The National Assembly, yesterday, said the joint committee in charge of considering Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) budget proposal for the conduct of 2019 election would resume sitting on August 27, 2018. In a statement signed by chairman, Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Suleiman Nazif, who adjourned the joint committee meeting sine dine (indefinitely) on Friday, stated that work on the budget is in advanced stage and in line with mandate issued to the joint committee by the leadership of the National Assembly.
Senator Nazif said contrary to the rancorous argument along party lines between All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senators on Friday; the committee work is on course and in advanced stage. Notwithstanding the fact that INEC’s timetable shows that the 2019 election exercise began yesterday, the committee’s work is in tandem with the urgent consideration the proposed budget deserves.
According to him, the INEC budget would be approved on time for the 2019 General Election hence, necessitating sacrifice and selflessness from our distinguished and honourable members.
“Furthermore, 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. “More so, the report of the joint committee will be made available for further and appropriate legislative action in earnest”, Nazif said. It was generally observed on Friday, that the 2019 election was heading for danger as the National Assembly joint committee members, sitting on INEC budget proposal, went into rancorous argument along party lines. The committee had summoned INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, on Thursday, to appear before it yesterday, to make further clarification on the N189 billion being proposed by him against the N143 billion requested by President Muhammadu Buhari for National Assembly’s approval for next year’s election.
Consequently, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, senior special assistant to president on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang and some INEC commissioners appeared before the committee, yesterday. After submissions were made by representatives of the executive, debate for approval of either of the sums among members of the National Assembly joint committee on INEC, shook party lines with lawmakers on the platform of APC arguing for approval of the entire sum of N189 billion, while those belonging to the PDP, argued that the N143billion requested by President Buhari in his virement seeking letter should be approved, since the balance of N45.6bn would be appropriated for in the 2019 budget. The dilemma of the lawmakers on which of the proposals to be approved was even worsened with the submission made by Udo Udoma, who said discretion is theirs. 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 N189 billion 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 fold 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 N189 billion 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 N189 billion INEC budget as long as it does not in any way, lead to increase in the over all size of the 2018 budget. “If this is to be done, the N45.6 billion the president in his letter proposed to be provided for in the 2019 budget, would also have to be vired along with the N143 billion from the N578 billion 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 the submission he made for the approval of the N189 billion as against N143 billion 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 is okay and if you approve the entire N189 billion for INEC this year, it is also all right. “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.”
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