Late Budget For 2019 General Election


BUDGETARY provision for the conduct of the 2019 general election was presented to the National Assembly on July 16, with about six months to the polls. This is late, ominous and objectionable. The budget’s obstacle is not only the partisan fray its consideration might invoke, given the antagonism that greeted its arrival. More portentous is the fact that the lawmakers abandoned it last week and proceeded on their two months annual vacation.

The Independent National Electoral Commission is already in a frenzy as a result. Its chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, said during the weekend that it would be compelled to look for other sources of funding. He noted that the commission’s procurement process is very cumbersome with four months it takes to consummate. This is not surprising.

President Muhammadu Buhari, in his letter to the two chambers of the parliament, had requested a speedy approval of a supplementary budget of N242.45 billion expenses for the polls. The funds are to be shared among four agencies that will play key roles during the period.  A breakdown showed that the Independent National Electoral Commission has N189.21 billion; State Security Service N12.21 billion; Office of the National Security Adviser, N4.3 billion; while N3.6 billion is for the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps.

Apart from the lateness, another sore point is the President’s indiscretion of requesting that N164.10 billion out of the total sum be sourced from virement to be made on the N578.31 billion the lawmakers inserted into the 2018 budget for their so-called constituency projects. Besides, an additional N64.75 billion is expected to be cut from the same source and returned to critical projects, from which the legislators creamed off to fund their political interests.

The Peoples Democratic Party legislators’ early reaction bespeaks danger. “There is going to be a clash,” says the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Matthew Urhoghide, over two competing interests: between the lawmakers and the President. The situation gets murkier by the fact that the ruling All Progressives Congress has never had any firm control of the parliament right from inception.

The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, defied the party’s zoning arrangement to seize the leadership of the parliament, which ensured that the opposition called the shots, and not the APC, whenever the President has an agenda to be pushed through. The miasma is bound to worsen with Wednesday’s political realignment in the Senate ahead of next year’s elections, which saw 14 APC senators and 37 lawmakers from the House of Representatives defect to the PDP and other parties.

Constituency project is a shared interest of all the lawmakers, which often pits them against every President. In an election year like this, what counts more is each lawmaker’s political survival, and not what the President or the ruling political party thinks. If at the best of times, lawmakers unite against the Executive over provision of funds for these provincial projects, irrespective of their party affiliations, nothing on the ground suggests that a shift from this illegal and selfish drivel is imminent.

Observers will continue to ponder why the funds meant for INEC were not part of the 2018 budget when it was submitted on November 7, 2017. There could not have been any other reason than government’s lack of planning, seriousness and sagacity.

Late release of funds to the electoral umpire has consequences for the provision of logistics, placing of orders for the printing of ballot papers, boxes and other materials necessary for the conduct of a seamless general election.  As a result, this shoddy fiscal arrangement should be remedied without delay, with alternative funding plan. Where this blunder ultimately imperils the electoral process, Buhari should be prepared to carry the can.

It is the height of irresponsibility and placing their interest above that of the country by the National Assembly for not delaying the vacation to consider the election budget. The democratic right of the people to elect their leaders is so crucial that it should not be subjected to the messy vocation of politicking.

It is awful that a country aware of the imperatives of a four-year electoral cycle since 1999 will expose its electoral umpire to panicky preparations, which the late release of funds is likely to impose on it. The right lessons should be learned from the present executive gaffe. Since the lawmakers are also stakeholders, it behoves them to make it mandatory, through legislation, for the INEC budget to be part of the annual budget in the year preceding any general election.

The prevailing climate of uncertainty is a sad reminder of the 2007 experience. Less than 24 hours to the commencement of voting in the presidential election of that year, INEC disclosed that ballot papers were yet to arrive. Eventually, they reached polling units late. Consequently, polling was delayed by two hours. More shocking was the non-delivery of considerable quantity of ballot papers by the South African firm that printed the job. It is dangerous for our democracy to tread this path again.