The National Assembly will reconvene next week to consider and possibly pass the N242billion budgeted for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security agencies for the conduct of the 2019 general election. INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, disclosed this after a meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly led by Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.
The INEC boss told journalists after the meeting that lasted for two hours the National Assembly assured that it will expedite action in passing the budget as early as next week. Confirming this, Senate minority whip, Philip Aduda, who is one of the principal officers of the National Assembly who attended the meeting however hinted that the legislature may concentrate only on N164 billion meant for INEC. “We agreed that if need be, we will resume from the ongoing long recess to consider the virement request from the president as regards the N164billion for INEC. A date will soon be fixed for consideration and approval of the request by both chambers of the National Assembly”, he said.
The INEC boss had earlier told the National Assembly leadership before going into closed door meeting with them that monies meant for the electoral body for the election should be appropriated for latest by next week to enable it embark on activities that must be done at least six months to the elections. Yakubu said, “We have from today exactly 191 days to the opening of polling units by 8:00am on Saturday, February 2019. There are activities we have to undertake for a minimum of six months to the Election Day and six months to Election Day kick-start from the 15th of August.
It means we have eight days to the commencement of these activities”. Earlier in their opening remarks, Saraki and Dogara told the INEC chairman that the essence of the meeting was to hear from him whether appropriation for the estimated budget for the electoral body was a matter of urgency or not. Saraki and Dogara had in a joint statement on Tuesday said the emergency meeting of National Assembly joint leadership slated for that day was postponed indefinitely following the invasion of the National Assembly by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS). But addressing world press conference yesterday, Saraki said the leadership of the National Assembly was exploring avenues to address the budget proposal for INEC to conduct the 2019 polls.
He stated: “We stand committed to doing our utmost as lawmakers to ensure that the responsibility and functionality of governance are met. Although we are on annual break, we are daily reviewing the situation and are alive to the responsibility to take action as necessary. “Unfortunately, yesterday’s shutdown prevented us from meeting with INEC, as scheduled, to address funding concerns. We will continue to look into the matter. In the spirit of that, we also appeal to Mr. President to sign the 2018 Electoral Act Amendment Bill which has been sent for his assent”. Saraki took journalists by surprise when he disclosed that since leaders of the National Assembly were already present at the world press conference, he has sent for INEC chairman and his team for the meeting, which could not hold on Tuesday.
“Executive knows that it would conduct elections next year, why then waiting for so long before making request for funds to finance the exercise? In any case, we have sent for the INEC chairman since we leaders of both chambers are around presently so that we can meet today as we couldn’t meet yesterday’’, he said. After the press conference, Saraki and Dogara led leaders of the two chambers to the meeting with INEC officials. President Muhammadu Buhari had last month, before the National Assembly went on its ongoing recess, forwarded for approval N242billion budget estimates from INEC for conduct of the elections. President Buhari, a the letter, explained that out of the proposed N242, 445, 322, 600.00 billion estimated funding of the 2019 general election, N164.104billion should be appropriated for by the National Assembly through virement, while the balance of N78.340billon would be provided for in the 2019 budget.
Only 2/3 Majority Can Remove Me –Saraki
Meanwhile, Senate President Bukola Saraki said yesterday that only 2/3 majority members of the Senate can remove him from office and not the use of security forces. He alleged that the All Progressives Congress (APC) Senators invited DSS operatives purposely to pave way for his impeachment and that of his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu, instead of mustering 23rd majority of senators for their removal. Saraki who stated this at a world press conference said the invitation of the security operatives to assist in his impeachment through illegal session was a demonstration of cowardice on the part of APC Senators. He advised the plotters of the leadership change in the National Assembly to labour very hard in getting the required two-third majority of members of the Senate for that purpose rather than illegally using the security agencies to assaults the parliament and by extension democracy.
“The very day 2/3 majority of Senators withdraw their confidence in me or support for me I will quit as Senate president, the same path, I believe, my Deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, will toe if such scenarios play out “, he said. He condemned the siege laid by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) on the premises of the National Assembly on Tuesday to facilitate the alleged plot for illegal leadership change in the Senate.
According to him, the show of shame that played itself out on Tuesday with the barricade carried out by the DSS operatives on all entries to premises of NASS and subsequent dismissal of the DSS Director, Lawan Daura, clearly shows that government within government earlier said to be in existence in the Buhari-led administration is true. He said, “The siege was an act of cowardice by those seeking to carry out an illegal impeachment of the leadership of the Senate in flagrant disregard of the law. People who seek control at all costs by whatever means never minding the injury to democratic norms. “I have to say that this is not about me, Abubakar Bukola Saraki as an individual. It is not about Ike Ekweremadu, nor is it about Yakubu Dogara.
I am speaking for my colleagues when I say that this is about the soul of Nigeria, what we represent as a country and our standing in the comity of nations. “This is most disheartening. I don’t get any joy in saying I said so. I don’t. However, some of you may recall that about two years ago, I stated that there was a government within this government, to a purpose that was not in the interest of what the people voted for. I said it then, and now we are beginning to see the manifestations of that government within a government. “It beats one’s imagination how the head of an agency could have authorize the brazen assault on the legislature that we saw yesterday (Tuesday). Despite the threat to our lives, we shall continue to fight impunity and injustice in this country”.
He commended PDP federal lawmakers for squaring it up with the security agencies during the invasion as well as the civil society organizations, the media, concerned Nigerians and the international community for rising up in defence of democracy. He maintained that no amount of intimidation will make him and his colleagues to surrender for impunity, recklessness and lawlessness. He continued: “By this, we have shown that Nigerians can resist government within government in whatever guise, and this is humbling for me. Those who sought to attack the National Assembly under my leadership for their selfish ends have only affirmed my belief in this country.
“They attempted to execute an illegal impeachment of the leadership of the Senate without the backing of the law, but they faltered. I am confident that, together, we shall always defeat acts of unconstitutionality. The rule of law shall always prevail”. Saraki called on President Buhari to sign the 2018 electoral bill into law, just as he assured Nigerians that the National Assembly, under his leadership, is studying the situation as regards urgent funds for INEC.
His words: “I want to reassure Nigerians that, on our part, we remain committed to working for a country governed by the rule of law. Our desire is to have a society where there will be equity and justice, not oppression. “We stand committed to doing our utmost as lawmakers to ensure that the responsibility and functionality of governance are met. Although we are on annual break, we are daily reviewing the situation and are alive to the responsibility to take action as necessary.
“Unfortunately, Tuesday’s shutdown prevented us from meeting with INEC, as scheduled, to address funding concerns. We will continue to look into the matter. In the spirit of that, we also appeal to Mr. President to sign the 2018 Electoral Act Amendment Bill which has been sent for his assent”.