The blame game between the presidency and the Senate leadership has continued to dominate discussion in the polity.
The time is ticking gradually and steadily to the 2019 general elections. Going by the timetable and schedule of activities for the polls released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), it is remaining exactly 173 days for eligible voters in the country to file out again to elect a new president and other representatives of their choice.
According to the timeline, the presidential election would hold on February 16, while the governorship and state assembly elections would be conducted on March 2, 2019. By the same token, party primary elections for the presidential, governorship, federal and state aspirants would begin on August 18 and end on October 7, 2018, while the FCT Area Council elections will commence on September 4 and end on October 27, 2018.
While making the announcement, INEC’s Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, said the decision to be more proactive in releasing the dates and schedules of elections well ahead of time was to engender certainty in the country’s electoral calendar and to enable all stakeholders to adequately prepare for the elections. This implies that time as well as availability of fund is of essence for the electoral umpire to do the needful. But it is intriguing that the two arms of government that are directly responsible for the budgetary aspect of providing funds for the elections have been engaged in buck passing, leaving a thick cloud of uncertainty hanging over the planned election timetable.
The intrigue is coming on the heels of the recent defection of the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the alleged plot by the party leadership to get him impeached. The lawmakers in a preemptive move to forestall any untoward development had hurriedly suspended plenary, while the executive is raising concern over some issues of urgent national importance that require the input of the legislature. One of such issues is the virement of funds in the 2018 Appropriation Act to fund the supplementary budgets of the INEC and security agencies for the conduct of the 2019 general elections.
The request followed a supplementary budget of N228 billion presented to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, asking the legislature to reallocate part of the N578 billion voted to the projects inserted by the lawmakers into the 2018 Appropriation Act.
Buhari said INEC and security agencies needed N242 billion for the 2019 general elections. He asked that N164 billion be vired to fund the polls, while the balance of N78 billion would be covered by the 2019 budget.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, while speaking against the backdrop of public apprehension about the matter, warned that delaying the approvals would frustrate some organs of the government.
He said: “We will be praying the legislature – the leadership and membership – to consider that there are many matters of very urgent nature which are pending before the legislature and unless (they are) considered, the functioning of certain institutions of the government will be hampered.
“We accept that some exigencies might have caused the abridgement of the time within which they were to proceed on vacation. We will be working with them to ensure that we have few of these considered and passed within a time that it will still be reasonable to attain the purpose of the economy,” Enang added.
More worrisome is the ongoing blame game between the executive and the legislature. The lawmakers had last week announced an indefinite suspension of action on the executive requests following the committee meeting with the INEC chairman.
The spokesman of the House of Representatives, Mr Abdulrazak Namdas, has already foreclosed the possibility of further meeting until September, insisting that the National Assembly operates on a calendar, which it must follow through. “As soon as we return in September, the president’s requests will receive immediate attention. They will be the top priorities of the House. So, there is really nothing to worry about,” he assured.
A chieftain of the APC in Kano State, Senator Rufai Hanga ,also supporting Namdas’ claim in an in- terview with Sunday Sun said: “It is not the threat of impeachment that is making legislators not to recon- vene. It is because many of them are already in Mecca for pilgrim- age, while others who are not on pilgrimage have travelled out of the country for their annual vacation. As soon as the vacation is over, I am sure they will reconvene to con- sider the supplementary budget.”
Even at that, the blame game between the presidency and the Senate leadership has continued to dominate discussion in the polity. While President Muhammadu Buhari’s Media Organisation is accusing the Senate of slowing down the approval of the budget, Saraki on the other hand has berated the executive for lack of foresight.
A statement by his Special Adviser on News Media, Olu Onemola, read: “By now, the Nigerian people are aware that the executive branch could have submitted INEC’s 2019 Election budget at the time it submitted the 2018 appropriations proposal last year.
“Furthermore, the executive had from January till June this year to submit the budget request. However, due to a lack of foresight, or the usual display of tardiness or an attempt to ensure that due process would not be followed — the INEC budget request was submitted by the executive branch only a few days before the statutory National Assembly annual recess.
“As it stands: the relevant Senate and House Committees have held individual budgetary hearings with the INEC chairman and all his commissioners on this budget,” it added.
The organisation had accused Saraki of postponing the resumption of the Senate in spite of the ongoing issues in the country such as the INEC budget and approval for foreign loans tied to several critical infrastructure. In a release by its Chairman, Niyi Akinsiju and Secretary, Cassidy Madueke, the group accused Saraki of laying siege to the whole country by using his position to undermine the administration of the president.
If the National Assembly turns down all entreaties and insists on resuming plenary in September, the INEC would be one month behind schedule of its activities.
This, analysts say, would increase the apprehension that someone somewhere may be plotting the failure of the INEC to conduct a free, fair and credible election in 2019. A member of the opposition party who spoke with Sunday Sun in confidence said: “I cannot understand the basis of this power tussle between the executive and the legislature.Itallappearstomeasifitisa deliberate attempt to underfund the INEC for it to fail.”
A former member of the BoT of the PDP, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, on his own part, warned of the dire consequences of a flawed election.
His words: “Anybody that disturbs the issue of free and fair election in Nigeria will be doing sufficient damage to the present democracy in the country. And that will be dangerous, even more dangerous for the executive. They must do everything in their powers to ensure that the INEC is well funded to conduct a free, fair and credible election in 2019. They must not joke with it. If anybody tampers with election in this country, that person will be tampering with democratic welfare of the people”.
He also blamed the executive for not submitting the request for supplementary budget before the legislators went on recess.
“It is a very difficult thing, but the executive cannot blame the legislature for not convening because the lawmakers have got the timetable for what they do. The executive ought to have submitted its request long before they went on recess. I think the executive should blame itself for what it is facing over the INEC’s matter. They must tell Nigerians the reason for the delay in making their request before the National Assembly went on recess,” he insisted.
In the same vein, the South-West Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Supo Shonibare, advised both arms of government to bury their differences and expedite action on the passage of the supplementary budget to enable the INEC to make adequate preparations for the conduct of a free and fair electoral process.
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“I think both the executive and the legislature need to cooperate to ensure a review and valuation of the request to the legislature to pass the supplementary budget to fund the forthcoming elections. The legislature needs to be assured of non-repetition of the unconstitutional act of the DSS appearing to attempt to interfere in the legislative functions and internal arrangements of the National Assembly. The National Assembly on the other hand must be alive to its responsibilities and obligation to consider and give priority evaluation of the bill necessary to fund the democratic process,” he said.
As it is, time is running out on the INEC as the blame game continues, just as Nigerians are increasingly becoming apprehensive about the implication of delayed funding of an election everybody is looking up to be free and fair.