The Peoples Democratic Party has accused President Muhammadu Buhari of seeking what it described as surreptitious ploys to frustrate the conduct of the 2019 general elections. Buhari, in a letter he wrote to the National Assembly on Tuesday, requested a total virement of N228.8bn, largely allocated to new projects “inserted” in the 2018 budget by the National Assembly to offset part of the proposed cost of funding the 2019 general elections. Election funding is to gulp N242.4bn. The total cost for the inserted projects in the 2018 budget is N578.3bn. However, the President wants the N228.8bn vired from the money, an indication that many of the projects would suffer the fate of lack of funding and execution.
Condemning Buhari, Nigeria’s main opposition party, the PDP, alleged that the President was frustrating the 2019 elections because he had allegedly been told that he would lose his re-election bid. The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, in a statement in Abuja on Wednesday, asked Nigerians and the international community to note that “this request is a deliberate plot to inject disagreements in the polity, cause confusion in the electoral system and set the stage for a political crisis capable of frustrating the conduct of the elections.” Ologbondiyan added that Buhari ought to know that the request was against the Constitution. He said, “Mr President is aware that his request is in no way in consonant with constitutional provisions and extant rules guiding legislative virement of funds already meant for constituency development projects, yet he sent same to the National Assembly.
“If Mr President meant well for the nation and had no ulterior motives, he should have sent a fresh supplementary budget to the National Assembly for whatever amount he seeks for INEC, instead of seeking for a controversial virement.” He, therefore, asked the President to follow the rules and immediately submit a fresh supplementary budget or seek other legitimate ways and means, which he said must be devoid of bottlenecks, to finance the election. Also, senators, who spoke to the press in separate interviews on Wednesday, opposed the President’s request for virement. The lawmakers said they would kick against it during consideration at the Senate. The lawmakers who spoke were drawn from different political parties and geopolitical zones.
Speaking with one of our correspondents, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Mathew Urhoghide (PDP, Edo-South), pointed out that although the President had the constitutional right to request for virement, the National Assembly must consider from where the virement would be done before giving its approval. He stated, “If there is going to be a contention over the appropriateness of having to move something that is very important to another one that the President considers more important, there is going to be a clash.” The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Insurance and Other Financial Institutions, Senator Rafiu Ibrahim (APC, Kwara-South), said, “I will not support it. I don’t believe that. That is not planning.
Since we held the last poll, the next election time had been fixed. Since we did the last election, we already knew when we must do the next election as the Electoral Act stipulates. We already knew that a new government would be inaugurated on May 29, 2019.” Also, Senator Adesoji Akanbi (APC, Oyo-South) said other options might be considered by the lawmakers. He said, “There must be other ways to fund the elections than reducing what the National Assembly budgeted for projects. We all know the importance of those projects. Most of the projects are infrastructural in nature and spending on them will create employment and enhance the growth of our economy.” But the All Progressives Congress advised to the PDP to channel its suggestions to the National Assembly.
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, said, “The INEC budget was submitted to the National Assembly, not the PDP. If the PDP as a party has any useful suggestions about the INEC budget for the (2019) elections, it should channel same through its lawmakers in the National Assembly.” The House of Representatives, on its part, said on Wednesday that it would not take a hasty position on the President’s virement request until lawmakers had debated his proposals. At the House, the Speaker, Mr Yakubu Dogara, formally read Buhari’s letter to members on Wednesday. When contacted to speak on the reaction of the House to the request, the Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Abdulrazak Namdas, said, “This was a request that came from Mr President. It has just been read for the first time and brought to the attention of members.
“What will happen is to slate it for debate and second reading. That is when people will give their opinions to guide the House in taking a position.” The Leader of the House, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, said, “Mr President has brought a supplementary bill by way of virement. This is what budgeting is all about. “The executive has its priority areas and the legislature has its own. There are, therefore, contending interests as is normal in any representative democracy.” Speaking along the same line, the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Mr Chris Azubuogu, said, “This is not a yes or no matter, but members will sit and deliberate on it. The vote will be about what the majority thinks. But, I can assure you that members will take a position that is in the best interest of Nigerians.”