Senator Abdul Ningi: Talking with mouth full, by Kazeem Akintunde

One of the etiquettes parents ingrain into the consciousness of their children is that they should not talk while eating or with their mouths full. Parents, particularly Yoruba mothers, are known to dish such an erring child a dirty slap or a knock on the head, to teach him/her to learn some manners and correct some wrongs. That was the training most people born in my generation received while we were young. I doubt if today’s mothers bother about such things as table manners and etiquettes anymore.


However, according to medical experts, the real reason why it’s bad to talk with our mouths full or while eating is that the food may enter our windpipe instead of our food pipe and get us to choke. When we talk while eating, the windpipe gets open and the food can easily find a passage into it.


It has a similar connotation when applied in Nigeria’s politics in the sense that you should not criticise the government you are a part of and a beneficiary of the sleaze in day-to-day governance. In 1999, after the late Chief Bola Ige was muzzled out of the presidential race of the then Alliance for Democracy, he was invited by the winner of the election, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo to be among his ministers. But when the ‘Cicero of Esa Oke’ started attacking the same government, it did not sit well with some politicians in the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), including Ige’s former Deputy, Chief Sunday Afolabi, who was also a minister.


It was Afolabi who made the Freudian Slip about public service in Nigeria then while attacking Ige. He said: ‘The PDP wanted Bola Ige to ‘come and eat’. I don’t believe that we have done something wrong to warrant such insults from him. Ige, known for his caustic tongue, gave it back to Afolabi, saying that he was invited to government to serve, wondering what Afolabi was ‘eating’ in his own ministry.


Senator Abdul Ningi was never invited to this government. He contested and won election to represent the good people of Bauchi State in the House of Representatives in 1999. He was re-elected in 2003 and 2007 before moving up to the Senate in 2011.


In actual fact, he has been in governance since the return to democratic rule in 1999 and he is one of the oldest lawmakers in the National Assembly. In the course of what is an obviously rich and fulfilling time in the National Assembly, Ningi has served as either Chairman or member of many committees, including the Niger Delta Committee, Solid Minerals, Teachers Education, and NAFDAC Committee of the House. Between 1999 and 2002. He was Chairman of the Nigeria Football Association, and would later become House Majority Leader from 2003 to 2007, and Chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee on the Niger Delta crisis, the Committee on Jos crisis, and the Constitutional Review Committee.


In 2011, he won election into the Senate and emerged as the Deputy Majority Leader when the Senate was dominated by the PDP. He has been in the Senate since then.


He has been working and ‘eating’ in the Senate as one of the top-ranking Senators, and one of the very few Senators that got a whooping N500 million for ‘constituency project’ after the passing of the 2024 National budget.


But either because he was not satisfied with the amount or he intended to stage a civilian coup as insinuated by senate leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, Ningi commissioned some consultants to take a closer look into the 2024 Budget. His team came up with the verdict that the budget was padded by over N3.7 trillion. Armed with the report, Senator Ningi called a meeting of Northern Senators which he also headed to intimate his colleagues of his findings. It was agreed at that meeting that they should seek clarification from the Senate President, Senator Godswill Akpabio.


At the meeting with Akpabio, he alleged in his position as the Chairman of the Northern Senators Forum (NSF) that President Bola Tinubu is implementing a version of the 2024 Budget that is different from what was passed by the National Assembly, and that budgetary allocations for projects and social infrastructure were skewed against the North in favour of the South. Was Ningi speaking for himself or for the group of Northern Senators? Ningi alleged that the budget that was passed in December 2023 was padded with over N3 trillion – a budget of N25 trillion that suddenly became N28 trillion, and that out of the total, the Senate President inserted projects worth N4 trillion into the budget, with “huge damage” done to the North. It will be recalled that President Tinubu presented a budget estimate of N27 trillion to the National Assembly on 28 November, 2023. The National Assembly eventually passed a budget of N28.7 trillion, effective 1 January 2024.


Ningi told Akpabio that his report was a preliminary one and that once the comprehensive report was ready, it would be made available to the Senate President. Akpabio thanked him and promised to respond once the full report was ready. The meeting came to an end on a cordial note and all the participants departed.


But Ningi, like a dog destined to miss his way that would never hear the hunter’s whistle, took the matter to the media and committed a faux pas when he granted the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Hausa Service an interview where he lambasted the leadership of the House of Representatives and also painted a picture of a divided house by saying that the North is being shortchanged in the present scheme of things. Although the padded budget was the main topic of the interview, Ningi also made uncomplimentary remarks about the leadership of the Senate and the Presidency which many did not find funny.


In fact, many of his colleagues, especially from the North, quickly distanced themselves from him and when the entire Senate rose in union against one of the ‘principalities’ in the Senate, he became an easy prey. Temper ran high Tuesday last week on the floor of the Senate when the matter came up for discussion. Although some of his colleagues from the North sought a soft landing for Ningi by urging him to apologise, he refused, insisting that the budget was padded and skewed against the North. His colleagues were left with no option than to suspend him from the Senate for three months after the initial one-year suspension canvassed for by Senator Jimoh Ibrahim was turned down.


Ningi was shamefully walked out of the Senate chamber by the Sergeant-at-Arms and a few hours later, he announced his resignation as Chairman of the Northern Senators’ Forum. Senator Abdulaziz Yar’Adua has been selected as his replacement by his colleagues from the North, bringing the sordid matter to a temporary end.


However, the issues raised by Ningi are not likely to die soon as many civil society organizations are now critically examining the budget and the way and manner previous budgets were passed and implemented without Nigerians feeling its impact. Budget making and presentation has become more bizarre where the lawmakers make humongous amounts of money every year without any commensurate increase or improvement in the life of Nigerians. One of those organisations is BudgIT


Co-founder of the group, Seun Onigbinde said that there should always be a detailed breakdown of the budget, insisting that money was allocated to some government institutions without specific pointers as to what they were meant for. ‘On that point, Ningi is right. But to say that we are running two parallel budgets, I don’t think that is factual”.

While acknowledging the absence of a breakdown for approximately N3.7 trillion in statutory transfers, Onigbinde however opined that this practice was not uncommon historically. “If Senator Ningi says there is a N25trn budget, yes, that is the MDA’s budget. It’s different from the government-owned enterprises budget. In the current budget, the National Assembly gave a very broad summary of its allocations but there are no detailed allocations on a granular level that everybody can understand. TETFUND should not just get an allocation. What are you spending money on? INEC is collecting a huge chunk of funds but there are no public details about what the funds are used for.

“If you put all these together, that is around N3.5 trillion to N3.7 trillion. So, if Ningi wants to interrogate that there are components of the budget where there is no breakdown, that is very factual. To say this, the N3.7 trillion amount somewhere does not have a breakdown, we can’t find that in the budget in our own analysis. I expected him (Ningi) to bring his own breakdown. There are statutory elements in the budget that do not have breakdown, but that does not seem unusual, it seems like the situation is from the past.

Historically, there are items in the budget that don’t have breakdown like statutory transfers like NJC, NDDC, TETFund, which has been a campaign and advocacy point”.


Onigbinde also observed that several projects were allocated to agencies without capacities to deliver, citing examples of the Ministry of Agriculture, where an initial proposal of N363 billion ballooned to N993 billion with questionable projects. He warned that it is an attempt to stall development.


Another civil rights advocacy group, the Human Rights Writers Association (HURIWA) has also described the suspension order slammed on Ningi as a coordinated cover-up and legislative blackmail aimed at smashing the weighty allegations of budget padding raised by the Bauchi State-born lawmaker. The group insisted that the suspension was hasty and will inevitably be interpreted as a ploy by the National Assembly to cover its track.


In all of this, budget padding, to many Nigerians, is not a new practice and has been with us since the return to democratic governance. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo went through similar issue and he actually went to the villa to warn President Muhammadu Buhari to beware of the antics of the lawmakers, who, in this case, were irked by the complaints from someone who has been a beneficiary of padded budgets in the past now turning to a whistleblower. It was easy for his colleagues to throw him under the bus to remind him that you don’t talk while eating.


I believe that Nigeria will get it right, soon. We cannot continue to have politicians that are more concerned about their pockets than the overall benefits the nation would derive from our national budget. Already, some Nigerians have started calling for a return to the parliamentary system of government. But I can’t help but wonder if that can be the solution to our problem?




See you next week.


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