Budget for 2019 elections awaiting approval of National Assembly will suffer further delay as lawmakers plan to postpone their resumption slated for next Tuesday.
The election budget has been in National Assembly since July 17, and a joint committee of both chambers had weeks ago approved the N143.512 billion requested by President Muhammadu Buhari for the elections under this year’s budget.
Based on the joint committee’s recommendation, the N143.512bn is to come under the Service Wide Votes
(SWV) against Mr Buhari’s request that it should be approved through virement of some projects in the 2018 budget.
However, the final approval can only come when the two chambers sit at plenary.
Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Mr Mahmud Yakubu had in August told the leadership of both chambers that the commission needed the fund to kick-start election activities in earnest.
Our correspondent reports that apart from the election budget, other issues such as the loan request said to have been sent to the National Assembly by Buhari during the 2-month recess will also suffer delay.
There are also appointments and bills awaiting action of National Assembly.
Several sources among federal lawmakers said last night that they will now resume after the primaries of all the political parties ahead of the 2019 general elections.
The two chambers had set September 25 as the resumption date for their annual recess, which they abruptly commenced on July 24.
Both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), whose members dominate the National Assembly, have fixed their primaries to commence from next week and to end in the first week of October.
N/Assembly may resume mid-October
A source said almost all the lawmakers were not comfortable with the resumption next week, pressing on the leadership to postpone it until second week of October, by which time all parties primaries must have been concluded.
“We can’t resume next week because of the primaries. As it is, nobody will give attention to any legislative business if we resume next week. In fact, you won’t see anybody because we’ll all be busy with primaries.
“The resumption will now have to be after all primaries. You know both APC and PDP will commence their primaries next week, so nobody will be at the National Assembly then,” a member of APC said.
Also, another lawmaker who belongs to PDP said they would not allow the National Assembly to reconvene next week due to the primaries.
“Our resumption is supposed to be on September 25, and our (PDP) governorship primaries will hold on September 26. So, there’s no way we’ll allow the National Assembly to reconvene without our members on ground.
“Remember, APC leadership is insisting on changing the leadership of the National Assembly. How can we then allow sitting to go on without our members? It’s not possible,” the lawmaker who did not want to be named said.
Asked about INEC budget, the lawmaker, who is a member of the joint committee, said they had agreed that the Executive could use the SWV to fund the elections.
“They already have the Service Wide Votes, which they can use at any time to address any emergency. So, there’s no need for them to even think that we must resume today or tomorrow for INEC budget. Maybe they want an official communication from the leadership,” the lawmaker said.
Saraki, Dogara, waiting to reap from APC crisis
A ranking senator with knowledge of happenings in the two chambers said last night that Senate President Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara would delay the resumption of the National Assembly to reap from the likely crisis that would erupt in the aftermath of APC primaries
“It is obvious that the main concern of Saraki and Dogara is not the pending issues relating to the economy, governance and what it would take to have a rancour free election next year in terms of preparations; their concern is their personal survival as members of PDP and how they would perpetuate their hegemony.
“Therefore, with APC National Assembly primaries coming up on 26th and 27th; and that of PDP on 2nd and 3rd October, we should look forward to mid-October as resumption date; all senators are now preoccupied with how they would get their return ticket and therefore resumption date of Sep. 25 is out of consideration,” he said.
He added: “But the main concern of the two officers is how they would cash on the grievances of aggrieved APC senators and Reps who would not get return tickets so that they would remain on their seats.
“Many APC legislators would come back as disgruntled members who would be indifferent about happenings in National Assembly; and this would be dangerous for the ruling government between now and May 29 next year.
“That is why we are trying to work it out with the national leadership of the party and the presidency to see how we would manage impending crisis during primaries; any legislator who failed to get a ticket would not be happy and even if he did not work against the interest of the party, he might likely not work for its success,” he added.
Other sources also said that the outcome of the primaries will determine whether or not members of APC in the National Assembly will proceed on the impeachment plans against Saraki and Dogara.
While Saraki left APC several weeks ago, Dogara reportedly obtained PDP nomination and expression of interest forms to return to the House.
The forms were obtained by some of Dogara’s constituents, but the speaker is yet to formally announce his defection to PDP.
One of our sources said some APC members might not obey the party’s directive to impeach the two leaders if they fail to obtain return ticket.
“Even loyal members among us may turn their back in the end, because it’s all about return ticket. Everybody wants to return, but if we don’t get the ticket, who will disturb himself about removing Saraki or Dogara?
“So, there’s a lot to come after the primaries. There may be drama in both chambers when we return, but I can assure you that a lot of people will change their minds in the end, especially if they feel that they’re not treated justly,” the lawmaker said.
Spokesmen of both chambers, Mr Aliyu Abdullahi (APC, Niger) and Mr Abdulrazak Namdas could not be reached for confirmation of the postponement.
Contacted, Saraki’s spokesman Mr Yusuph Olaniyonu said he speaks on behalf of the Senate President not the Senate.
NASS to repackage Electoral Act
Upon their resumption, one of the issues that the lawmakers will battle with is how to repackage the Electoral Act and come up with fresh amendment.
Buhari had a fortnight ago declined assent to the Electoral Act amendment bill for the third time, but the joint committee on electoral matters of the two chambers gave an indication yesterday that the bill will be repackaged.
Mr Suleiman Gamawa (PDP Bauchi), who chairs the Senate Committee, said they would ensure that the new amendment scales through in order to make INEC more efficient and for free and fair elections.
“I know that this committee is in the eye of the storm and Nigerians are desirous and expecting to hear from us. Here we are, again, trying to address the Electoral Act for the fourth time.
“Nigerians will recall that there was a first Electoral Act the second and the third amendments. If we pass this one, it will be the fourth one. I believe that what we are doing is in the best interest of this country.
“It will address all the fears, and we’ll ensure that we equip INEC with what is necessary and what will ensure free and fair elections in 2019.
“We will have to look at what transpired in an executive session, and tomorrow (today) by 11am, we will call all press men to tell you in detail what transpired and the position this committee has taken,” he said.