Senator Godswill Akpabio.

By Ezinne Chinda

In the last couple of weeks, the unfortunate allegations of budget padding has raised a lot of dust in the National Assembly as well as the public domain. However, it is intriguing that what was initially perceived as a straight united fight between the National Assembly, as an institution, and one of its rebels, Senator Abdul Ningi, has gradually been narrowed down to an ambush against the President of the Senate, Godswill Obot Akpabio.

This followed the insinuations in some circles that an estimated N18 billion worth of projects was allocated to the North East Senatorial District of Akwa Ibom State in the 2024 budget. Incidentally, that is Akpabio’s constituency which he shares with four other members of the House of Representatives.

The Special Adviser to the President of the Senate, Hon Eseme Eyiboh, was in his elements, has taken the media space by storm in a bid to set the records straight and lay the controversy to rest.

Given his political pedigree, especially his past role as former spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Eyiboh offered to speak from the podium of the defender of justice and fairness.

He started by offering a schematic erudition of the budget process that starts with the president laying his proposals before the National Assembly.
“By the effect of Section 4(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, the legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria shall rest on the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Appropriation Act is one of those laws.

“A National budget defines the objectives of financial planning through the mechanism of Estimate, Projection and Forecasts for future applications and it is a product of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Now you hear people say Akpabio did this and did that,” he said.

Temporarily putting aside his current official garb as Akpabio’s spokesperson, Eyiboh said:
“I am talking not as his spokesperson, but as a former member of the House of Representatives and the position of knowledge. I understand the gamut of appropriation.

“When the House of Representatives will pass its version and the Senate its version, they come for harmonization, so it is the input of 360 members and 109 senators and once it is harmonized, in the full glare of the public, nobody can foist his will on another person in any guise.”

READ : Budget padding allegation:Senator Karimi tackles Ningi as he backtracks

Expressing the fact that Akpabio is first of all a senator and has a senatorial district that he should also cater for, Eyiboh said:

“In that his senatorial district there are four federal constituencies and those four honourable members are entitled to input constituency projects on the basis of their representations.”

Citing Section 4(1) of the Constitution, he affirmed that the National Assembly performs its role by scrutinising the proposals, removing and adding as the institution deems fit.

As with a former legislator, Eyiboh was quick to reiterate the National Assembly’s powers. However, he was also firm to assert that his principal could not have singly determined the projects in the senatorial constituency without the involvement of the House of Representatives members of the constituency.

Speaking as an apostle of justice, he further queried: “What is justice? Justice is to every man his own due. Does Akpabio deserve the due of being tagged along with a national budget that the presidency and even the man who raised this issue even mentioned that he has N2b for federal interventions?”

Eyiboh appeared pained by the attempt to single out Akpabio as the maker of the budget. He was, however, circumspect in not abusing privilege or alluding to what other presiding and principal officials of the National Assembly got in the budget for their constituencies.

A member of the Senate, Senator Ali Ndume, the Chief Whip of the Senate had in a famous interview had said that “all fingers are not equal” implying that some of the ranking legislators in the Senate and the House of Representatives could have gotten more than ordinary members.

Eyiboh, however, wondered why the focus has been on Akwa Ibom North-East constituency.

“We should not take this thing and begin to attach to an individual,” he said against perceptions of a campaign of calumny directed at Akpabio.

The outings on TVC, AIT and ARISE Tv were also revealing as they provided opportunities to remove the negative adornments on the Senate President and the National Assembly.

Hear Eyiboh:
“If the National Assembly has the appropriation powers to add or to subtract, whatever they added can it be said to be padded? It cannot be said to be padded. The only person who can pad is that person who has no powers over that budget.”

When asked about the justice of suspending Ningi, Eyiboh put it down to the abuse of the privilege of his fellow lawmakers which led to a cross party unanimity for his sanction.

Eyiboh even highlighted the kind and soft heart of his principal, who used the power of the gravel to mitigate the harsher sentence that many of the lawmakers wanted passed on Ningi.

“The suspension of Senator Ningi is an institutional enforcement of its rule. It was a clear breach of privilege and deserving of the punishment as prescribed. Senator Ningi led NSF members to see the President of the Senate on what he claimed to be a consultant’s revelations, the President of the Senate told him that if he had gotten a consultant who gave him the revelation, he should bring the said document to the floor so that everybody would engage on it.

“But instead of bringing it to the floor of the Senate or bringing it at all, he went to BBC Hausa Service. That was a breach of privilege of other senators and an institutional anarchy”

He observed that the majority of the senators wanted Ningi suspended for up to one year or six months but the humane side of Akpabio, which the public may not know, through the power of the gavel, pushed it to a three-month suspension.

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