The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) yesterday urged President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 without further delay, contending that his vacillation over the bill was inimical to the conduct of the impending general elections slated for the first quarter of next year.
The president has eight more days to append his signature to the bill that was transmitted to him on August 3, 2018 by the National Assembly after two earlier ones were returned to the federal legislature unsigned.
The PDP through its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, told newsmen last night that Buhari’s delay in assenting to the bill, had made the law guiding the conduct of the election uncertain, arguing that in spite of the subsistence of the Electoral Act 2010, even the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) would be confused on what to do about certain innovations, including the card reader that the Supreme Court had pronounced desirable but unlawful.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang, however, responded to the PDP’s agitation last night and said the president would act within the 1999 Constitution.
He dismissed fears generated by the delay in assenting to the bill, saying the president will take decision within the time allowed by the constitution.
Enang said nothing had gone wrong and nothing would go wrong as the president is still within such time allowed him by the constitution.
According to him, there is no cause for alarm as the president is currently examining the bill and will eventually take the best decision in the end.
“The president is still within the time to take decision on the bill and he will take decision within the time allowed by the constitution. There is nothing to worry about. All is well,” he said on phone.
But Ologbondiyan said his party believed Buhari was buying time, claiming that the president and his All Progressives Congress (APC) were opposed to some of the innovations in the amendment bill aimed at delivering a cleaner election in 2019.
“The delay in signing the Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill is to further place the general elections in a quagmire,” he said, adding, “The president and the APC are afraid of elections and they are working against any process that can engender credible electoral process.”
According to him, “Nigerians can recall that when the Buhari presidency failed to present the INEC budget before the National Assembly proceeded on its annual vacation in July, PDP raised the flag. Today, INEC’s budget is mired in needless controversy just to create confusion.”
The first amendment bill was refused assent on March 3, 2019 and returned on March 13, 2019 to the National Assembly, on three grounds, including the president’s disagreement with the reordering of the sequence of elections, which placed the presidential poll last, with the National Assembly and governorship contests coming first and second respectively.
The second bill, which deleted the three offensive sections, and was transmitted on June 27, was also returned without assent because of what the presidency called clerical errors that would lead to constitutional infractions.
A third one, which ostensibly cleaned up the clerical errors was passed on July 24 and transmitted to the president on August 3, 2018.
Enang said yesterday that Buhari would do the needful within the time allowed by the constitution.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly Joint Committee on Electoral Matters saddled with the onerous task of looking into the 2019 general elections budget proposal of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is expected to reconvene in Abuja today
The committee, which had adjourned 10 days ago is meeting principally to harmonise its position on what to approve for the electoral body in preparation for the elections beginning in February, 2019.
The joint committee with membership drawn from both the Senate and the House of Representatives headed by Senator Suleiman Nazif had within the month met thrice to consider the INEC election budget but failed to reach a consensus on whether to approve N143 billion or N189 billion for INEC to prepare ground for the 2019 elections.
As at yesterday evening, it was learnt that not much has changed as the members of the committee had not agreed on what to recommend to the Appropriation Committee which will further look into the proposal before passing it to the leadership of the National Assembly.
The source said members of the committee are still divided along party lines with PDP members canvassing for N143 billion while their APC counterparts are rooting for N189 billion.
It was further learnt that the committee may before the end of today’s sitting harmonise its position after considering the pros and cons of members argument along party line.
The Committee Chairman, Senator Suleiman Nazif had penultimate Friday hinted that the Joint committee will now reconvene today to harmonise the 2019 general elections budget proposal for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
Senator Nazif had said in a statement that “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, to consider the Harmonized version of the Budget Report diligently.”
The Committee Chairman assured the general public that work on the 2019 Election Budget is 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 its sitting two Fridays ago , members of the committee had toed their respective party lines while debating the amount that should be approved by the committee for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to prosecute the 2019 general elections in the country.
While Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, 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 Progressives Congress, APC, 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 became 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 is that of the NASS 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 folds by seeking virement for N143bn 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 wish 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 over all 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 authorization to the submission he made for the approval of the N189billion as against N143bn 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 N143bn the President requested for is okay and if you approve the entire N189billion for INEC this year is also alright .