By Henry Umoru, Emman Ovuakporie & Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA—STRONG indications emerged, yesterday, that the National Assembly may reconvene next week to consider and pass the N242 billion budget proposed for the conduct of 2019 general elections by Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC.
The National Assembly will call off the break to consider the letter of President Muhammadu Buhari on the proposed N164 billion to be provided for through virement or 2018 supplementary budget as well as look into the not less than N242 billion required for the conduct of 2019 elections.
The decision to reconvene was arrived at after a closed door meeting between principal officers of National Assembly and chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, and other officials of the commission.
The meeting was presided over, yesterday, by Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, with Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, in attendance.
Though the principal officers of All Progressives Congress, APC, were not at the meeting, those in Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, including Deputy Senate Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha; Minority Whip, Senator Philip Aduda; Deputy Minority Whip, Senator Biodun Olujimi; Chairman, Senate Committee on Security and Intelligence, Senator Shaaba Lafiaji, among others, attended the meeting, which took place in Room 301 of the Senate wing.
Speaking with journalists after the meeting, Chairman of INEC, Professor Yakubu, said he had been assured that the lawmakers have agreed to meet and consider the budget as well as appropriate funds for it.
He said: “The most important thing to say is that INEC was invited to meet with National Assembly leadership on how the proposed budget for the 2019 elections can be speedily considered and appropriated by the National Assembly.
‘’We have been assured of speedy passage of the budget perhaps as early as next week. N242 billion is the total amount proposed.”
Corroborating the INEC chairman, Senate Minority Whip, Senator Philip Aduda (PDP, FCT), who also spoke to journalists after the meeting, said: “We agreed that we will resume to consider the virement request and we agreed that we will fix a date to discuss this budget and ensure passage.”
We’re now more energised—INEC boss
Before they went into a closed door session, the INEC boss had told the lawmakers that this was the first time in the nation’s history that the budget for elections was subjected to approval by the National Assembly this way.
Yakubu, who spoke shortly after Saraki and Dogara had spoken, said: “We are now more energised, more reassured that our plans for the 2019 general elections are absolute in progress. We have from today exactly 191 days to the opening of polling units by 8 am on Saturday, February 16, 2019.
‘’We are confident that all the grey areas will be ironed out and as far as INEC is concerned, our own component of the cost of 2019 elections will be speedily appropriated by the National Assembly.
Earlier in his remarks, Saraki said the budget for INEC was delayed before it was presented to the National Assembly for consideration, adding that the executive delayed, knowing full well that there would be elections to be conducted.
Saraki, who noted that the process of election in Nigeria needed to be improved upon to ensure its conduct was free, fair and credible, added that the National Assembly would cooperate with the commission to conduct acceptable elections.
In his remarks, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dogara, who also frowned on the delay in the presentation of INEC’s budget by the executive, warned that Nigeria must not go below what was achieved in 2015.