2011 Polls: Senate Grudgingly Approves N87.7B For INEC

Source: EMMA UCHE - thewillnigeria.com

ABUJA, August 10, (THEWILL) - A complaining Senate today reluctantly approved the sum of N87, 721,961,531 billion for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to enable it conduct the 2011 general elections, though it scaled through without any dissention.

Expectedly, the passage was characterized by voices laden with suspicion and clear expression of misgivings over the frequent changes in the figures by the INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, starting from N72 billion to N74 billion and the sudden jack up by President Goodluck Jonathan, who raised the request to N89.59 billion.

Boldly however, Senators defied the President's request as they went ahead to prune the demand down to N87.7 billion from N89.59billion.

Out of the amount, which is to be issued from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, N25, 810,441,531 is for additional recurrent expenditure while the balance of N61, 911,520,000 is for contribution to the development fund for additional capital expenditure for the year ending on December 31st.

President Jonathan had earlier written to the Senate requesting for the passage of the supplementary bill, on the premise that it would enable the INEC conduct the 2011 elections. The request for additional fund he said is to cover the cost of procuring electronic equipment and other ancillary expenses related to conducting a fresh voter's registration exercise as well as the procurement of additional ballot boxes and payment of staff for election duties among others.

The President however explained that the budget would be funded by issuance of FGN Bonds in the sum of N87, 721,961,531.

Chairman of the Senate Appropriation Committee, Senator Iyiola Omisore told the Senate that the Joint Committee on INEC and House Committee on Electoral Matters together with the Appropriation Committee in agreement with INEC decided to review the budget from the N89.5 billion to N87.7 billion.

Break down of the budget, shows that 150,000 units of Transparent Collapsible Boxes was allocated N3 billion, Utility Vehicles, N4 billion, ICT-Voter Registration System and solution; N54.9 billion. Curiously the controversial profit margin of 30 percent was yanked off.

Similarly, review of voters register, was allocated N5.44 billion, logistics requirement for 2011 elections; N2 billion, voter registry requirement for 2011 election; N268.2 million, operation requirement for 2011 elections N470 million, finance and accounts for 2011 elections N1.246 billion, year 2010 bye-elections N700 million, servicom/R C S and GD N155million, electoral hazard allowance N64million and hotel accommodation for political appointees N222.8million.

However, Senators did not welcome the budget as it were as most of them openly expressed disgust, but asked that since they are been pressurized and would not want to be made scapegoats by Nigerians the budget would have to pass without any opposition.

Contributing to the debate, Senator Ndoma Egba (PDP, Cross River) said; "We are in a serious dilemma in the sense that INEC must be assisted to conduct credible elections. The whole world is expecting credible elections where votes count. Government must deliver credible elections. We don't have enough time to scrutinize the budget, time is not on our side, and we have no other option than to pass the budget. We know that Nigeria is looking for another scapegoat in the person of National Assembly to blame, saying it was the Assembly that did not pass the budget."

In the same vein, Senator Elder Anyim Ude (PDP, Ebonyi) declared; "We are all under pressure to pass this budget and in the process things that needed to be verified cannot be done. We earlier heard N72 billion, later N74 billion and now N89 billion. The INEC issue reminds me of the Aviation issue where we later discovered after passing the budget that the figure budgeted was more than what was used. Contractors always have two budgets, one for Nigeria and another for themselves. We need to pass this budget and later go for oversight function on the INEC."

For Senator Mustapha Mohammed (PDP, Kebbi); "INEC should emphasize on voters education. Without enough commitment, the exercise may end up as a fruitless exercise."

Nonetheless the Minority Leader, Senator Maji Maina (ANPP, Borno) lowered the skepticisms when he told Senators that the breakdown of the budget was very clear. "The mistakes he made in the budget were ratified. We should give Jega support to conduct credible elections. We should be part of history and pass this budget", he said.

Senator Olurunnibe Mamora (AC, Lagos) was precise saying; "I don't have problem with the request. Mr. President you were in the last Senate, a request was sent from INEC only to discover that what were requested for was not purchased. INEC should be mindful not to register underage and fictitious name during registration. We don' have up to 120,000 units in this country, some of the units are outpost for manipulation of elections."

Senator Henshaw Ewa (PDP, Cross River) said; "The whole point of this debate is to pass this budget and give INEC all the money needed in spite of our reservations. The INEC Chairman is a man of integrity and he knows what to do as regard registration."

Summarizing the debate, Senate President, David Mark said, "We have reservations and in spite of our reservations we have to make sure that INEC conducts free and fair elections. We have gone extra mile to do this in the hope that INEC will conduct credible elections that would be regarded as credible in the sight of other communities of the world. We hope INEC will reciprocate this gesture by conducting free and fair elections."