Senate seeks special remuneration for INEC staff
•as commission Chairman decries reduction in budget
The Senate has again restated its commitment to enhancing salary structure for the staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC).
Senators on the Senate Committee on INEC led by former Kano state governor, Kabiru Gaya on Wednesday asked the chairman of the electoral umpire, Professor Mahmood Yakubu to update the Committee on his discussion with the Salaries and Wages Commission and other relevant agencies.
Professor Yakubu said his Commission was constrained by the outbreak of the pandemic, Coronavirus and its conduct of governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states.
He said:” I remember when this matter was discussed last year you specifically tasked the committee to come back with suggestions and ideas on how we can enhance salary remuneration.
“We promised to discuss with Salaries and Wages Commission and we will come back to see what can be done. We have not gone far on this matter mainly because there were many distractions. Essentially COVID-19 came in and the nation was shut down and after COVID, we were confronted with two major elections, Edo and Ondo governorship. I assure you we will resume our discussions with the relevant agencies to see how we can get a totally different salary structure for INEC for the kind of work the commission staff are involved in. It is a work in progress.”
Senator representing Ekiti Central, Opeyemi Bamidele maintained that enhanced salary structure was necessary for staff of INEC to insulate them from financial inducement by desperate politicians. He further promised that the Committee would be anxious to give the needed legislative approval.
” We are going to really address the aspect of our own desired reforms to ensure that people that INEC relies on to be able to do their work as an umpire are also immune or sanctified against unnecessary temptations. We believe this issue of enhanced remuneration must be addressed. It is something that should be addressed because it is important.
“We appreciate if you can report back as soon as possible in the next three months specifically on this issue and if it requires also any form of legislative action on our part this committee would be happy to work with the Senate Committee on Establishment and other relevant committees. It is an issue that is waiting to be addressed.”
Earlier in his presentation while defending his Commission 2021 Budget before the Committee, Professor Yakubu expresses concern that his Commission was encountering financial challenges. He declared that despite being on first line charge, INEC was still not financially independent.
He disclosed that his leadership was not comfortable with drop-in its 2019 budget to N40billion from N45.5 bn.
To meet its financial challenges, he revealed that INEC has to fall back on its special fund, owing to financial pressures.
“The Commission cannot be independent unless it is financially independent. There are some activities that happen that are time-bound or bound by some specific provisions of the constitution that the Commission has to undertake.
“So, the fund was established to allow the Commission to discharge those responsibilities. It was established in 2010 but there was no cause to spend from it, and from the last five years, this Commission did not spend from it. But what has happened now is our budget for 2020 dropped to N40 bn from N45.5 bn in 2019. And as a result of the 10% COVID cut, it further dropped to N36 bn in the middle of the year when we had already made preparation for expenditure, and therefore, since that fund is made for the rainy days, I informed the committee that the rainy day has come. So we are taking part in the fund to balance our budget for this year. ”
He further disclosed that ahead 2023 general elections, the Commission would resume Continuous Voter’s Registration early next year.
“For Continuous Voter’s Registration, the Commission intends to resume voter registration in the first quarter of 2021. And once we resume, it will be continuous for one and half years, at least until six months to the next general election. In other word, the Commission is not going to resume voter registration for a week, two weeks or a month but we are working out the details.”
Professor Yakubu told the Senate Committee that plan was in the offing for Diaspora voting, subject to amendment of the Constitution and the Electoral Act.
“The Commission is desirous of giving Nigerians living abroad the right to vote, after all, all our neighbouring countries do so. But it requires the amendment to the Constitution and the Electoral Act for that to happen. And we have already worked out the document. Once the law is amended today, we can roll out. We are ready. We have had several meetings with the Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) but we can’t go beyond what the law provides.”