A NUMBER of extraordinary steps are required to be taken if the funds for the conduct of the 2019 general elections are to be procured. The Executive and Legislative arms of the Federal Government have not done the right things to enable the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and other agencies concerned with delivering the general elections, get the necessary funds for this challenging assignment.
Apart from the astronomical rise in the cost of conducting the impending elections compared to 2015, the request for funds from the National Assembly is not only coming late, its source of funding is rather complicated in view of the near-war relationship between the Presidency and the leadership of the National Assembly.
INEC, in its Report of the 2015 elections which it released to the media on October 5, 2016, stated that it spent the sum of N108.8 billion to conduct the general elections. Now, President Muhammadu Buhari has just tabled a request for the whopping sum of N242 billion for the 2019 general polls for the INEC and other agencies. That is nearly a 150 per cent increase.
To make matters worse, the President is demanding that the sum of N164 billion be vired from the N578 billion which the legislators had introduced into the 2018 budget to execute 6,403 projects. In other words, the President is asking the lawmakers to sacrifice projects aimed at giving them relevance in their constituencies for the 2019 elections. Furthermore, the remaining N74 billion is to come from the 2019 budget which is yet to be prepared.
With the frosty relationship between the Presidency and the Federal parliamentarians, worsened by the gale of defections and fear of an alleged scheme to cause a regime change at the National Assembly, we fear that the efforts to appropriate funds for the conduct of the 2019 general elections have been mired in conflict.
We wonder why the funds for the 2019 general elections were not included in the 2018 Appropriation Bill submitted to the National Assembly last year. Did we not know there would be a general election in 2019? If the right thing had been done at the right time, the fund for the elections would have been appropriated with the 2018 budget.
The only way forward is for the Presidency and the leadership of the National Assembly to put aside their partisan and selfish differences, close ranks and tackle this and other national issues together. The 2019 election must hold, and funds for it must be procured due process. The President should provide leadership in this direction.
The National Assembly, on the other hand, must be ready to suspend its two-month annual recess to tackle this problem expeditiously. It should also examine the sharp rise in the election bill and deal with it accordingly.