The N189 billion budget proposal submitted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for conduct of the 2019 general elections may not be approved by the National Assembly as the debate toes party lines.
Lawmakers are in a dilemma on whether to approve the N189bn or N143bn as differently requested by INEC and President Muhammadu Buhari.This development came to the fore yesterday as arguments before the National Assembly joint committee on INEC took party lines with lawmakers from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) supporting approval of the entire sum of N189billion while their colleagues from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are disposed to the N143bn requested by Buhari in his letter of virement, as the balance of N45.6bn was billed to be appropriated for in the 2019 budget.
This indecision was further deepened with the submission made by the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma who said the lawmakers should exercise their discretion.
Udoma explained that though the N189billion requested for by INEC was the same amount the President wrote in his virement letter but for funding constraints, Buhari decided to seek the approval differently with N143bn for INEC this year while the balance of N45.6billion was anticipated for approval in the 2019 budget.
He said: “If the joint committee wishes to approve the entire N189billion without resulting into increase in the N9.12trillion 2018 budget size, so be it and 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 any way lead to increase in the overall size of the 2018 budget.
“If this is to be done, the N45.6billion the President proposed in his letter to be provided for in the 2019 budget, would also have to be vired along with the N143bn from the N578bn fund appropriated for in the 2018 budget by the National Assembly for the additional 1,403 projects included in the budget”, he averred.
But when grilled on whether he has authorisation from Buhari on his submission, the minister said: “The discretion on which of the requests to be approved is yours. If you approve the N143bn the President requested for, it is okay, and if you approve the entire N189billion for INEC this year, it 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.”
It was on this premise that the lawmakers began to argue along party lines. Some of the PDP lawmakers like Mohammed Hassan (Yobe South), Isa Misau (Bauchi Central), Wole Oke (PDP Osun), Ogbeideihama Omorege (PDP Edo) argued that N143bn requested for by the President should be approved while their APC colleagues like Ibrahim Kurfi (Katsina Central), Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (Niger North) Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta Central), Aisha Dukku (APC Gombe) insisted that the entire sum of N189billion should be approved.
Palpably worried, the committee chairman, Suleiman Nazif said, “the essence of inviting the Budget Minister, the Presidential Liaison Officer in the National Assembly, Senator Ita Enang along with INEC officials was to be seen by Nigerians to be transparent, nationalistic and not in any way 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 the committee or the whole at both chambers,” he said and accordingly adjourned sine die.