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Promoting Good Governance.

Six months to 2019 polls… Should Nigerians worry about non-passage of election budget?

THE 2019 general will begin in approximately six months from now, but the National Assembly is still foot-dragging in considering and passing the N292 billion election budget presented to it by President Muhammadu Buhari.

The lawmakers and their political parties seem to be more concerned with politicking rather than doing everything possible to ensure a hitch-free election come 2019. The legislators announced earlier to reconvene on Tuesday to consider and perhaps, pass the budget, but the meeting has been called off.

In a joint statement explaining why the National Assembly could not reconvene, Yusuph Olaniyonu and Hassan Turaki, spokesmen to Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara, said that a meeting between the joint senate and house of representatives committees on electoral matters and officials of the INEC, has not held, therefore “it will be most irresponsible to recall members from recess” when there is no report yet to be considered.

The DSS blockade of the National Assembly complex last week seems to have provided the leadership of the National Assembly a perfect excuse to further delay, even though the executive arm of government has its share of the blame. But like the age-long saying goes: ‘when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers’.

2019 ELECTION BUDGET WAS READY SINCE FEBRUARY

On February 16, 2018, INEC National Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, told a press conference that the 2019 election budget will be ready in a week’s time.

“There is no time to waste; the 2019 General Elections are already around the corner. These are the last activities before the conduct of the general elections. We have finalised and validated the election project plan, thereafter, finalise work on the election’s budget for 2019, this will be ready next week,” he said.

It is not clear whether INEC transmitted the budget to the presidency within the time Yakubu promised. If the Commission did, why did it take about five months for the budget to get to the National Assembly? President Buhari only forwarded the budget to the lawmakers on July 17, and they embarked on recess on exactly a week after, July 24.

LAWMAKERS OR MERRY-MAKERS?

Agreed that the election budget got to the National Assembly close to the period of their annual recess, but many say the lawmakers ought to have shifted their holiday by a week or two in order to accord the document the utmost importance that it deserved. But no, our legislators opted to go merry-making rather than focus on the job of lawmaking for which they were elected into office.

By the time they reconvene on September 25, after a two-month holiday, it would be less than 150 days to the election. And given Nigeria’s rather sluggish procurement process, even if the budget is approved in the first week of the reconvening, it would have been very late. As at now, it is already late.

“There is no way the shutdown will not affect our preparation timeline because we need funds to procure items required for 2019 poll,” an INEC National Commissioner told Sahara Reporters in July, pleading anonymity.

“We are procuring over 600 items for the general election. If we have funds, we need about seven months to prepare adequately for the poll. At the rate we are going, we may have to put all items in place within three to four months to the general election. And the law makes it mandatory to subject all procurement to the evaluation of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and the relevant laws of the land.”

Another INEC source told the online newspaper in may: “Lack of funds is really affecting our preparation for the poll. We are behind time, going by our past schedule for the release of funds for 2011 and 2015 elections. For 2011 elections, INEC started drawing down the election budget in 2009 and by 2010, we had received more than 90 per cent of the funds required.”

SHOULD NIGERIANS BE WORRIED?

Oluwole Ozase-Uzzi, INEC’s Director of Voter Education and Publicity, told the ICIR that there is nothing to worry about, at least not yet.

“We still have our plan and preparation intact. we hope the National Assembly will resolve the matter expeditiously, but if they do not resolve the matter soon, we would be worried and Nigerians should be seriously worried,” Osaze said when the ICIR contacted him on Tuesday.

Osaze-Uzzi’s response is similar to comments made by Samuel Olumekan, Lagos State Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), on July 29, that INEC has plans to source for funds elsewhere should the passage of the election budget continue to drag on.

Olumekan made the remarks while representing the INEC National Chairman at an event in Lagos. “As you know, our procurement process is very cumbersome and to make a procurement, it may take up to four months and this may affect what we are doing at INEC. But we may be forced to look at other sources of funding so that our preparation for the 2019 election is not affected,” he said.

Nigeria cannot afford not to build on the successes recorded in the 2015 general election; it is expected that the 2019 exercise will improve on the few hitches observed four years ago, but it appears things are going south already and many say those who should act, must do so fast.

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