16 August 2018

Nigeria: Senate Queries Discrepancies in Government's 2019 Election Budget

The Senate has expressed concern over alleged discrepancies in the 2019 elections budget figures presented by President Muhammadu Buhari and chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu. The Senate Committee on INEC made the observations during its meeting with the commission at the National Assembly yesterday.

While the INEC chairman presented a budget of N189,207,544,893.13 for the polls, Buhari had in July 17, 2018, tabled N143,512,529,455.00.Consequently, the committee led by Senator Suleiman Nazif declared it would hold a special meeting today to resolve the issue."It is important for us to note that there are some observations that were raised by distinguished senators in the course of this budget defence, which are very germane. These observations are:

"Mr. President sent to the National Assembly a supplementary (budget) of N143 billion (for 2018). But 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 see how we can reconcile and come up with one formidable budget.

"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 it to the appropriation committee.

"I believe the meeting for tomorrow 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 expenditure will be clearly spelt out," Nazif said.

"This Senate committee on INEC will continuously remain very focused and we will continue to do what is in the best interest of Nigeria and Nigerians." "I want to assure everyone of us here that all this political brouhaha has been brought to an end. For those who are insisting that the National Assembly is not open, the National Assembly is now open with respect to the Committee on INEC. So, we are here today, tomorrow and next. And we will try to see how we can fast-track things and ensure we do what is right."

Explaining why the cost of conducting the 2019 election would be higher than that of 2015, Yakubu said: "I wish to draw the attention of this committee to the fact that there is a difference of N69 billion in the budgets of 2015 and 2019. In 2015, we had 70 million registered voters. As of last week Saturday, we now have over 80 million."

"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."

A cleric, Primate Elijah Babatunde Ayodele, meanwhile, has warned that the political storm battering the National Assembly could tear the country apart.The founder of INRI Evangelical Spiritual Church also told reporters in Ikere-Ekiti yesterday: "We need somebody to restructure this country. It is either we restructure or we disintegrate. The government in power hates the truth."

The warning came as the Alake of Egbaland, Oba Adedotun Aremu Gbadebo, appealed to Nigerians not to encourage "money politics" through the sale of their votes.At his palace in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, the monarch said the greatest damage politicians and the citizenry could do to the country's democracy is encourage vote buying.

"My advice is don't sell your votes. If you sell your votes, you sell your rights as citizens of Nigeria. If you sell your votes, you have sold your positions. And to all aspirants, don't influence people with money to vote for you," he said.Stressing he is non-partisan, the Alake said: "As a paramount ruler, I take everybody as my brother and sister. I will welcome anybody that comes here. I will not dictate to my people who they should vote for. They are to decide that on their own."

In the same vein, the Bayelsa State government urged youths to resist being used as tools for destabilisation during electioneering.Making the appeal, Commissioner for Information and Orientation Daniel Iworiso-Markson warned that unscrupulous politicians would seek to exploit youth energy and resourcefulness to win elections.He told the executive members of the National Union of Ogbia Students, who paid him a courtesy visit in Yenagoa, not to swallow the old bait but rather support aspirants who have served the people honestly.

"Lives are more important to the ambition of a desperate politician," he said.Meanwhile, two aides of the state governor, Godswill Ziriki and Adolphus Ofongo, escaped by the whiskers when armed thugs stormed a stakeholders' meeting organised by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for House of Assembly aspirants in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area (LGA).The meeting, convened by the acting chairman of the LGA, Nigeria Kia, had barely lasted an hour when the assailants, allegedly loyal to a disaffected local politician, struck.

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