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N189.2bn polls budget: Reps, Senate panels grill INEC chairman

Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral and Political Party Matters on Wednesday grilled the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission , Prof . Mahmoud Yakubu , and other top officials over the budget of the 2019 general elections .

The INEC chairman was also grilled by the Senate Committee on INEC on the same budget .

INEC has proposed to spend a total of N189.2 bn to conduct the polls , covering presidential , National Assembly, governorship and state assemblies elections .

The cost covers the aspects of the elections to be handled directly by INEC . The overall cost of the elections as presented to the National Assembly in July by President Muhammadu Buhari is N242. 4bn , including security operations .

Recall that the passage of elections budget is the main reason members of the National Assembly, who are on annual recess , have come under pressure lately to reconvene .

INEC met separately with the Senate and House committees on electoral matters . The two panels will hold a joint session to harmonise their findings and produce a report, setting the stage for the reconvening of the legislature .

Yakubu appeared before the House committee at the National Assembly in Abuja on Wednesday to defend the commission ’s component of the elections budget ( N189.2 bn ).

The committee is chaired by a member of the All Progressives Congress from Gombe State, Mrs Aisha Dukku .

Yakubu said he responded to nearly 30 questions by lawmakers before he lost count of the questions.

The chairman , who arrived for the meeting with the House committee at 11 . 09 am, left one hour and 30 minutes later.

A breakdown of the N189. 2bn showed that INEC would spend N134. 4bn on election operational cost ; N27 . 5bn on procurement of election technologies; N22 . 6bn on administrative cost ; and another N4 .6 bn on miscellaneous expenditure.

Members queried the seeming “ duplications” in the elections budget and the regular budget of INEC already passed by the National Assembly for its 2018 operations .

2019 election cost higher than 2015 by N 69 bn
Also , the 2019 elections budget rose by N69 bn above the N120bn spent on the 2015 polls.

High -budget items that caught the attention of lawmakers included monitoring, cost of permanent voter cards , procurement of vehicles and the payment of allowances to ad hoc staff .

A particular item that stood out was the provision of N6 bn to feed policemen during the polls next year.

Three lawmakers : the Chairman , Committee on Army, Mr Rima Shawulu; the Chairman , Committee on Legislative Budget, Mr Golu Timothy ; and Mr Gaza Jonathan asked how feeding policemen alone would consume N6bn .

They also observed that in the security component of the elections budget and the regular budget of the Nigeria Police Force, there was provision to cater for police welfare while on important assignments .

Shawulu noted, “When policemen are sent out on assignments such as elections , they are paid . There is a budget for them and we still have N6bn here .

“ Is this one a duplication? You have put another N7 bn here again for security and procurement of security vehicles . Why?”

Jonathan queried , “ Why did you provide about N700m for international observers ? We know that the European Union and the United Nations, they all make provisions for their independent observer missions. Is INEC going to pay them in 2019 ?”
82 . 1m voters, 91 political parties , others add to cost – INEC
Yakubu took time to provide answers , starting with the N69 bn extra elections cost above that of 2015.

He stated that INEC had so far registered 12 . 1million new voters , in addition to the existing 70 m , bringing the total voter population to plan for in 2019 to 82 .1 m .

He also told the committee that INEC would have to make a provision for 91 political parties in 2019 with a “longer and more challenging” ballot paper.

“ We have to monitor the activities of all these political parties like primaries , congresses and conventions. We have to process forms for all of their candidates.

“ What this means is that, if all the 91 parties will present candidates for all the categories of elections , INEC will have to produce 141,778 nomination forms.

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“ Again, it means we are budgeting for additional ad hoc staff , up to almost one million and still counting , because we actually have over 140 applications by associations seeking registration, awaiting consideration .”

On the N6bn provided for police feeding, Mahmoud said it was an initiative by INEC to adequately cater for policemen and other security personnel because of the long hours they would stand watching to ensure that nothing went wrong .

“ These policemen suffer a lot too and we just have to be human. If our own members of staff are eating food , it doesn’ t look nice to ignore the people providing security for them.

“ They escort the election materials from point to point and honestly , it is not easy for them. So, we have made a provision of N1, 000 for each policeman . Because of the large number that will be used for the elections , that is why the total looks big , ” he added .

The INEC chairman also disagreed that there were duplications of the 2018 INEC budget , stressing that the commission had earlier informed the National Assembly that the 2019 elections budget would be separate from its regular budget .

He explained that INEC must still function as an agency and perform other routine duties like conducting new elections , bye-elections and pay staff salaries , which were the purpose for the 2018 budget .

To support his argument , Yakubu stated that from January to date , INEC conducted 10 elections , including the Ekiti State governorship poll, the two senatorial elections and two state assembly polls concluded last Saturday.

“ As we speak , the Osun State governorship election is next .
“ Many of the by-elections were as a result of deaths , which is something INEC could not control.

“ Remember, by the provisions of our laws , there is a time frame for INEC to fill any vacant position. All of these activities consume money. They are separate from the 2019 general elections ,” he stated.

As the session wound down, Dukku urged her colleagues to carefully study the budget further and reconvene on Thursday ( today) for the final deliberations.

She disclosed that her committee would later proceed to hold a joint session with its Senate counterpart to harmonise their findings .

The joint panels will in turn submit their report to the Joint Senate and House Committees on Appropriations for vetting before a possible reconvening date for lawmakers to pass the budget will be announced.

Senate alleges discrepancies in Buhari , INEC’ s presentations
In the Senate , the Suleiman Nazif -led committee on INEC expressed concerns over what it called discrepancies in the budget presented by INEC and one contained in a letter written by President Muhammadu Buhari .

Suleiman had at the session said that there was the need by the commission to resolve the conflict .

He said, “It is important for us to note that there are some observations that were raised by distinguished senators in the cause of this budget defence , which are very germane . And these observations are :

“ That based on what Mr President sent to the National Assembly, he sent supplementary of N143 billion ( for 2018 ). And what we have here presented by you is N189 billion. So, we will have an opportunity by tomorrow ( Thursday ) to sit down once again to try to see how we can reconcile and come up with one formidable budget .

“ At the same time, there was also an observation that the format being presented for this budget would have to be done again because there is the need for us to present to the Appropriations Committee and we have a format .

“ So, I believe the meeting for tomorrow (Thursday ) will give us another opportunity to sit down and discuss . And then we will know how to go about bringing it in such a format that will be accepted by the Appropriations Committee where the recurrent and capital expenditures will be clearly spelt out . ”

Earlier , a member of the Senate committee, Senator Mohammed Hassan , drew the attention of the panel to the conflict between INEC ’ s budget and a letter written to the Senate by the President .

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Hassan said, “There is a conflict of request here : from the letter presented by Mr President and the budget presented by INEC . You are asking for N189bn , meanwhile Mr President is asking for N143bn .

“ The President is saying that the additional N45 billion will be requested in the 2019 budget . You are asking for N189bn . Which of these requests should we focus on?”
No discrepancies – INEC chairman
In his response, the INEC boss , Mahmoud Yakubu, said , “There is no conflict in the letters. If you add up the requests by the President and INEC , they add up .

The sequence of disbursement is up for the legislature and the executive to decide. ”
On the number of voters so far registered, Yakubu said, “ As of Saturday , we have registered 12 . 1million new voters . Adding this to the 70 million voter register , we have over 80 million registered voters . The general elections are just around the corner .”

He also explained that the N69 bn difference between the budget submitted by INEC in 2015 and the one being submitted for the 2019 election was due largely to the increase in the number of voters and the cost of logistics.

Yakubu said, “ In 2015 , we had 70 million registered voters . As of last week Saturday, we had over 80 million registered voters .

“ All major activities are pegged against the total number of voters . In 2015, we had only 42 political parties. We now have 91 registered political parties eligible to take part in the 2019 general elections .

“ The cost of logistics is also different in 2019 as opposed to 2015 because the pump price of petrol in 2015 is different from that of 2019 . This will also have an impact .

“ With the increase of voters , we will have to increase the number of voting points . And with the increase of voting points , we will also have an increase in ad hoc staff . ”

Earlier , Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC , Senator Suleiman Nazif , assured the commission that the committee would do all that was necessary to ensure that the commission received the necessary funds to enable it to conduct the 2019 elections .

He said , “This budget defence will put to an end all the political brouhaha. We will ensure that INEC receive all the necessary funding for the 2019 elections . ”

Other senators who attended the meeting were Atai Aidoko , James Manager , Mohammed Hassan , Sabi Abdullahi, Ovie Omo-Agege , Olusola Adeyeye, Abdullahi Gumel , Gilbert Nnaji and Isah Misau .

INEC budgets N40 bn for election allowances, transport
A copy of the budget obtained by one of our correspondents shows that INEC has budgeted N40 bn for allowances, accommodation and transport of workers that will participate in the 2019 elections which will hold on February 16 and March 2 , 2019.
INEC also insured all its officials ( both ad hoc and permanent workers ) for N900m .

The information is contained in INEC ’ s 2019 Election Project Plan Vol 2 .
The total sum of N189bn which INEC is demanding to execute the elections is included in the N228bn virement proposal sent to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari .
According to the budget proposal obtained by Naijaray , INEC will require the services of over 2. 7 million workers .

The commission budgeted N28 bn honoraria for 2. 7 million ad hoc staff ; N1 .6 bn for accommodation and transport allowance for 33 , 950 collation officers and returning officers; and N7. 9bn for movement allowance of poll officials as well as N2bn election duty allowance for staff.

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