Deji Elumoye in Abuja
The National Assembly Joint Committee on Electoral Matters which adjourned sine die on Friday is now to reconvene on August 27 to harmonise the 2019 general elections budget proposal for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
The Committee had at its last sitting on Friday failed to agree whether to approve N143 billion or N189 billion for INEC for logistics towards the general elections beginning in February 2019.
The Committee Chairman, Senator Suleiman Nazif, in a statement in Abuja on Saturday said after due consultations, the joint committee had agreed to reconvene on August 27.
“It is imperative to state here explicitly that, after an audacious session with all critical stakeholders, the joint Committee dissolved into executive structure and agreed to resume on 27th August, 2018, (After Sallah) to consider the Harmonised version of the Budget Report diligently.”
The Committee Chairman assured the general public that work on the 2019 Election Budget was in advanced stage and in line with mandate issued to the joint committee by the leadership of the National Assembly.
He further emphasised that “the Joint Committee deliberated on all key attributes of the Budget while taking into cognisance the imperative urgency for the Budget to be ready in time for the 2019 General Election hence, necessitating sacrifice and selflessness from our Distinguished and Honourable Members.”
He gave further assurance that the report of the joint committee will be made available for further and appropriate legislative action in earnest.
At the Friday sitting, members of the Committee had toed their respective party lines while debating the amount that should be approved by the committee for INEC to prosecute the 2019 general elections in the country.
While Peoples Democratic Party senators and House of Representatives members of the committee canvassed for the approval of N143 billion requested by President Muhammadu Buhari for virement to INEC for the preparations for the polls, their counterparts in the All Progressive Congress were in support of the approval of N189 billion as presented before the committee by INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmud Yakubu, on Wednesday.
The PDP lawmakers who spoke in favour of N143 billion include Senators Mohammed Hassan (Yobe South), Isa Misau (Bauchi Central), Hon Wole Oke (PDP Osun) and Hon. Ogbeideihama Omorege (PDP Edo) while their APC counterparts who wanted the entire N189 billion approved include Senators Ibrahim Kurfi (Katsina Central), Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (Niger North), Ovie Omo – Agege (Delta Central), Hon Aisha Dukku (APC Gombe).
The dilemma of the lawmakers over which of the proposals should be approved worsened with the submission made by the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, who said the discretion over which of the amount to be approved was that of the National Assembly Committee.
The minister who made the submission upon request to that effect by the Chairman of the Committee, Senator Suleiman Nazif ( PDP Bauchi North), explained to the committee that though the N189billion requested for by INEC was the same amount the President wrote in the letter but because of funding constraints, President Buhari decided to break approval for it into two by seeking virement for N143billion for INEC this year while the balance of N45.6billion would be taken care of in the 2019 budget .
According to him, if the joint committee wishes to approve the entire N189billion without resulting into increase in the N9.12trillion 2018 budget size, so be it and would be appreciated by the executive.
“Mr. President will have no objection to the National Assembly approving the entire N189billion INEC budget as long as it does not in anyway, lead to increase in the overall size of the 2018 budget .
“If this is to be done, the N45.6billion the President in his letter proposed to be provided for in the 2019 budget, would also have to be vired along with the N143bn from the N578bn fund appropriated for in the 2018 budget by the National Assembly for the additional 1,403 projects included in the budget”, he said .
But when taken up by the committee members on whether he has authorisation to make the submission he made for the approval of the N189billion as against N143billion requested for by the President for INEC this year, the minister said: “Discretion on which of the requests to be approved by you now is yours. If you approve the N143billion the President requested for, it’s okay and if you approve the entire N189billion for INEC this year, it’s also alright .
“Any of the two is okay for the executive, except that if you approve the N189billion through virement, the N45.6 billion planned to be captured in the 2019 budget, would no longer be part of the budget estimates for that year”.
Responding, the Committee Chairman, Senator Suleiman Nazif, said the essence of inviting the Budget Minister, the Presidential liaison officer in the National Assembly, Senator Ita Enang, along with INEC officials was for Nigerians to see that the committee’s work was transparent, nationalistic and not in any way partisan.
According to him,”We are not here to play politics with the 2019 election budget. No confusion, no ambiguity on submissions made and requests before us.
“It is our prerogative as a committee to critically look into all the details and recommend either of the two requests for approval by committee of the whole at both chambers,” he further said.
At this point, Senator Nazif announced the adjournment of the joint committee meeting sine die.