countries are becoming increasingly apparent. States must be vigilant, proactive, and committed to building a better future for the world.

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Editorial

Governor’s Pension Law Repeal, Otti’s Example 

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Abia State’s decision to repeal the governor’s pension law is a momentous move towards cutting down on
the expenses of governance and focusing on the welfare of pensioners in the State, who were last paid in 2014. Governor Alex Otti’s bold action in overturning this law demonstrates a dedication to financial prudence and transparency. This resolve will help in reducing the financial burden on the State.
Pension for governors and their deputies has been a contentious topic in Nigeria, with concerns raised about the ethics and morality of providing lifetime benefits to public officials who may only serve a limited term in office. Abia State has taken a bold step by repealing this law, setting a positive example for other States to follow. This move has sparked a much-needed conversation about the need for accountability and responsible governance in the country.
Governor Otti’s argument for repealing the governor’s pension law to alleviate the financial burden on the State and address the issue of unpaid pensions for Abia’s retirees is compelling. By prioritising the needs of the people over political considerations, Governor Otti is demonstrating strong leadership and a commitment to serving the best interests of the citizens.
The Abia State Governors and Deputy Governors Pension (Repeal) Law of 2024 has been widely reproached for its excessive provisions for former office holders. Not only does the law guarantee former governors and former deputy governors 100 per cent of the operative salary of their successors, but it also includes the provision of three police officers and two Department of State Services officers for life. Additionally, the State is responsible for paying for their domestic staff and building mansions for them in both their home State and in Abuja.
Proponents of these benefits assert that they are necessary to ensure that former governors are appropriately provided for after their tenure in office. They maintain that these benefits are in line with the sacrifices and responsibilities that come with holding a public office. Furthermore, supporters of the entitlements contend that these provisions are intended to attract qualified individuals to compete for gubernatorial positions, with the assurance that their welfare will be looked after once they leave office.
Despite efforts to eliminate these schemes in some States, about 18 States still retain pension for their former leaders, which many Nigerians view as a form of political hedonism. Zamfara set a precedent in 2019 by eliminating its pension law, signaling a shift away from the traditional practice of providing lucrative benefits to former governors and their deputies. Many other States continue to operate this practice, allowing former leaders to receive substantial pension and other perks even after leaving office.
In 2020, both Lagos and Kwara States announced their intentions to scrap their pension laws, acknowledging the increasing public outcry over the issue. Kwara went a step further by officially abrogating the law in January, 2021, demonstrating a commitment to reforming the system and promoting accountability. Meanwhile, Lagos took a more gradual approach by reducing the benefits for former leaders by 50 per cent in August , 2021. This move was perceived as a compromise between completely abolishing the scheme and maintaining the status quo.
According to the World Poverty Clock and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Nigeria has been listed as the poverty capital of the world, with millions of people living in extreme poverty. The fact that States would continue to record more ex-office holders after every tenure only adds to the financial strain of these pension schemes. With the number of former office holders increasing each year, the costs associated with their pension become unsustainable for many States.
The funds that could be allocated towards alleviating poverty and improving infrastructure are instead being spent on providing lavish retirement benefits for a select few. The current pension schemes for ex-governors in Nigeria are not sustainable in the long term, especially in the face of the present economic realities. Reforms are needed to ensure that public funds are used more efficiently and effectively, and that the needs of the most vulnerable in society are given preference over the comfort of former government officials.
Pension for former governors often result in the enrichment of the wealthy elite at the expense of the struggling masses. These politicians typically only served in office for a maximum of eight years, yet, they are able to secure generous pension that allow them to maintain a life of luxury. Some even go on to hold positions as Ministers or Senators, further perpetuating their unjustified wealth.
Curiously, the 10th National Assembly is home to more than 12 former governors who continue to benefit from these lavish retirement benefits. In stark contrast, many public workers dedicate 35 years of their lives to serving the public and the government, only to receive meagre pension or sometimes none at all. Tragically, some pensioners pass away before ever receiving the benefits they are owed.
Other States should look to Abia State as a model for promoting democratic values and accountability. The active participation of civil society organisations, pressure groups, taxpayers, and activists is critical in upholding the principles of democracy and ensuring that the government is accountable to the people. The scandalous pension laws that have been passed in many States are not only unjust but also a detriment to the democratic process.
Nigerians should engage with their legislators and demand the immediate annulment of these obnoxious laws that serve to enrich a select few at the expense of the public. Citizens can help ensure that their voices are heard and that their rights are protected by actively participating in the legislative process and holding their representatives accountable. Abia is a constant reminder that democracy is a continuous process that requires the active involvement of all.

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Editorial

Enough Of Legislative Rascality In Rivers

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The political deadlock in Rivers State is showing no sign of abating, with the State House of Assembly voting once more to nullify Governor Siminalayi Fubara’s veto of the Rivers State Assembly Service Commission Bill. This is in addition to the one that occurred in January, when the legislators went against some of the governor’s decisions about four other bills, claiming it could cause chaos and violate certain laws.
The four bills include the Rivers State Local Government Law (Amendment) Bill; Rivers State Traditional Rulers’ Law (Amendment) Bill; Rivers State Advertisement and Use of State-owned Property Prohibition (Repeal) Bill and Rivers State House of Assembly Fund Management Bill. Unlike before, the amendment to the Assembly Service Commission Law now permits the Assembly to appoint the chairman and members of the Commission, not the governor.
But legal experts say that the amended law violates the 1999 Constitution, which prohibits the Assembly from overstepping the governor’s authority to appoint the chairman and other members of the Commission. If that position is accurate, then the Rivers State House of Assembly Service Commission (Amendment) Law, 2024, is legally void. The question is: why is Rivers State different if the President, working with the National Assembly, nominates members of the National Assembly Service Commission?
In yet another controversial move, the State Assembly has passed a bill to amend the Rivers State Public Procurement (Amendment) Law No. 1 of 2021. The bill, which was put forward at the 127th sitting, aimed to delete Section 3 of the 2021 Amendment Law to limit mobilisation fees to suppliers or contractors to not more than 20 per cent. We condemn this ill-motivated enactment, as the same Assembly had previously amended the law in 2021 to allow for 100 per cent payment of mobilisation fees to contractors.
While the House maintains that the laws are intended to bring more balance of power, we perceive it as an audacious endeavour to humiliate the governor and diminish his position. This power contest between the legislative and executive arms is unsettling and detrimental to the state. It is incomprehensible why the same Assembly members failed to challenge any bills during former Governor Nyesom Wike’s tenure, which period they also served as lawmakers.
We advise the state lawmakers to be wary of their actions and always prioritise the well-being of Rivers people by operating collaboratively with Governor Fubara. They should set aside their deep-rooted prejudices and concentrate on enacting good legislation to benefit the citizens. We insist that the governor should be allowed to administer the state freely in line with his constitutional mandate to ensure stability and progress in the state.
It is time for our renegade legislators to pay attention to their duties and not allow their paymaster to manipulate them for his narcissistic purposes. We find it disappointing to see those in power succumb to high-level corruption and disregard the people’s needs because of politics. What we need now is unity and cooperation, not the constant harassment of Fubara to create tension and division.
When individuals who are supposed to uphold the law and safeguard the people’s interests are being used as pawns in a murky political game, it is a sad state of affairs. The lawmakers need to understand that they owe it to the people of Rivers State to buck any attempts to jeopardise their integrity and independence. The trust of the people they represent is undermined by letting themselves be controlled, which also erodes their credibility.
Repealing and re-enacting laws without careful consideration by these lawgivers is reckless and unacceptable. Their actions could cause a crisis in the state, making governance more challenging. They need to understand that any problem they ignite will not only affect the general public but also themselves and their loved ones. That is why the legislators must contemplate the repercussions of the laws they revoke or make and how such statuses will impact their interests and all residents of the state.
Speaker Martins Amaewhule and his cohorts are pushing the boundaries of their rascality too far. After elections, politics in most states ends, allowing for genuine governance to take over. Unfortunately, this is not the scenario in Rivers, where political turbulence is destroying the state’s economy. If these parliamentarians truly cared about the state in which interest they have always claimed to act, they would end the ardent political imbroglio and unnecessary power struggles causing divisions and increased insecurity
Political tenseness in a state can sidetrack the attention of the government away from enforcing impressive policies to tackle challenges and promote progress. It is estimated that Rivers State has lost about N2 trillion in public sector investments over the past 12 years due to unrest in the political arena. Numerous projects valued at over N1.91 trillion have been impeded, along with other economic activities that could have profited many.
Some of the losses include the N250 billion bond approved in 2010 to build listed projects. However, a political dire straits in 2012 compelled the state to resort to bridging loans from commercial banks, as opposed to Lagos State that took bonds. The World Bank water project, that was supposed to transform Port Harcourt into a modern city, was allegedly not endorsed by the Goodluck Jonathan administration following political upheavals in the state.
To transform Port Harcourt into a fast and efficient transportation centre, the government invested over N20 billion in the monorail project. However, once Wike became the governor, he abandoned it. Former Governor Chibuike Amaechi used to set aside N100 billion each year for the Greater Port Harcourt City project, but Wike, following political disagreements with his predecessor, neglected it and instead used it as a means to reward his supporters. The unstable political climate prevented the realisation of these public sector investments, which could have greatly expanded the state’s economy.
Rivers people are indeed fed up with waking up every day to distressing news from the political space. Amaewhule and his troublesome allies must be told that enough is enough. The inept lawmakers should put aside their personal interests and those of their principal and work with Governor Fubara, who has been brandishing the olive branch to advance the state. Rivers State needs peace and development.

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