By Oji Odu
It is not yet certain that the 2019 general elections will hold in spite of the approval of N143 billion budget for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by the National Assembly to conduct the election. The federal lawmakers insist that President Muhammadu Buhari must sign the 2018 electoral bill(amended) into law before the electoral umpire can use the money.
Members of the National Assembly are mounting pressure on the President to sign the bill to justify the N143billion which the joint committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives on electoral matters has just recommended as the budget for the 2019 polls.
The Magazine learnt that the Senators and House of Representatives members had discussed the matter across political parties, where they questioned Buhari’s seeming unwillingness to sign the bill. The lawmakers said that if the bill was not signed, there was no way INEC could spend the N143billion as the bulk of the budget was earmarked for the procurement of election equipment envisaged by the bill.
The Magazine’s findings indicated that much although 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 continued to express doubts over how INEC would spend it in the absence of the electoral bill.
Why are there fears on the amended electoral bill? Why is President Buhari still dragging feet in signing the bill despite his popularity claims? Why is the All Progressives Congress (APC) opposed to the bill which is meant to reorder the 2019 election timetable? Why is the National Assembly afraid that the INEC timetable may throw up a leadership that will not be in the best interest of Nigerians and Nigeria’s maturing democracy? Who will be the beneficiaries of this new electoral act?
With claims and counter claims by both the President/APC and the opposition of the president’s popularity among Nigerians, it may be right for this popularity to be tested in an unquestionable election whose ordering is devoid of controversy, even as President Buhari has, again, opted for free and fair 2019 general elections which he said threw him up as President of Nigeria.
In the heat of speculations that President Buhari has vetoed the bill , and is just marking time for the National Assembly to resume annual recess on September 25 before he communicates his decision to them, Senator Ita Enang, Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters prefers not to speak on it, but said it is well with 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.”
But Enang who had also frequently dismissed such veto speculation, claimed that his boss had been studying the bill and would sign it at the appropriate time.
Meanwhile, a top parliamentary source explained that the revised N143 billion budget of INEC, not the initial N189.2bn, is this big because of the items they will procure for the elections. According to him:“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.”
However, Senators and members of the House of Representatives have expressed concern why the passing of the budget is more important than the signing of the bill. “Which one should come first”, they ask. The lawmakers also fear that if the budget was eventually passed, but the bill was not signed, what would happen to the money?
“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,” a lawmaker stated.
In a chat with Godswill Apam, a political analyst, while supporting the signing of the bill before releasing the N143 billion to INEC to constitutionally guide its spending, believes the crisis is due to the fallout of the strange bed fellows making up the APC, leading to the gale of defections, many are not comfortable with the INEC leadership and the timetable for the 2019 elections which they claim favour President Buhari and the APC.
“ Had the people that make up the APC not fallen apart, I don’t think any of them would have seen any problem with the INEC timetable for the 2019 general election. I believe the quest for reorganising 2019 election sequence will be good for Nigeria’s nascent democracy. It is meant to throw up a strong opposition because the other National Assembly elections and others will be done before the Presidential election.
“ We saw what happened after the 2015 general election following the conduct of the Presidential election before the others. There was a quick realignment to be in the same boat with the wining President. After the APC government had taken over government, there was a wave of decamping to the party, especially from the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in order to remain relevant, be in the good books of President Buhari and have their past sins forgiven,” he said.
But Johnson Adetunji believes that there is no reason for the expression of fears by the National Assembly on the INEC timetable that it may negatively cause a swing of votes. “ In as much as I believe that the National Assembly has the principal right to make laws, it should have confidence in the ability of those that make bye-laws that they are capable of making good laws.
“ There should be no cause for alarm because I believe they will sort things out before the elections. Their selfishness will not allow them see this nation thrown into anarchy,” he stated.