Less than 24 hours after the warring All Progressives Congress and Peoples Democratic Party’s senators reached a truce, President Muhammadu Buhari’s requests for the 2019 polls budget and borrowing plans enjoyed accelerated consideration in the upper chamber on Wednesday.
The lawmakers had resumed from their annual recess on Tuesday to suspend the leadership tussle between the caucuses to attend to “urgent issues of national importance.”
On Wednesday, the Senate considered Buhari’s request for approval of the budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission and security agencies for the 2019 general elections at the plenary, with the plan to pass the aspect affecting the commission on Thursday (today) while the budget of security agencies for the exercise is scheduled for passage on Tuesday.
Buhari however wrote the Senate asking that the N189.2bn as proposed by INEC be approved and all the funds should be drawn from the 2018 budget. This, he said, was based on the request by the legislature.
The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, read Buhari’s letter dated September 19, 2018, to members on the floor.
Entitled ‘Re: Request for Virement/Supplementary Budget,’ the letter partly read, “In the light of the current realities, and in order to ensure that the 2019 general elections are not affected by any delays in the passage into law of the 2019 budget, … I therefore wish to formally request that the total amount of N242,445,322, 600 .00 requested by INEC and the security agencies, be considered for inclusion in my virement request under the 2018 Appropriation Act.”
After reading Buhari’s letter, Saraki referred it along with the report laid by the committee on INEC on the elections to the Committee on Appropriations.
Members of the Committee on Appropriations left the chamber while plenary was ongoing to meet, where they overruled the N143.3bn earlier approved by the Committee on INEC for the commission and adopted the N189.2bn proposed by Buhari.
The Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, Senator Danjuma Goje, who said the report on the INEC component of the budget would be laid before the Senate on Thursday (today), announced that the budget of security agencies would be treated on Tuesday.
Goje said, “During our recess, the INEC Committee – the two committees of the two chambers – held joint sittings with the Chairman of INEC and they (the commission) defended their request item by item. And the committee has submitted their report. They have jointly concluded action on the issue of INEC’s request. That is why we don’t need to call the Chairman of INEC again. But for the other aspect of the security agencies, whose requests have not been defended, they need to defend the requests before us.”
A member of the committee, Senator Matthew Uroghide, asked from what part of the 2018 Appropriation Act would the funds for the elections be taken?
“I think the bigger challenge really is that, is this total sum of N245bn supposed to come from virement, which the President alluded to in his previous letter. He wants to vire the 2018 budget. It is now for this committee to agree on which areas of the approved budget of 2018 we are going to get the N242bn from,” Uroghide said.
Goje, however, said discussions on the virement would be held behind closed doors.
He added, “Based on the powers vested in this Appropriations Committee, we can accept, amend or reject the recommendation by the INEC Committee. Since Mr. President has requested that we should now give him everything in 2018, we are going to combine the recommendation of INEC Committee plus what Mr. President earlier requested in 2019 and grant him all.”
Senate panel invites NSA, security chiefs for polls budget defence
Goje however put the adoption of Buhari’s new request to voice vote and it was unanimously approved. He said the second aspect of the exercise was the source of the fund which he insisted would be discussed in camera.
The chairman said, “You pressmen, what you will go away with is that we have considered the request by Mr. President and as far as the INEC aspect is concerned, we have granted his request. The 2018 budget will be amended to accommodate that amount Mr. President requested, which is N189.bn.
“Tomorrow we are inviting the heads of the security agencies, who are the National Security Adviser, Director General of the Department of State Services, Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, the Inspector-General of Police and the Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service to come and defend their own submissions, with a view to approving them and submitting the report to the Senate next week. Tomorrow morning, we will submit our report as far as INEC is concerned to the parliament as directed by the Senate today.”
Electoral bill passes two readings in one day
Earlier at the plenary, the Senate passed the Electoral Act Amendment Bill for first and second readings during the day’s plenary and referred it to the Committee on INEC, with a mandate to report back to the chamber on Thursday for a possible third reading.
The President had returned the bill to the National Assembly thrice for various reasons.
The joint Senate and House of Representatives committee working on the bill had during the recess by the National Assembly last month harmonised the versions rejected by the President and passed the fourth version of the bill.
At the plenary on Wednesday, the bill passed two readings while the Senate referred it to the Committee on INEC with a mandate to report back on Tuesday.
Senators reject ceiling on campaign spending, donation, others
The bill almost suffered a setback during the second reading when the sponsor of the bill, Senator Suleiman Nazif, who is also Chairman of the Committee on INEC, led the debate on it.
Many lawmakers particularly faulted a proposed amendment to section 91 of the Electoral Act which seeks to empower INEC to fix the maximum amount that a candidate can spend on campaign for a specific elective position.
According to the proposed section 91, the maximum amount that can be spent by a presidential candidate is N5bn; governorship, N1bn; senatorial and House of Representatives membership, N100m and N70m, respectively; state House of Assembly membership, N30m; chairmanship of local government area, N30m; and councillorship, N5m.
Several senators including Kabiru Marafa and James Manager however opposed the proposal, asking Nazif to remove the clause at the committee level.
Commenting, Senator Kabiru Marafa said, “I don’t see the logic in pegging the amount to be contributed to a candidate. We all know that this won’t stand, because people are going to spend much more than that. On N5bn for presidential candidate, how many polling units do we have? If you give each agent, say N10,000, the amount may get up to the proposed amount. So, I don’t want us to do something that won’t stand.”
In the same vein, Senator Ali Ndume asked that INEC should make public a specimen of the ballot paper two weeks before an election to allow parties detect errors on it.
Buhari’s external borrowing plans considered
The Senate also considered Buhari’s request on “the implementation of the raising new external capital of $2.786bn from the International Capital Market approved in the 2018 Appropriations Act; and the External Capital Raising of $82.54m to refinance the balance of $500m matured Eurobond in the International Capital Market.”
The request was referred to the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts, which was mandated to report back on Tuesday.