The Joint Committee of the National Assembly on the Independent National Electoral Commission on Friday suspended indefinitely, deliberations on the N189bn budget submitted by the commission for the conduct of 2019 elections.
The Committee Chairman, Suleiman Nazif, who announced the indefinite suspension at the end of the panel’s meeting, however, assured Nigerians that members would do the needful to ensure that the citizens emerge victorious at the end of the day.
He said, “‘Honourable minister, honourable chairman (of INEC) and presidential liaison, I want to thank you very much for your time. We have the prerogative as a committee to look into all the details having got all the clarifications we require. We will now sit as a committee at the end of the day on which one to use. We are not playing politics here.
‘‘This is not where we play politics. On this note, this meeting is adjourned sine die (indefinitely).”
It was learnt that members of the panel did not take a decision on the fate of the N189bn budget submitted by the electoral commission at Friday’s meeting.
Investigations showed that members of the committee were torn between considering INEC’s N189bn and the President’s request that N143bn out of the amount should be vired from the 2018 budget while the balance of N45.6bn should accommodated in the 2019 supplementary budget.
Nazif, who chaired Friday’s meeting at the National Assembly, tried to offer explanations on the areas of conflict.
He said, “The issue in contention is, we have a letter from Mr. President requesting supplementary budget and what we have is a budget of N143, 512, 529.00, that is what we have in the President’s letter.
“But at the same time, there is another N45bn. When you put the N143bn and the N45.6bn, it gives us the N189bn, there is no confusion in it.
“INEC did the right thing, the President sent his letter. It is the sources of funding that became a problem that is why we invited the Minister of Budget and National Planning so that he can clarify.”
In response, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, explained that the President would be comfortable with whatever the National Assembly come up with as regards how the INEC budget was funded, as long as it would not increase the size of the 2018 budget.
He said, “This is a special election budget. The normal INEC budget was submitted together with the normal budget which was completed in October and submitted to the National Assembly in November last year.
“This one is not the regular budget, it’s a special election budget and usually it is brought as a supplementary or virement it could only come after the main budget had been passed.
“Basically, the amount that INEC asked for is N189bn. When Mr. President considered the funding constraints, the Budget Office looked at the budget and said, are there aspects of this budget which they are not going to spend in 2018 but are likely to spend between January and February 2019? Those elements were put in the 2019 budget.”
Udoma further explained that he understood the concerns of the lawmakers because he had been following the conversation.
According to him, the lawmakers are concerned about the fact that the 2019 budget may not be passed early enough to accommodate the part of the budget projected to be captured in the 2019 budget.
To address this concern, the minister said, “We will have no objection whatsoever to your appropriating the full amount N189bn for the 2018 budget; that will mean that we will not include the N45.6bn in the 2019 budget which we are preparing now.
“If this is to be done, the N45.6bn the President stated in his letter, which is 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.”
Responding to a question by a committee member as to whether he had the authorisation to make the submission, Udoma said, “The discretion on which of the requests to be approved by you now, is yours. If you approve the N143bn the President requested, it is okay and if you approve the entire N189bn for INEC this year, it is also alright.”
He further said, “Any of the two is okay for the executive, except that if you approve the N189bn through virement, the N45.6bn planned to be captured in the 2019 budget, would no longer be part of the budget estimates for that year.”
In what appears to be pandering to party affiliations, PDP senators such as Mohammed Hassan (Yobe South), Isa Misau (Bauchi Central), and their counterparts in the House of Representatives, Wole Oke (PDP Osun), Ogbeideihama Omorege (PDP Edo), argued in favour of passing the N143bn as requested for by the President in his letter.
However, their APC counterparts namely: Senators Ibrahim Kurri (Katsina Central), Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (Niger North), Ovie Omo-Agege ( Delta Central); Aisha Duke ( APC Gombe ) argued in favour of the approval of the entire sum of N189bn.
Investigations showed that the failure to resolve the disagreement over the budget would affect the National Assembly’s reconvening.
An earliest possible reconvening date for the lawmakers may be September 4, it was learnt.
One legislative source said, “So long as this issue remains unresolved, the reconvening date will drag into more days and weeks.
“Remember, we are still at the stage of the electoral committees. The electoral committees will have to present their findings to the Joint Committees on Appropriations.
“It is the final report of the committees on appropriations that will be used by the leadership of the National Assembly to determine the reconvening date.”
It was gathered that the electoral committees would probably fine-tune their report latest by Monday, August 27 and submit to the joint committees on appropriations.
When contacted for comments, the Chairman, House Committee on Customs and Excise, Mr. James Faleke, told newsmen that at the level of the House, members did not see much problem with the N189.2bn presented by INEC.
Faleke, who is also a member of the electoral committee, said, “We felt that their presentation was detailed. They explained every item they needed to use the money for during the elections.
“That was why we proceeded to set up a sub-committee to meet with the Senate on harmonisation.”
Faleke noted that any delay in arriving at a conclusion with INEC could be resolved on Monday, August 20.
When newsmen spoke with the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Mr. Chris Azubuogu, on his expectations, he replied that the committee would follow due process in working and would not be stampeded.
Azubuogu stated that some Nigerians making inflammatory comments about whether the National Assembly would reconvene did not help matters.
He said that Nigeria was not under an emergency.
He claimed that his committee was working at its own pace by collating reports from other committees working on the various aspects of Buhari’s proposals.
Azubuogu spoke further, “All I can tell you is that we are working. There is no emergency. When we conclude our work, that is when there will be a report.
“We are working and very soon we will be through.
“Appropriation is not the only committee meeting. Other committees are working across board as well. So, there is no emergency. People should be patient and stop heating up the polity unnecessarily.”
When asked to give a realistic date for all the committees to conclude work and present a report to the leadership to reconvene the National Assembly, Azubuogu replied that giving a specific date was not necessary.
“It is not about dates. If we are working, we are working”, he said.
The spokesman for the House, Mr. Abdulrazak Namdas, said he had no new information to offer when he was contacted for comments on Friday.
“There is nothing new to say”, Namdas replied to a question on reconvening date.
Recall that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker of the House, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, in a joint statement earlier in the week, announced that a reconvening was only possible after both the Senate-House Joint Committee on Electoral Matters and those of Appropriations/Aid/Loans and Debt management had concluded their deliberations and submitted a report to the leadership of the National Assembly.
Buhari had submitted a total elections budget of N242.4bn to the National Assembly, including cost of security operations and other support services in 2019.
Buhari requested that up to N228bn of the amount be vired from the allocations of the new projects introduced into the 2018 budget by lawmakers and channelled into the budget for the 2019 polls.
He also sent a request on Eurobond to source funds for financing the 2018 budget of N9.12tn.