Members of the National Assembly are mounting pressure on President Muhammadu Buhari to sign the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill 2018 to justify the N143bn the Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives on Electoral Matters has just recommended as the budget for the 2019 polls.
Investigations by The Punch showed on Sunday that senators and members had discussed the matter across political parties, where they consistently questioned Buhari’s seeming unwillingness to sign the bill.
It was learnt that the lawmakers observed that if the bill was not signed, there was no way the Independent National Electoral Commission could spend the N143bn as the bulk of the budget was earmarked for the procurement of election equipment envisaged by the bill.
Findings indicated that much as the joint committee on electoral matters went ahead to approve the money for consideration by the Joint Committee on Appropriations and ultimately, the floors of the two chambers, the lawmakers reportedly continued to express doubts over how INEC would spend it in the absence of the electoral bill.
One top parliamentary source explained, “The budget of INEC, and I am talking about the N143bn, not the initial N189.2bn, is this big because of the items they will procure for the elections.
“There are innovations in the electoral bill like the mandatory use of the card reader for all accreditation. In other words, there will no longer be manual accreditation whatsoever.
“So, INEC came with this huge budget to cover the cost of the so many equipment, card readers, computers and other gadgets the commission will procure to bring the accreditation in line with the provision of the bill.
“The concern of senators and members is why the passing of the budget is more important than the signing of the bill? Which one should come first?”
Another senior official, who spoke on the issue, told The Punch that lawmakers feared that if the budget was eventually passed, but the bill was not signed, what would happen to the money?
The official stated, “It is true that this concern has been raised. Nigerians too are not helping matters because nobody is asking the President why he is keeping the bill. Everybody is shouting, pass the budget, pass the budget.
“If there is sincerity of purpose, the first thing is for Buhari to sign the bill in order to justify this INEC budget.
“You don’t build something on nothing.
“We are worried because we hear from presidency sources that the President does not want to sign the bill. He is likely to return it to the National Assembly.
“However, our committees had to continue working just to save the National Assembly the persistent blackmail that it was delaying the budget of the 2019 general elections.”
When contacted for comments, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Abdulrazak Namdas, said he would rather speak on the “fact that so far, the National Assembly has kept to its promise to work on the INEC budget.”
Namdas told The PUNCH that if INEC proposed its budget for specific reasons, it was the expectation of the National Assembly that the money would be spent on those purposes.
“What I will say is that we are on the INEC budget.
“Mr President and INEC made specific requests, which have been adopted by our committees.
“So, we only hope that the money will indeed be judiciously used for the purposes the requests came to the National Assembly”, he added.
It is well with the bill –Enang
When contacted on the telephone on Sunday, the Special Assistant to the President on the National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, said he would not like to comment on the bill.
He said, “I will not make any comments on the bill for now. All I can say is that it is well with the Electoral (Act Amendment) Bill.”
There have been speculations that Buhari has vetoed the bill and is merely marking time for the National Assembly to resume formally from its annual recess on September 25 before he communicates his decision to the legislature.
But Enang had also frequently dismissed such speculation, claiming that his boss had been studying the bill and would sign it at the appropriate time.