The National Assembly should rise above partisanship as they deliberate on the INEC budget

    As the National Assembly suspends its two-month recess for Wednesday’s emergency meeting to consider the budget for the 2019 election, the crucial questions being mulled over by many are: will they rise above the fray? Will they tackle the problem expeditiously?
    These are hardly comforting questions. President Muhammadu Buhari had written to the National Assembly before he travelled for vacation to consider a supplementary budget to the tune of N242b for the conduct of the 2019 general election. According to the president, N164b would be vired from the N578b the legislators had ear-marked for constituency projects in the 2018 budget while the balance of N78b, made up of mostly personnel allowances, fuelling and related expenses would be provided for in the yet to be prepared 2019 budget.

    Indeed, while signing the 2018 budget on June 20, President Buhari raised the alarm that the lawmakers had tampered with the financial document. The framing of the letter on the supplementary budget by the president was a poignant reminder that the executive has not forgotten nor given in on the “insertions” in the budget, an indication that the fractious war between the executive and the legislators is still very much alive.

    Aside the recent blockade of some members from accessing the National Assembly by goons from the Directorate of State Services (DSS), an event many interpreted as a gradual relapse into authoritarianism, the stance of the executive on constituency projects will likely make negotiations far harder on an issue of urgent and major significance to the polity. Besides the N164b virement proposal on the election, the president wanted an additional N65b deducted from the amount for constituency projects because of “fiscal constraints.”

    Against the background of the acrimony in the polity, several pertinent questions persist: Was there some form of discussion and agreement with the leadership of the National Assembly on this proposal? Given the long catalogue of disagreements between the two, why is the president so sure that the National Assembly will buy into this proposal? What happens if the parliament turns down the proposal? Perhaps, some more fundamental questions: why is the budget for the 2019 election just being sent some few months to the election? Why were the provisions not made in the 2018 budget?

    Indeed, the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), like many others, is rightly concerned about the implications of all this for the polity. The party said that the request by the president was a booby trap deliberately set to drag the elections into a financial controversy and ultimately subvert the entire democratic process. Already, a worried INEC is raising concerns about the delayed funding which could affect its preparation for the elections. “As you know, our procurement process is very cumbersome and to make procurement, it may take up to four months and this may affect what we are doing at INEC,” said one its officials last week. The 2019 general election is less than 200 days away.

    There are other worrying issues. The legal framework for the election is still pending as the president is yet to assent to the Electoral Amendment Bill 2018 sent to him since June 25. The electoral commission is winding down the registration of voters this week, even as some 17 million people reportedly were yet to collect their permanent voter cards (PVCs). What’s the essence of the registration if the cards will be abandoned?

    There are so many issues to deal with by INEC and other critical stakeholders as we move into the electioneering season. But the most important at this point is for the National Assembly to rise above partisanship as they deliberate on President Buhari’s request on Wednesday.