2019: Crisis looms over electoral law, poll funding

There are indications that the 2019 general elections might face serious crisis if nothing is done urgently by the Presidency and the National Assembly to address the current constitutional and funding hiccups staring the exercise in the face.

Investigations carried out by New Telegraph revealed that, exactly 167 days to the conduct of the February 16, 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), there are apparent constitutional and funding crises in waiting.

According to the INEC timetable for the 2019 general elections, the governorship and State Houses of Assembly polls are also to be conducted on March 2, 2019. One of the impending hiccups is that the Electoral Act Amendment Bill to be used in the conduct of the elections by INEC has not been signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari even as the 30-day constitutional duration for signing it into law expired on Sunday.

The 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 was transmitted to President Buhari on August 3rd by the National Assembly, but has not received the required presidential assent until yesterday when the Presidency announced that the president had declined assent to the bill. Another challenge facing next year’s elections is the source for funding of the proposed and adopted N143 billion INEC component of the N164 billion elections budget for this year, which is now breeding strife between the Presidency and the National Assembly.

Buhari had, in a virement request letter forwarded to both chambers of the National Assembly in July, sought for virement of the money along with other election-related budgetary proposals totalling N228 billion, from the N578 billion allegedly inserted into the N9.12 trillion 2018 budget by the National Assembly. However, the federal lawmakers, in their adoption of the N143 billion INEC component of the monies, disregarded the request of the President and instead, recommended that it should be vired from the N943 billion service wide votes put in the budget by the executive.

Disagreement on the actual source of funding of the INEC budget for next year’s elections came to the fore last week Thursday, when the National Assembly Joint Committee on INEC unanimously resolved that the N143 billion should be vired from the N943 billion service wide votes and not from N578 billion earmarked for execution of 1,403 special projects members added to the 2018 budget. Making the announcement, the chairman of the joint committee, Senator Suleiman Nazif (PDP, Bauchi North), said:

“The committee is suggesting to the leadership of the National Assembly and the Committee on Appropriation to source the funding of NEC’s N143 billion election budget for this year through virement from other servicewide votes under the Special Intervention Programme (Recurrent) totalling N943 billion, to ease consideration and avoid increase in the size of the 2018 expenditure frame work.” Also, with the President not assenting to the 2018 Electoral Bill sent to him, INEC will have to rely on provisions and guidelines prescribed by the 2010 Electoral Act for conduct of the 2019 general elections, which were largely manual. Adherence to electronic provisions in the bill, like legalisation of the card readers, electronic transmission of results from polling units to collation centres etc., will, therefore, no longer be compulsory.

The bill was passed by both chambers of the National Assembly on July 24, 2018, the very day the federal lawmakers embarked on their annual recess. Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, had before yesterday said the vetoed bill was the one sent to the President on June 27, 2018 and not the one passed by both chambers of the National Assembly on July 24, 2018.

It is pertinent to note that, apart from the vetoed version of the 2018 electoral bill forwarded to the President on June 27, 2018 and vetoed on July 26, 2018 by the President in line with the 30-day constitutional lifelines for such bill, the President had earlier in the year, rejected the first of the 2010 Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2018 forwarded to him in February this year.

While explaining why he vetoed the bill earlier in February, the President cited some reasons for doing so; one of which was the new sequence of elections included in the bill through section 25(1). He said that the inserted section in the Electoral Act violates the provisions of section 72 of the 1999 constitution, which empowers INEC to fix dates of elections and see to its conduct in all ramifications.

.new telegraph

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