N1bn not enough to conduct elections in 2020 ― INEC chairman tells NASS
⦁ As committee queries commission expenditures
⦁Demands autonomy for SIEC
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) Professor Mahmoud Yakubu has said the sum of N1bn would not be enough for it to conduct outstanding elections next year.
He expressed his reservations on Thursday while speaking at budget defence before the Joint Committee of Senate and House of Representatives on INEC.
In the 2020 Budget estimate presented by President Muhammadu Buhari, the sum of N40bn was announced as statutory allocations for the Commission for recurrent and capital expenditures.
The INEC chairman told the Committee that the Edo and Ondo states governorship elections were scheduled to be conducted next year. He also insisted that other supplementary elections might arise.
Professor Yakubu said apart from increasing the allowance of his workers, he was determined to increase their wages in order to motivate them to rebuff inducement from desperate politicians.
He disclosed to the Committee that about 205 staff of the Commission were placed on half salary following their investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission after the outcome of 2015 elections.
He pleaded with the Committee led by former Kano state governor Senator Kabiru Gaya to push for the passage of the Electoral Offences Act into law for the take-off of the Electoral Offences Tribunal.
He said: “On electoral offences, we don’t have the capacity to investigate, we can only collaborate with Police. Only recently, we received 16, case files from the Police. But we can’t prosecute. There is the pending Electoral Offences Act to facilitate the Electoral Offences tribunal, let the bill be passed so that all violators, including our staff, can be prosecuted.”
Senator Gaya decried the decrepit shape of INEC state offices across the country.
The INEC chairman said its allocation for maintenance of offices was often overstretched as a result of violence as he revealed that 16 of its offices at local councils and states were bombed during last general elections. “They aren’t administrative but collation centres.”
The Joint Committee picked a hole in the INEC extra-budgetary spending without appropriation.
Honourable Babangida Ibrahim representing Malumfashi/Kafur federal constituency of Katsina frowned at abnormalities in the expenditures of the Commission.
He said: “If you look at the presentation on the budget performance, you will see that there are abnormalities, look at the front page group life insurance, the approved budget is N500m your expenditure is N628million, there is a N128 extra-budgetary approval.
“If you look at overhead cost, the approved budget is N41,7bn if you look at the actual expenditure, it is N43.16n there are a lot of similar allocations where the expenditure is more than the approval of the budget.”
He called on the chairman of the Commission to explain if it were as a result of other sources of income.
In his response, Professor Yakubu told the Committee that the Commission’s budget status gives it the flexibility to move funds from one head to another in its bid to meet with the demands of its mandate.
“There are some activities we needed to undertake constitutionally and they are time-bound. At that time we received no money for the 2019 general elections. and we operate a one-line budget. Recall that, if you look at the appropriation act of 2018, the only you see there N45.5bn and we have to prioritise and re-prioritise within the envelope, we did not go outside the envelope. It was just a very difficult thing for us, I understand the point made by Honourable Babangida, honestly, it has been recurring, the argument here is that we moved funds from one head to another and did we now apply for virement?
“That is what I think it is leading to. It was almost impossible for us to conduct the 2019 general elections without looking at the budget and operating within the envelope allotted to us.
“You will not see this kind of thing happening in 2019, in 2020 it is not there, it was just a sheer pressure to accommodate these activities, biometrics and the pre-election activities, I thank God for the framers of our constitution is that we are on the one-line charge, we did not operate outside the envelope.
“Our assumption is that there is room for some flexibility in that respect that is why when the envelope is given and the budget is appropriated, all you see is a one-liner. I completely understand the point that you are making, but I hope you understand the tremendous pressure we were under.”
At a separate meeting with Forum of State Independent Electoral Commissions of Nigeria (FOSIECON ) who paid him a courtesy visit, Professor Yakubu called for the review of laws governing the conduct of local government elections to guarantee financial autonomy of the SIEC. He equally advocated for uniform laws guiding the operation of the State Independent Electoral Commissions.
He said: “We need modern law to guide and govern the conduct of local government elections in the country, that draw to a considerable extent from the national electoral legal framework.
“The second issue we need to work together is the independence of SEIC. Independent of SIEC cannot be guaranteed where there is no financial independence.
“We will look at whatever we can do to work to ensure financial independence for the SIEC that will enormously help the conduct of elections.”
He assured members of the Forum of his Commission cooperation to facilitate free, credible elections at all levels.
Earlier in his remarks, chairman of the Forum, Justice Igbozuruike Akomas, said they were at INEC headquarters to facilitate the implementation of MoU and proposals they entered into with INEC last year.