As deliberations over the financing of the 2019 general elections between the National Assembly and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) entered a second day on Friday, the joint committees of the National Assembly on INEC and Electoral Matters affirmed that it has the prerogative of approving either of the two figures in contention.
The lawmakers were in a dilemma on whether to approve the total sum of N189billion needed by INEC for the conduct of the election or the N143billion requested for that purpose this year by President Muhammadu Buhari as
members of the joint committee took party lines in their contributions.
Lawmakers on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) argued for approval of the entire sum of N189billion while those of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) , argued that the N143billion requested by President Buhari in his virement request should be approved, since the balance of N45.6billion will be appropriated for in the 2019 budget.
The final stand of the committee received a boost when the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, who could not made further plea on the approval of N189bilion, said the legislators should use their discretion in approving whatever figure they deem fit.
Udoma, 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 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 N189billion without this resulting in increasing the N9.12trillion 2018 budget, this 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 overall 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 N143billion from the N578billion 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 make the submission he made for the approval of the N189billion as against N143billion requested for by the President for INEC this year, the minister answered that “the discretion on which of the requests to be approved by you now, is yours.
If you approve the N143billion the President requested for is okay and if you approve the entire N189billion for INEC this year is also alright.
“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”.
However, a debate by committee members after the minister’s submissions took party lines as those of them belonging to the PDP like Senators Mohammed Hassan (Yobe South); Isa Misau (Bauchi Central);
Hon Wole Oke (PDP Osun) and Hon Ogbeideihama Omorege (PDP Edo) argued that the N143billion requested for by the President should be approved while their APC counterparts like Senators Ibrahim Kurfi (Katsina Central); Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (Niger North); Ovie Omo – Agege (Delta Central) and Hon Aisha Dukku (APC Gombe ) insisted that the entire N189 billion should be approved .
Apparently disturbed by the development, the committee Chairman, Senator Suleiman Nazif in his remarks said the essence of inviting the budget minister, the Presidential Liaison Officer in the National Assembly, Senator Ita Enang and INEC officials was to enable Nigerians see that the consideration of the budget is transparent, nationalistic and non-partisan .
“We are not here to play politics with the 2019 election budget. No confusion, no ambiguity on submissions made and requests before us.
“It is our prerogative as a committee to critically look into all the details and recommend either of the two requests for approval by committee of the whole at both chambers,” he said and accordingly adjourned the joint committee’s sitting sine die.