“When exposing a crime is treated as committing a crime. You are being ruled by criminals”. -Edward Snowden


Being a Text of a Press Conference
Held on Thursday March 21, 2024
At NUJ Press Center kaduna

“When exposing a crime is treated as committing a crime. You are being ruled by criminals”. -Edward Snowden

Gentlemen of the Press,
The recent events in the National Assembly – the suspension of Senator Abdul Ningi, his resignation from the Northern Senators Forum, and the removal of Senator Kawu Sumaila from the PRO position – expose a troubling trend. These developments raise serious concerns about a culpable National Assembly and a failing Nigerian state, leaving many to wonder: Whither Nigeria?

These events unfold against the backdrop of a Nigerian state that has demonstrably failed to fulfil its constitutional mandate. The constitution, to which both the executive and legislative arms have sworn to uphold, guarantees the security and welfare of Nigerian citizens. This failure is compounded by attempts to stifle public debate. The recent silencing of senators through microphone control exposes a leadership seemingly complicit in the very issues it should be addressing, such as the alleged budget padding, a blatant act of legislative looting.

Meanwhile, the real victims of this charade of democracy are the ordinary Nigerians; Impoverished and marginalized, they are daily struggling to survive with no hope on the horizon. The Arewa Movement for Good Governance (AM2G) feels compelled to address this existential crisis facing the nation. We urge Nigerians to raise their voices and demand accountability from their leaders.

You may recall that, at the presentation of the 2024 budget, it was alleged that the actual budget box was empty; the National assembly has not come clean on this allegation, beyond verbal dismissal of the allegation, which is to be expected. There were also allegations that members were given a certain amount in dollars to take their eyes off the budget and simply approve it, again corrupting the budget process. Yet again there was an allegation that the N160m USVs was part of the bribery for the members of the NASS to rubber stamp the budget. Perhaps most disturbing was the celebratory song sung by legislators, with the chorus “on your mandate we stand.” This display of misplaced solidarity with the executive branch, which is unwarranted and unprecedented, raises questions about the legislature’s commitment to its role of holding the executive accountable.

This capitulation, as it were, and the absence of a rigorous debate on the principles of the budget, a well-known parliamentary practice where the objectives, structure and the pegging of the crude price benchmark are discussed, have given away the National Assembly as a willing accomplice in the massive looting of the public treasury that has today become the budget process.

That between the passing of the budget and the signing of the budget it was hardly a day, shows a great haste; quite intriguing.
Admittedly, this looting has been on for some time now, some would say from the fourth assembly inaugurated in 1999; the amounts then was in hundreds of millions. Over the quarter century this looting has grown geometrically into billions and with this assembly trillions.

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Now we should understand why this country has refused to grow and developed; now we can see why we spent billions of dollars in electricity without a substantial increase in megawatts of electricity and the culprits are going scot free; now we can see why our economy has been shrinking and ending up in shambles; now we can see why our youth cannot find jobs; now we can see why our country is on this dangerous trajectory, heading for the rocks; now we can see why this country under this rogue politics has no future at all. Now we should see where exactly the problem is and now we should see why we can’t keep quite. Now some specific issues:

  1. Suspension of Senator Ningi – this appears to be a panic measure that violates the principles or representation in a democracy. It is clearly an evasive move to distract attention from the issues raised. It is also unfair for an issue of this magnitude to be swept under the carpet without a thorough investigation to prove beyond doubts to the Nigerian public, who ostensibly elected these Senators to represent them, that the Senators are not culpable. From the video clips shown by the media covering the NASS, we found it intriguing that after the suspension and as Senator Ningi was walking out of the chamber with the heap of evidence in his hands, no senator appeared to show any compunction. This suggests a conspiracy of silence in the supposedly hallowed chamber, or is it a chamber of shame. It apparently did not occur to the Senate that they were judges in their cause or worse still, they were the prosecutors and the jury at the same time. We are forced to ask the question, Distinguished Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, what is distinguishing in this behavior? Where is your conscience? What do you want us to think of you?

2. Padding of 2024 budget – today there are mountains of evidence that massive, some would say outrageous, padding has taken place in the 2024 budget. Even as, Senator Ningi was not allowed to present his evidence, as he was shouted down and his mic was being switched of now and then, in what little he was able to expose, there were enough malfeasance and fleecing to be worried about. We may argue on the figures but Bugetit, an expert institution on budget has confirm a lot of Ningi’s allegations. It has confirmed the hiking of budget of the MDAs by N1.27T, it has confirmed that while the budget submitted was for about N25T, the budget that went out for signing was over N28T. The devil is in the details. Many of the figures in the budget were opaque and this opacity would appear to be deliberate to hide the fleecing that is buried in the budget. The senate was clearly hiding something and that is exactly the point at issue. These are public resources and the public must know what happens to their resources. Can the senate come clean by opening up and subjecting the budget to a thorough investigation? Isn’t transparency and accountability a key feature of democratic culture and processes? Don’t they have a moral and constitutional responsibility to submit themselves to public scrutiny?

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3. Constituency Project – this has been a thorny issue between the executive and the legislature. It needed not to be so but for our ‘cash and carry’ politics. The well know practice which defines the fourth republic is for legislators to be contractors of their constituency projects. The allocation of these projects appeared to be shrouded in secrecy as even the senators themselves are kept in the dark about what their colleagues are getting. It is also clear that that allocation was selfish, arbitrary, and unscientific, and all these in the 21st century. The Senate President was alleged to have amassed a humongous amount distributed across several budget lines, while some ranking senators claimed that that they got nothing. Some who appeared on television evaded direct questions as what was allocated to them. If such secrecy and inequity is practiced at the highest level of our legislature what do we expect to be the quality of our laws? If these same people are supposed to run oversight on our executive arm what do expect to happen? Can we in good conscience trust these people?

4. Budget process – the whole budget process appear to be messy. There are key steps in any budget process and those that have been practiced in the NASS budget process that have been abandoned this time. Budgets must start with revenue because it is allocation of resources for development, you need to be certain about what is available to be spent. Some of the revenue sources in this budget are the sale of government assets without details, making the revenue sources suspicious and unreliable. There are other key steps like consultation with key government revenue and planning institutions which have not been adhered to. The budget office and the public procurement office are also supposed to bet the costs and this could not have been done; for, in this budget a single borehole costing a ridiculous sum of N193m or a single street light costing an insane sum of N184m, making the whole budget laughable. Seun Onigbinde of Bugetit has revealed even more baffling atrocities when he showed how many projects were allocated to MDAs that have no capacity for execution or even relationship with the projects. This is overwhelmingly exhibited in the ministry of Agriculture, which has been allocated about 600B for projects that have nothing to do with Agriculture. He explained that one school notorious for this is the Federal Cooperative College, Orji River, building town halls hundreds of kilometers away from the school. One is forced to ask what kind of people do we have in the executive and legislative arms of government? Is this stupidity or criminality or both? Doesn’t this explain why so much money is spent every year and so little is seen on the ground? How can this insane and laughable budget address the developmental challenges that budgets are meant to address? How can the power of the purse given to the legislature by the constitution be a license for such irresponsibility? For how long can this country bear this affront? Where are the young people whose future is being destroyed by this class of politicians?

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5. The Northern Senators Forum – we are waiting to hear the explanation for the intriguing deafening silence of the Northern Senators Forum. We thought Senator Ningi, their chair and Senator Kawu Sumaila their PRO were representing them when they stood up to these alleged atrocities in the Senate. Their silence as a body appears to suggest that they have no courage to show up for the fight against the alleged inequity and transgressions. We thought the issues raised by Senator Ningi are issues which affect their constituencies, the people who ostensibly sent them there to represent and protect their interest. Are they betraying the trust of their constituencies? Are they suggesting that they are an accomplice in the alleged crime that is unfolding in the senate? Are they willing tools of the Senate President or his boss the President in the alleged subversion of the interest of their constituencies? How did they come about their new leadership? Could the suspicion that they were appointed by the executive be true? Will they have the courage to come clean on these and several other roles they seem to be playing?
Distinguished members of the press, it is very evident that our democracy is in crisis. Our democracy is not delivering development and with the kind of National Assembly that we have today, and we can see why. Our democracy is impoverishing the citizens, more citizens are daily falling below the poverty line and many are trapped into multi-dimensional poverty. Our democracy is not creating hope on the horizon for the teaming youth who cannot even go to school and those that managed to go through school cannot find jobs. Our democracy is losing its meaning, losing its value and losing its luster. Our democracy is stripping us of our dignity, of our honor and of our humanity. There is urgent need to restore our confidence in democracy before we lose our senses. Once we get to the point where we lose our senses that will be the end of anything sensible.
What to do?

  • Halting and freezing all funds that are suspect until a thorough investigation is done.
  • Instituting independent investigation including civil society like CISLAC and BUDGETit.
  • The young people should endeavor to engage these political institutions and defend their future which is being destroyed by a rouge democratic culture.
  • Leaders of civil society, especially those who were in the trenches in the late 90’s, fighting to restore democracy, must come forward to give a policy direction and build an elite consensus on the future of this great country.
  • We must all focus on the leadership recruitment process, we must develop criteria for suitability of political offices. To be sure, the criteria in the constitution is only a criteria for eligibility. We must not confuse eligibility with suitability. Character, competence and courage of conviction must be part of these criteria.

  • I thank you and God bless.

  • Usman Bugaje,
  • Convener, Arewa Movement for Good Governance AM2G.

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