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SERAP writes Akpabio, gives 7 days ultimatum to reinstate Ningi or he faces legal actions

Senate President Godswill Akpabio has been issued a 7-day ultimatum within which he’s to reinstate the suspended Senator representing Bauchi North, Abdul Ningi.

He was also asked to refer the allegations of budget padding and irregularities for which the senator was suspended to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) which wrote the letter to the Senate urged Senate President to urgently refer the allegations that lawmakers padded the 2024 budget by irregularly inserting projects worth N3.7 trillion to EFCC and ICPC for investigation and prosecution.

SERAP urged him “to immediately reinstate whistleblower Abdul Ningi who was recently suspended from the Senate over his allegations that the lawmakers padded the 2024 budget by irregularly inserting projects worth N3.7 trillion.”

SERAP also urged him “to make a public commitment to discontinue the patently unlawful constituency projects in the next budget cycle.”

In the letter dated 16 March 2024 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organisation said: “Referring these allegations to appropriate anticorruption agencies would be consistent with the lawmakers’ oath of office and the letter and spirit of the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended].

“What Senator Ningi has done is a positive act of good citizenship. No whistleblower should ever be penalised simply for making a public interest disclosure.”

The letter, read in part: “Without inside information, corruption is hard to detect, prevent and combat. Rather than suspending Senator Ningi, the Senate ought to have used his allegations as a trigger for addressing the lingering problem of budget padding and corruption in the implementation of constituency projects.

“Referring the allegations to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) would improve public trust in the ability of the leadership of the Senate to ensure probity and accountability in the budget process.

“We would be grateful if the recommended measures are taken within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, SERAP shall consider appropriate legal actions to compel you and the Senate to comply with our requests in the public interest.

“By exercising strong and effective leadership in this matter, the National Assembly can show Nigerians that the legislative body is a proper and accountable watchdog that represents and protects the public interest, and is able to hold itself to account in the management of public resources.

“Encouraging whistleblowers to speak up improves public services and strengthens public accountability. Promptly referring the allegations to the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for investigations and prosecution would serve the public interest.

“Investigating and prosecuting the allegations of budget padding and corruption would end the impunity of perpetrators. It would improve transparency and accountability in the National Assembly, and build trust in democratic institutions with the ultimate aim of strengthening the rule of law.

“SERAP is concerned about the opacity and lack of accountability in the spending of public funds on constituency projects since the return of democracy in 1999.

“SERAP is seriously concerned that 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.

“SERAP is concerned that despite the country’s enormous oil wealth, ordinary Nigerians have derived very little benefit from the budget primarily because of budget padding and corruption in the implementation of constituency projects and the entrenched culture of impunity of perpetrators.

“Combating budget padding and discontinuing constituency projects would serve the public interest, 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.

“SERAP notes that Section 15(5) of the Nigerian Constitution requires public institutions to abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power.

“Section 16(2) of the Nigerian Constitution further provides that, ‘the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good.’

“Section 13 of the Nigerian Constitution imposes clear responsibility on the National Assembly including the Senate to conform to, observe and apply the provisions of Chapter 2 of the constitution.

“Section 81 of the Nigerian Constitution and sections 13 and 18 Fiscal Responsibility Act constrain the ability of the National Assembly to unilaterally insert its own allocations in the budget without following the due process of law.

“Nigeria has made legally binding commitments under the UN Convention against Corruption to ensure accountability in the management of public resources.

“Articles 5 and 9 of the UN Convention against Corruption also impose legal obligations on the National Assembly including the Senate to ensure proper management of public affairs and public funds.

“Article 33 of the Convention requires government institutions including the Senate to ensure the protection of whistleblowers against any unjustified treatment. These commitments ought to be fully upheld and respected.

“The National Assembly has a constitutional responsibility to combat corruption, waste and abuse in its own spending if it is to effectively exercise its oversight functions and hold the government to account.

“It is a travesty and a fundamental breach of their fiduciary duties for members of the National Assembly to arbitrarily increase their own budget and to use the national budget as a tool to satisfy the lifestyle of lawmakers, and for personal gain.

“SERAP also urges you 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.

“Lawmakers should feel safe to freely raise public interest concerns, just as Senator Ningi has done in disclosing information on alleged budget padding and corruption in the Senate.

“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.

“He is entitled to raise concerns about allegations of budget padding in the National Assembly to address the negative effects of corruption on the access of millions of Nigerians to basic public goods and services and enjoyment of human rights.

“The allegations by Senator Ningi amount to public interest disclosures and can contribute to strengthening transparency and democratic accountability in the Senate in particular and the country as a whole.

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

“SERAP notes that freedom of expression is a constitutional and internationally recognized human right in Nigeria, and the country has enacted the Freedom of Information Act which grants Nigerians the right to seek and receive information such as the information about budget padding being disclosed by Senator Ningi.

“Whistleblowing is a fundamental aspect of freedom of expression and freedom of conscience and is important in tackling gross mismanagement of Nigeria’s commonwealth. Whistleblowing can act as an early warning to prevent damage as well as detect wrongdoing that may otherwise remain hidden.

“According to our information, Senator Abdul Ningi Mr Ningi, the 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.”

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EFCC declares Yahaya Bello wanted

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has declared former Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello wanted over alleged fraud.

The EFCC in a statement on its social media handles said Bello is wanted for offences relating to economic and financial crimes to the tune of N80.2 billion.

The EFCC asked anybody with information as to his whereabout to report immediately to the Commission or the nearest Police Station.

The commission wrote: “Former Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, is wanted by the EFCC for offences relating to economic and financial crimes to the tune of N80.2 Billion.

“Anybody with information as to his whereabout should report immediately to the Commission or the nearest Police Station.”

Operatives of the commission had on Wednesday laid siege to the home of Bello in Abuja in a bid to arrest him after obtaining a warrant arrest.

The former governor could not be arrested as he was said to have been whisked away in the official vehicle of the Kogi Governor, Usman Ododo.

Ododo had stormed Bello’s house while the EFCC were laying siege outside the house. He governor was said to have left the premises with with Bello inside his vehicle.

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Court dismisses Fmr Anambra Gov, Obiano’s bid to stop trial in N40bn fraud charges

Justice Inyang Edem Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja has dismissed the application by a former Anambra State Governor, Willie Maduabuchi Obiano, which sought to quash the N40 billion money laundering charges brought against him by the Federal Government.

The Judge, in a ruling delivered on Thursday, faulted and rejected all grounds upon which the application was predicated by Obiano.

The former governor had, among others, prayed the Judge to dismiss the 9-count charges instituted against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on behalf of the Federal Government.

He claimed that there was no connection between the proof of evidence supplied to the court by the EFCC and the accusations against him.

He averred that there was no testimony from any witness indicating that he issued directives for the disbursement of security votes and other funds belonging to the Anambra State Government.

Obiano also claimed that he could not be held accountable for any alleged unlawful actions by officials of the Anambra State Government as there is no concept of vicarious liability in the criminal justice system.

His motion on notice was brought pursuant to Section 6(6)(a) and (b) and Section 36(6)(b) of the 1999 constitution as amended and Section 1(1) & (2), 266, 271(b), 383(4) &492 (3) of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act 2015.

Among others, Obiano sought “An order of the court quashing the instant charge for it amounts to flagrant abuse of judicial process and a mockery of the criminal Justice

“An order quashing the charge for non-disclosure of a prime facie case being vague and devoid of precision in respect of all the 9 count charges.

“No prima facie case has been disclosed against the defendant in this charge. There is no link between the proof of evidence and the purported allegation made against the defendant in the charge

“No evidence exists from any witness showing that the defendant passed down a directive for the disbursement of security votes and other funds belonging to Anambra State government.

“The defendant cannot be made answerable for any purported unlawful actions of officials of Anambra State government as there is no vicarious liability in our criminal jurisprudence.

“The thinking and conclusion of the prosecution on the counts arose from speculation and suspicions.

“The subject matter of the charge borders on accountability for security vote funds.
The honourable court lacks the requisite jurisdiction to entertain issues on accountability for security vote funds

“There is an appeal filed by the Anambra state government challenging the powers of EFCC to investigate the security vote of Anambra state government.

“The preferment of the entire charge is in bad faith. This honourable court has inherent judicial power to grant all the reliefs sought above.”

But in the ruling, Justice Ekwo held that all the reliefs sought by Obiano are not grantable because they are premature and lacking in merit.

The Judge said there is no way the court would know whether the former governor is linked with the alleged offences or not unless the trial is conducted in line with the provisions of the law.

The former governor is being prosecuted by EFCC on 9-count charges bordering on money laundering to the tune of N40 billion.

Meanwhile, the Judge has fixed June 24, 25, 26 and 27 for full blown trial of the charges.

In the same vein, Justice Ekwo permitted Obiano 60 days to travel abroad for medical treatment.

The Judge ordered that Obiano be made to sign an undertaking to return to the country after the treatment and to deposit his travelling passport within three days of his return to Nigeria.

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Oyebanji, Fayemi, NASS members, APC leaders eulogize Omotosho at commendation service

Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Biodun Oyebanji on Wednesday led former Governor of the state, Dr Kayode Fayemi, National and State Assembly members, members of the State Executive Council, Party leaders and other prominent personalities to pay glowing tributes to the late APC Chairman, Barrister Paul Omotosho at a special commendation service organized by the state government in Ado-Ekiti.

Omotosho, who died on March 5th, after a brief illness, was, until his death, Chairman of the All Progressive Congress, Ekiti State Chapter.

“You will not walk alone. I shall stand by you. The Government and the party will stand by you”, Governor Oyebanji assured the children and wives of the late Omotosho during his emotion – laden speech at the special tribute session held at Adetiloye Hall, Trade Fair Complex, Ado- Ekiti.

The commendation service had in attendance former Governor Kayode Fayemi (who was represented by former Attorney General in the State, Mr Wale Fapounda, SAN; the Deputy Governor, Chief (Mrs.) Monisade Afuye, Speaker, Ekiti State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon Adeoye Aribasoye, and three former deputy Governors- Prof Modupe Adelabu; Surv. Abiodun Aluko and Chief Wole Alabi as well as members of the Ekiti State Caucus in the National Assembly.

Oyebanji described the late Chairman as a committed, loyal, and party leader whose selflessness and sacrifices contributed immensely to the growth and development of the party and the state at large.

The Governor maintained that the late omotosho was a true friend, a burden bearer, confidant and a devoted community leader, adding that his demise has left a great vacuum within the party, the state and the nation at large.

While assuring the family that his government will continue to support them and stand in the gap of their father, the Governor said he is consoled with the fact that the deceased lived a fulfilled life and left an indelible mark in the development of the state.

“To me personally, I have lost a true friend, I’ve lost a confidant, I’ve lost a brother, a burden bearer and a soul mate. The truth of the matter is not how far but how well, Mr. Continuity left at his own time, I believe strongly that it was his own time to go. We don’t like it, and it is painful because death did not give us a chance to even try to save him.

“I know we are not happy about this and it is a trying moment for us as a party, as a state and as a government, but one thing I know is there is God in heaven who sees the affairs of men. To the children, to the family, as long as i am on this seat as the Governor of this state, you will not walk alone. That’s the assurance I am going to give you”. The Governor asserted.

In his on tribute, the immediate past Governor of the state, Dr. Fayemi, whose tribute was read by Barrister Wale Fapounda, described the late Omotosho as a dedicated leader, a unifier, and a pillar of the party in the state.

Dr Fayemi explained that the deceased was a tireless leader and a steadfast supporter of the party’s principle who ensured that under his watch the party achieved significant victories in recent elections and gained the trust of Ekiti people.

While calling on the APC members in the state to remain resolute in making the deceased proud by carrying on with his legacies of integrity, the former Governor maintained that Omotosho’s contributions and sacrifices for the party will never be forgotten.

Other speakers at the evening of tributes include Mrs. Fola Richie, who spoke on behalf of the state executive council members (2010 – 2014), where the late Omotosho served as as State Commissioner; Chief Bayo Idowu, on behalf of Afenifere; Dr Dele Ebunola, who spoke on behalf of Social Democratic Party (SDP); Prof Mobolaji Aluko, on behalf of the state executive council; Hon Sola Elesin, on behalf of APC, Ekiti State chapter; Rt. Hon. Adeoye Aribasoye, on behalf the State House of Assembly, and Senator Yemi Adaramodu, who spoke on behalf of National Assembly members.

Others were Chief Jide Awe, who spoke on behalf of APC elders; Chief (Mrs) Ronke Okusanya, on behalf of Women in Politics; and Mr Ojo Oluwasegun Samuel, who spoke on behalf of local government chairmen.

They all eulogized the late Omotosho as a man of integrity and a truly honest and hard working politician and public servant, who was selfless and result- oriented.

A pall of silence descended on the Adetiloye Hall, venue of the event during the viewing of a documentary detailing the life and times of the late Omotosho was shown the audience. Many wept profusely after the documentary which preceded a short sermon and prayer of the family of the deceased.

Barrister Paul Omotosho who died on March 5th would be buried in his home town, Imesi Ekiti on Friday.

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