Northern Nigerian Breaking News

SCORECARD: In his first year, Nigeria’s Minister of Budget, Atiku Bagudu defends budget padding 

Known to be an associate of former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha, who was accused of stealing more than $2.2 billion of public funds during his five-year tenure as Nigerian president in the 90s, Atiku Bagudu, who was one of the Nigerians unveiled by the 2021 Pandora Papers as allegedly hiding dirty money in offshore shell companies was appointed minister of budget and economic planning by President Bola Tinubu in August 2023. 

Bagudu was appointed while facing an ongoing forfeiture lawsuit before a federal judge in Washington. The US Justice Department accuses him of embezzlement, misappropriation and extortion of billions from the Nigerian government while being part of a group headed by former military ruler Sani Abacha.

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Speaking on his first day of resumption as a minister, he acknowledged that the economy is in transition following the removal of fuel subsidies, hence, called for deep reflection on policy and strategic responses.

In March, Abdul Ningi, a senator representing Bauchi Central sparked controversy when he alleged that the 2024 budget was padded by N3 trillion and that the country is operating two budgets concurrently.

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The former chairman of the Northern Senators Forum (NSF) told BBC Hausa that the lawmakers sought the service of a private auditor and discovered irregularities in the budget.

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“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?” Ningi told the BBC Hausa.

Subsequently, the senate debated the matter at the “committee of the whole”. The senator was thereafter suspended for three months for allegedly not providing evidence to back his allegations. 

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Although, co-founder of civic group Budgit, Seun Onigbinde, backed Senator Ningi’s claim that there were no detailed project allocations for about N3.7 trillion of the N28.78 trillion 2024 budget, the federal government through minister of budget and economic planning, Bagudu defended the lawmakers, saying National Assembly is empowered by the Constitution to make input into the budget proposal by the executive.

Bagudu, who is also a former senator, said there is nothing new about lawmakers inputting projects into the proposed budget. He added that the lawmakers already exercised the power to make input into the budget by increasing the proposed budget from N27.5 trillion to N28.7 trillion.

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While opposition party leader Atiku Abubakar, has called for a thorough probe into the issue, Peter Obi of the Labour Party said the suspension of whistle-blowing Ningi does not answer questions raised about the 2023 budget. 

In all, the allegations of budget padding and the minister’s defence have, however, remained on the front burner of public discussion as Nigerians call for an investigation into the matter.

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