SERAP sues Akpabio over failure to recall Ningi, refer N3.7trn budget padding to EFCC, ICPC

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has filed a lawsuit against the Senate President, Mr Godswill Akpabio for failing 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....READ FULL ARTICLE

Mr Akpabio is sued for himself and on behalf of all members of Nigeria’s Senate.

It would be recalled that whistleblower Ningi last month was suspended for three months over his allegations that the 2024 budget was padded by over N3 trillion and that the country is operating two budgets.

In the suit number FHC/ABJ/CS/452/2024 filed last Friday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, SERAP is seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Mr Akpabio to refer the alleged N3.7 trillion budget padding to appropriate anti-corruption agencies for investigation and prosecution of suspected perpetrators.”

SERAP is also seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Mr Akpabio to immediately take steps to ensure the reinstatement of whistleblower Abdul Ningi who was suspended from the Senate over his allegations that the lawmakers padded the 2024 budget by irregularly inserting projects worth N3.7 trillion.”

SERAP is also seeking: “an order of mandamus to direct and compel Mr Akpabio to put in place transparency and accountability mechanisms to ensure that the trillions of Naira budgeted for constituency projects are not embezzled, misappropriated or diverted into private pockets.”

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In the suit, SERAP is arguing that: “Granting this application would serve the public interest, encourage whistleblowers to speak up, improve public services, and ensure transparency and accountability in the management of public resources.”

SERAP is arguing that, “Directing Mr Akpabio to refer these allegations to appropriate anticorruption agencies and to reinstate whistleblower Abdul Ningi would be entirely consistent and compatible with the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended] and the country’s international obligations.”

SERAP is also arguing that, “The allegations by Senator Ningi amounts to public interest disclosures and can contribute to strengthening transparency and democratic accountability in the Senate in particular and the country as a whole.”

According to SERAP, “Suspension of Senator Ningi by the Senate followed a seriously flawed process and it amounts to retaliation.”

SERAP is also arguing that, “Senator Ningi’s status as a whistleblower is not diminished even if the perceived threat to the public interest has not materialised, since he would seem to have reasonable grounds to believe in the accuracy of the allegations of budget padding and corruption in the Senate.”

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The suit filed on behalf of SERAP by its lawyers, Kolawole Oluwadare and Mrs 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.”

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The group also contended that “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.

“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.”...READ FULL ARTICLE

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