Plans by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for a hitch-free election next year may be jeopardised, with the National Assembly calling off yesterday its sitting to endorse the electoral umpire’s budget.
The sitting was called off amid the growing suspicion between the Executive and the Legislature.
The lawmakers have alleged that there are plans by the Executive to instigate the removal of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy Ike Ekweremadu. This has been denied.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has also alleged that there are plans to arrest Saraki and Ekweremadu. It is all lies, the All Progressives Congress (APC) said yesterday.
Also to be affected by the lawmakers’ recess is President Muhammadu Buhari’s plan to fund capital projects through loans.
But a senior INEC official said last night that there should be no panic over the development.
“If they don’t sit, the Presidency will find a way to fund the INEC budget. There must be a way around it,” the official said, pleading not to be named because he is not allowed to comment on such matters.
Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, Abdulrazak Namdas, said Monday that the National Assembly would not reconvene today because the leadership was yet to reach a decision on the plan to sit.
“We are not reconvening tomorrow (today). This is because we are yet to make a decision over it; we are still meeting. As a matter of fact, the leadership will meet later this evening (yesterday) or tomorrow (today) to decide when to reconvene”.
When asked if the leadership of the political parties in both chambers had presented their reasons to the leadership to reconvene the Assembly since there was no national media advertisement to that effect, Namdas said he believed the right steps have been taken.
“Everyone is aware of the rule book said on the procedure for this sort of sitting, I believe the right steps must have been taken, no one would do anything outside what is prescribed in the rule book,” the House Spokesman said
It was gathered Monday that the leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives might have ruled out the possibility of reconvening today because “it is practicality impossible for the planned emergency session to hold and approve the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) budget in a single sitting”.
The leadership of the National Assembly had said after a meeting with INEC Chairman Prof Mahmood Yakubu last week that the two chambers would reconvene today to consider and approve the INEC budget and the virement requested by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Yakubu also told reporters that he was assured that the budget for the 2019 election would be approved this week.
The source close to the leadership of the National Aseembly said that the lawmakers would no longer reconvene in view of latest developments and the practicability of the resumption date.
He noted that the thinking of many lawmakers is that to consider and approve Buhari’s request will take the National Assembly close to a month.
“The request by President Muhammadu Buhari is not just a single line item that would just require a one day sitting.
“The request has variety of committees that will be involved, including Appropriations, Finance, INEC and other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
“It is different from a situation whereby the President is asking for an increase in the size of the budget through a change of benchmark.
“The request by Mr. President is not something that can be done in one day. Even those who are pushing the agenda know it.”
The source insisted that the National Assembly cannot achieve anything even if it was reconvened for one sitting “because the request has to be passed to the necessary committees and the committees have to meet with relevant MDAs for their input.
“Besides, there is another issue that has to do with the constituency projects. The letter is requesting the lawmakers to remove funds from their constituency projects and use the same to fund INEC.
“Remember that the constituency projects are not one line items in the budget. You can’t imagine how long it would take the Appropriations committees to sort out that issue with the MDAs.”
Another source noted: “Reconvening the National Assembly will not really work. It would mean that you want to keep the lawmakers around for the next one month, which defeats the idea of the annual recess.
“The letter by the President is not just requesting for an increase in benchmark, which can be handled in one day through Senate or House resolution. Treating the letter by the President will take two to three weeks or even more weeks.”
He said that that the logistics of securing a quorum of either the Senate or the House was becoming more and more difficult as members are getting deep into their recess.
“Many of our colleagues have travelled for Hajj. Many are in their constituencies battling the challenges of re-election. If you check even with the APC right now, they can’t get up to 30 senators and next week is Sallah. Arafat is on Monday and you will have holidays. A number of people have travelled. It is not practicable to reconvene now,” the source said.
The leadership of the National Assembly has not descided when to reconvene the House of Representatives said yesterday.
There was no official communication about the plan to reconvene from the Clerk of the National Assembly, Mr Mohammed Omolori.
The Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had on Aug. 8 said the commission had been assured by the National Assembly leadership that the 2019 General Elections Budget of N242 billion may be considered for passage this week.
Senate President Bukola Saraki on July 17, read President Muhammadu Buhari’s request for Senate’s approval of N242.45 billion for the Independent National Electoral Commission to enable it to commence preparations for 2019 general elections.
Part of the funds, according to the President’s request, will be given to the Department of State Services and other security agencies for the same purpose.
The request was contained in a letter dated July 11 and personally signed by Buhari.
The presidential letter also indicated that Buhari requested that out of the needed figure, N164.10 billion should be provided through virement or supplementation of 2018 Budget.
It also requested that the balance of N78.34 billion, mostly related to personnel allowances, fuelling and other costs not required until election proper, be provided for in the 2019 budget.
The sum of N189.21 billion was earmarked for INEC, N4.3 billion for Office of the Security Adviser, N12.21 billion for DSS and N3.6 billion for Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.
The Nigeria Police Force got a proposal of N30.5 billion while N2.6 billion was earmarked for Nigeria Immigration Service.
Specifically, the president requested that N164.10 billion of total funds proposed for the elections should be funded from the N578.31 billion inserted in the 2018 Budget by the National Assembly.
Also to be funded from the “inserted funds’’, he stated, was additional N64.75 billion for reinstatement of critical project cuts in 2018 budget, bringing total figure to get from the “inserted funds’’ to N228.85 billion.
The letter stated that the request to deduct N228.85 billion from the N578.31 billion was in view of fiscal constraint, which would not allow for over-burdening of the 2018 budget.