INEC under Pressure to Return Zakari to Operations


• Presidency seeks N’Assembly’s cooperation on 2019 polls funding

Deji Elumoye in Abuja

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is under pressure from some strong political players in the presidency to return the National Commissioner on Health and Welfare, Mrs Amina Zakari, to her former operations beat from where she was posted last week by the National Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, THISDAY learnt at the weekend.

The presidency also said yesterday that it was seeking the understanding of the National Assembly over the funding of INEC’s budget for the general elections billed for the first quarter of 2019, saying it would not confront the federal legislature over its virement of funds from the Special Intervention Programme (SIP) estimates instead of the National Assembly’s projects votes as requested by President Muhammadu Buhari.

THISDAY sources said at the weekend that INEC had come under intense pressure to return Zakari, a relation of Buhari to operations, which is the engine room of election management of the commission.
Zakari and four other national commissioners had reshuffled by Yakubu last week after leaders of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led by Senate President Bukola Saraki, marched on INEC and Police Headquarters, protesting the handling of the governorship election in Osun State last month.

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola, had defeated the PDP’s Senator Ademola Adeleke after a controversial run-off that international and local observers carpeted for what they called undue interference by security forces.

Zakari, who had been variously accused of skewing election processes in favour of the ruling APC, obviously on account of her relationship with Buhari, was particularly accused by the PDP of turning the tables against it in Osun State.
The INEC National Commissioner in charge of Osun, Oyo and Ogun States, Mr. Adedeji Soyebi, also got caught up in the web of the protest and was posted to the commission’s electoral institute.
But THISDAY was told that the presidency had been uncomfortable with the postings, coming few months to the general elections and want them reversed.

INEC sources told the newspaper, however, that it’s National Chairman, Yakubu, is resisting the pressure but wondered how long he would hold his ground.
The commission’s reaction was not available last night as calls to the phone of the chairman’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, did not go through.

Meanwhile, the presidency yesterday foreclosed any confrontation with the National Assembly over how to source the approved funds for the 2019 general elections in the country.

Rather, it would engage the legislature on how to amicably resolve the issue.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, told THISDAY on phone, “We will not engage in any fight with the legislature over where the funding of the approved 2019 election budget will come from.”
He said the presidency was currently working on how to have a better understanding of the issue with the legislature as represented by the National Assembly.

The presidential aide added that a conference of both the executive and legislature was currently being held to fashion a model for the funding of next year’s general elections.
His words, “The two parties have started meeting since the Senate passed the INEC election budget last Thursday and we will continue to meet and very soon the issue of funding will be resolved amicably.”

Enang further said the executive had resolved to henceforth collaborate with the National Assembly on how to move the nation forward through purposeful legislation, saying, “This is clearly being displayed in our approach to the issue of funding of 2019.
The Senate had on Thursday while passing the INEC budget for 2019 polls approved N189 billion for the elections, which will be vired from N500bn SIP approved in the N9.12 trillion 2018 budget .

This is contrary to the request of the president, who had in separate letters of request for virement of money for INEC budget for the conduct of the 2019 general elections urged the National Assembly to source the election funds from the N578bn special votes inserted into the budget by the federal lawmakers for execution of about 1,403 additional projects included in it.
But the Senate in its adoption of the five-page report of its Committee on Appropriation, which sought approval for the virement, On Thursday vired the N189bn from the N500bn earlier appropriated for SIP proposed by the executive in the 2018 budget.

The Senate Committee headed by Senator Danjuma Goje (APC Gombe Central), in its recommendation under source of funding had advised, “That the sum of N189, 007,272,393bn requested for the funding of the 2019 general elections should be vired from both recurrent and capital components of Special Intervention Programme captured in the service wide votes of the 2018 Appropriation Act”
The committee in the adopted report, which was not endorsed by five out of the 19-man committee namely Senators Sunny Ogbuoji, Barau Jibrin, Adedayo Ibrahim, Tayo Alasoadura and Mohammed Hassan, recommended further that the sum of N45.5billion provided for INEC in the statutory transfers should be added to the vired N189bn which makes the total budget profile of INEC in the 2018 budget to N234,507, 272,393billion.

Specifically the committee in the adopted report, emphasised that while N144.7bn will be vired from N350bn recurrent component of the special intervention votes, the remaining balance of N44.2bn will be vired from N150bn capital component of the Special Intervention Programmes votes.