• Query varying figures presented by Buhari, Yakubu
Fred Itua and Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
The defence of the 2019 general election budget began with fireworks, yesterday, as federal lawmakers queried discrepancies in the figures presented by President Muhammadu Buhari and the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu.
After weeks of push and shove, appropriate committees in both the Senate and the House of Representatives had cut short their annual recess to consider the controversial budget, which has pitted the executive and the parliament.
While Mahmood presented a budget of N189, 207,544,893.13, President Buhari had on July 17, 2018, presented N143,512,529,455.
Following the defence of the election budget by INEC, observers are optimistic that the National Assembly might reconvene soon to consider Buhari’s request to vire N242 billion from this year’s budget for the conduct of the 2019 general election.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki and Speaker, Yakubu Dogara had in a statement on Tuesday said the National Assembly could reconvene this week to consider the virement request because the electoral body has not appeared before the relevant committees.
Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral and Political Parties Matters, who grilled Prof. Yakubu observed that some of the items contained in the proposal had already been provided for in the 2018 Appropriation Act.
The NASS had earlier appropriated N45 billion for the electoral body in the 2018 fiscal year.
The lawmakers also raised eyebrow about the sum of N6 billion budgeted for the feeding of policemen, who will be on electoral duties during the 2019 polls.
Mahmood, who had earlier informed the lawmakers that the next general elections “is only 128 days away,” noted that there were presently 91 political parties and 21,000, 000 voters have so far been registered to participate in the next general election.
A breakdown of the budget proposal is as follows: Election operation cost – N134,427,868,157.50, Election technological Cost – N27,503,970,680, Election administrative cost – N22,660,887.50 and Miscellaneous expenses – N4,614,818,168.13.
Chairman of the committee, Aisha Dukku said the House was committed to issue that will strengthen the nation’s electoral process and help INEC in discharging its functions.
“You will agree with me that the foundation of change ought to be evident in the way we plan our elections and electoral processes. It is important for us to approach the budget proposal from both process and content perspectives to unravel the intricacies and their interconnectedness.
“Process wise, the estimates in their entirety should represent a true picture of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) 2007. Equally important, as we discuss the 2019 elections budget in Nigeria and globally, election management bodies face formidable challenge of ensuring that stakeholders have trust in the electoral process.”
Meanwhile, the Senate Committee chaired by Nazif Suleiman has declared that a special meeting of the committee would hold today to address the discrepancies in the budget proposal.
“It is important for us to note that there are some observations that were raised by distinguished senators in the cause of this budget defence, which are very germane. And these observations are: ‘That based on what Mr. President sent to the National Assembly, he sent supplementary of N143 billion (for 2018). And what we have here presented by you is N189 billion. So, we will have an opportunity by tomorrow (today) to sit down once again to try to see how we can reconcile and come up with one formidable budget.
“At the same time, there was also an observation that the format being presented for this budget would have to be done again because there is the need for us to present to the Appropriation Committee and we have a format. So, I believe the meeting for tomorrow will give us another opportunity to sit down and discuss. And then, we will know how to go about bringing it in such a format that will be accepted by the Appropriations Committee where the recurrent and capital expenditure will be clearly spelt out,” Nazif said.
He assured Nigerians that “this Senate Committee on INEC will continuously remain very focused and we will continue to do what is in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerians.
“I want to assure everyone of us here that all this political brouhaha has been brought to an end. This is the first prerequisite that will give an opportunity for the Committee of the whole to meet. So, for those who are insisting that the National Assembly is not open, the National Assembly is now open with respect to the Committee on INEC. So, we are here today, tomorrow and next. And we will try to see how we can fasttrack and ensure we do what is right and what we are supposed to do, so that at the end of the day, we will be seen to be doing what is in the best interest of this country.”
Earlier, the Commission’s chairman has explained why the cost of conducting the 2019 election would be higher than that of 2015.
“I wish to draw the attention of this Committee to the fact that there is a difference of N69 billion in the budgets of 2015 and 2019. In 2015, we had 70 million registered voters. As of last week Saturday, we now have over 80 million registered voters. All major activities are pegged against the total number of voters. In 2015, we had only 42 political parties. We now have 91 registered political parties eligible to take part in the 2019 general elections.
“We are hoping that all the political parties will have seamless congresses and primaries. Another issue that we have accounted for is the processing costs of nominations.”
Yakubu added: “The cost of logistics is also different in 2019 as opposed to 2015, because the pump price of petrol in 2015 is different from that of 2019. This will also have an impact. With the increase of voters, we will have to increase the number of voting points. And with the increase of voting points, we will also have an increase in Ad-Hoc Staff.”