THE NATION HEADLINE: Senators, Reps sitting off amid growing suspicion

Plans by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for a hitch-free election next year may be jeopardised, with the National Assembly calling off yesterday its sitting to endorse the electoral umpire’s budget.

The sitting was called off amid the growing suspicion between the Executive and the Legislature.
The lawmakers have alleged that there are plans by the Executive to instigate the removal of Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy Ike Ekweremadu. This has been denied.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has also alleged that there are plans to arrest Saraki and Ekweremadu. It is all lies, the All Progressives Congress (APC) said yesterday.

Also to be affected by the lawmakers’ recess is President Muhammadu Buhari’s plan to fund capital projects through loans.

But a senior INEC official said last night that there should be no panic over the development.

“If they don’t sit, the Presidency will find a way to fund the INEC budget. There must be a way around it,” the official said, pleading not to be named because he is not allowed to comment on such matters.

Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, Abdulrazak Namdas, said yesterday that the National Assembly would not reconvene today because the leadership was yet to reach a decision on the plan to sit.

He said: “We are not reconvening tomorrow (today). This is because we are yet to make a decision over it; we are still meeting. As a matter of fact, the leadership will meet later this evening (yesterday) or tomorrow (today) to decide when to reconvene”.

When asked if the leadership of the political parties in both chambers had presented their reasons to the leadership to reconvene the Assembly since there was no national media advertisement to that effect, Namdas said he believed the right steps have been taken.

“Everyone is aware of the rule book said on the procedure for this sort of sitting, I believe the right steps must have been taken, no one would do anything outside what is prescribed in the rule book,” the House Spokesman said

It was gathered yesterday that the leadership of the Senate and the House of Representatives might have ruled out the possibility of reconvening today because “it is practicality impossible for the planned emergency session to hold and approve the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) budget in a single sitting”.

The leadership of the National Assembly had said after a meeting with INEC Chairman Prof Mahmood Yakubu last week that the two chambers would reconvene today to consider and approve the INEC budget and the virement requested by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Yakubu also told reporters that he was assured that the budget for the 2019 election would be approved this week.

The source close to the leadership of the National Aseembly said that the lawmakers would no longer reconvene in view of latest developments and the practicability of the resumption date.

He noted that the thinking of many lawmakers is that to consider and approve Buhari’s request will take the National Assembly close to a month.

He said: “The request by President Muhammadu Buhari is not just a single line item that would just require a one day sitting.

“The request has variety of committees that will be involved, including Appropriations, Finance, INEC and other Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

“It is different from a situation whereby the President is asking for an increase in the size of the budget through a change of benchmark.

“The request by Mr. President is not something that can be done in one day. Even those who are pushing the agenda know it.”

The source insisted that the National Assembly cannot achieve anything even if it was reconvened for one sitting “because the request has to be passed to the necessary committees and the committees have to meet with relevant MDAs for their input”.

He added: “Besides, there is another issue that has to do with the constituency projects. The letter is requesting the lawmakers to remove funds from their constituency projects and use the same to fund INEC.

“Remember that the constituency projects are not one line items in the budget.

“You can’t imagine how long it would take the Appropriations committees to sort out that issue with the MDAs.

Another source noted: “Reconvening the National Assembly will not really work. It would mean that you want to keep the lawmakers around for the next one month, which defeats the idea of the annual recess.

“The letter by the President is not just requesting for an increase in benchmark, which can be handled in one day through Senate or House resolution. Treating the letter by the President will take two to three weeks or even more weeks.”

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