• To discuss 2019 election budget, projects virement, non-assent to amended Electoral Act
• Osinbajo, Senate Majority Leader meet
Fred Itua, Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye and Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
Following pressure on the National Assembly to cut short its recess to consider the N242 billion supplementary budget request to fund the 2019 general elections, both chambers have agreed to meet the management of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and other stakeholders.
The leaderships of the Senate and the House of Representatives are expected to meet with the electoral umpire today within the precincts of the National Assembly to discuss pending issues of the election budget and other salient matters.
There have been claims and counter-claims that the Presidency had hatched a plot to break into the national Assembly and illegally convene a plenary to approve the supplementary budget meant for INEC to conduct the forthcoming election.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on July 17 written to the two chambers seeking the approval of a budget totalling N242 billion for the conduct of 2019 general elections, while also seeking the virement of some projects already inserted into the 2018 budget.
According to the president’s letter titled: “Request for virement & supplementary 2018 budget” read on the floor of both chambers barely a week to the scheduled annual recess, the National Assembly was being requested to approve the virement of the sum of N164 billion from the 2018 budget.
In the request, the president indicated that N228 billion be deducted from the projects worth N578 billion, which the Presidency claimed were inserted into the 2018 budget by the National Assembly.
However, an aide to the President of the Senate, Bankole Omisore revealed yesterday that the joint meeting of the leadership of the two chambers, comprising the presiding officers, as well as the principal officers would hold at 12 noon.
He said after the first phase of the meeting, the management of the National Assembly and INEC would join, as part of efforts to find a solution to the issues of the outstanding 2019 election budget of INEC and security agencies.
Omisore wrote: “NASS leadership will tomorrow (Tuesday), meet at noon to consider some national issues. That is the National Assembly leadership comprising both the Senate and the House of Representatives. It will be followed by another meeting with the leadership of INEC, led by its chairman, Professor Mahmud Yakubu.”
Competent sources said the meeting would give the lawmakers an opportunity to ascertain the urgency or otherwise of the budget request.
Also it was gathered that the issue of non-signing of the amended Electoral Act by President Buhari would be discussed at the meeting.
A lawmaker, who pleaded anonymity, said, “everybody is talking about budget for the election forgetting that the law governing the elections have not been signed into law.”
According to him, after President Buhari rejected the amended Electoral Act over the reordering of elections, the National Assembly reconsidered and expunged the part relating to sequence of elections.”
He said the passed bill was sent to President Buhari for assent but nothing has been done to it, saying this would also be discussed at the meeting “so that INEC would know that the Presidency is also delaying on okaying the law that would govern the election.”
Strong indications have emerged that the National Assembly may eventually suspend its annual recess and reconvene earlier than scheduled to consider some requests of President Buhari.
Sources close to the NASS told Daily Sun that the planned reopening of the Senate and the House of Representatives will be based on the outcome of today’s meeting among principal officers of the National Assembly.
Part of the outcome of the meeting would be a go-ahead to the budget and finance committees of the Senate and House of Representatives to meet and consider the budget, pending the resumption of NASS probably in September.
“Once the joint committees of both chambers do all the spade work by dotting the Is and crossing the T’s in the N242 billion request, passing it at plenary by both Houses, when the lawmaker reconvene, would be a piece of cake. However, if after the meeting with INEC the leadership of NASS finds necessary and compelling reasons to reconvene earlier than expected, it will be decided,” the source said.
Ahead of the NASS/INEC meeting, acting President Yemi Osinbajo and the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan met behind closed-door yesterday for two hours at the Presidential Villa.
Lawan, accompanied by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang, the meeting started by 2pm and ended at 4pm.
Addressing State House correspondents, Lawan lamented that the recess has made it impossible for the Senate to consider requests for the external loans by President Buhari to fund the budget.
The Federal Government had earlier stated that the deficit component of the 2018 budget, amounting to about N1.95 trillion (about 1.74 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product) would be financed mainly by N1.6 trillion projected to come from borrowing.
Ahmed who lamented that the September 25 resumption date was too far said the non-passage of the Virement and Supplementary appropriation sent by Buhari was frustrating the activities of the government.
“We are pleading that the Senate be reconvened as this will enable the administration carry out its promises to Nigerians by executing the budget as promised,” he said.
He also lamented the inability of the Senate to consider and approve funding request for INEC, saying it will hinder efforts of the agency to effectively plan for the 2019 general election.
“Some procurement require three to four months and INEC will need to place order that will last up to three or four months. Whatever our differences are, we must make sure that Nigerians are not allowed to suffer. We have our budget suffering because we are not able to pass these requests.”
The Senate Leader denied knowledge of previous plans to break into the Senate Chambers, saying, “there are processes for gaining into the Chambers.”
Enang , also joined in the appeal to the lawmakers to reconvene to ensure a smooth execution of government policies.
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) caucus in the House of Representatives has warned against forceful reconvening the Senate to impeach Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu.
In a statement issued by the Deputy Minority Leader, Chukwuka Onyema, after a meeting at the National Assembly yesterday, the PDP caucus said it was aware of a plot by a few senators to illegally reconvene the Senate with the aid of security agencies.