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2024 budget: INEC rejects N40bn allocation

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has rejected the budget of N40 billion allocated to it, describing the sum as grossly inadequate to fund the affairs of the electoral body.

While rejecting the amount proposed by the Office of Budget and National Planning, the commission led by Prof. Mahmood Yakubu presented its own draft proposal of N89 billion to the Senate Committee on INEC during the budget defence meeting chaired by Alli Sharafadeen Abiodun, yesterday.

At the meeting held at the new senate building, Yakubu explained that  N40 billion would not be enough to cater for the financial needs of the commission in 2024.

He said N40 billion could only cover the personal cost of the commission, which has a workforce of over 15,000 personnel.

Further justifying the commission’s decision, the INEC boss told the lawmakers that due to the 40 percent peculiar allowance introduced by the Federal Government, and the cost of the Duty Tour Allowance (DTA) of its staff across the federation, the commission’s wage bill had risen to N36.5 billion. He stressed that by the time N36.5 billion is subtracted from the N40 billion, the commission would be left with almost nothing to fund its capital and electoral expenditure as well as overhead costs.

He also warned that the 2024 off season governorship elections scheduled to hold in Edo and Ondo states  and the National Assembly bye elections for Ebonyi South and Yobe East senatorial districts might be jeopardised.

Other bye constituency elections that may be affected, according to the INEC boss are Akoko North East/Akoko North West Federal Constituency of Ondo State; Yauri/Shanga/Ngaski Federal Constituency of Kebbi State; Isa/Sabon Birni Federal Constituency of Sokoto State and Khana II State Constituency of Rivers State.

Mahmood said: “Our first priority is staff welfare; it goes beyond that, but it is a matter of human rights. But associated with the payment of salaries are the social contributions, the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), group life insurance, employees compensation scheme and so on. When we pay salaries and social contributions, there is nothing for any other activity again, including the forthcoming governorship elections coming up next year in Edo and Ondo states.

“We also do electoral activities in February next year in which parties will commence the primaries for the governorship elections, and we have to be there to monitor the primaries. We have to do continuous voter registration, and make the cards available long before the elections, and there’s no provision for that. The Ondo primary will begin in April, and there’s no provision for that.

“By the time you talk about the DTA as provided by circular and you convert it to Naira and kobo, it crashes, given the exchange rate. So, under the overhead, we pay for all these, including issues like diesel for our generators because sometimes, we are almost always on generator not only in our conferences but also in our ICT server room.

“As a substitute to the inadequate N40 billion, the INEC chairman submitted another expenditure proposal of N89 billion, which was tagged as the actual need of the commission.

“We have submitted proposal C, which shows that we actually need N89 billion. So as I said, our budget for 2023 is practically N68 billion, so the difference actually is N21 billion, not N49 billion, and we have given a breakdown on how we intend to spend the money.”

In his previous explanation, Yakubu gave an analysis of the 2023 budget performance, which he said was N68 billion in real terms as against the N50 billion, which was actually appropriated.

He reminded the Senate that an additional N18 billion was approved for the commission, which is yet to be released,  stressing that when added to the initial appropriated N50 billion, it will result in N68 billion.

He said: “The Federal Government issued a circular after the budget was appropriated in December 2022, so no provision was made in the budget at all. And to pay for the over 15,000 workforce of the Commission, we need N10.6 billion, which we did not have and it wasn’t provided for. At the same time, the DTA for officials was revised by a minimum of 100 percent across board, and again, we didn’t implement it.

“Then after the withdrawal of the fuel subsidy, the N35,000 wage award by the Federal Government for six months from September 2023 to February 2024 was announced and there’s no provision in our budget for the implementation of these categories of allowances.

So, we made a case to the executive and the executive made a provision of N18 billion for INEC under the supplementary budget to enable us meet these obligations, and the National Assembly appropriated the N18 billion under the supplementary budget for us to these obligations as recommended by the executive. So, practically speaking, the budget of the Commission is actually N68 billion, which is the N50 billion plus the N18 billion under the supplementary budget, but I must say that we are still waiting for cash backing for the N18 billion under the supplementary.”

Yakubu expressed disappointment that the budget allocation for 2024 dropped to N40 billion, saying it was the amount allocated to the commission in 2021.

“But, we are surprised that for 2024, the budget now dropped from N68 billion to N40 billion. The N40 billion was what was appropriated to the commission in 2021 for the 2022 budget, so the amount is grossly insufficient to even meet up with personnel cost in view of the need policy on additional allowances for officials.

“In 2023, N50 billion was appropriated to the INEC as our statutory budget, now this is different and separate from the election budget. The INEC is an agency of government with over 15000 staff, and we are spread all over the country, and this N50 billion is for the commission’s headquarters in Abuja, and 36 states, including the FCT and 774 local government offices,” he lamented.

Appealing to the Senate to consider its own proposal of N89 billion, Yakubu said the budget covers all the INEC’s offices and activities, adding that the commission does not operate like a ministry.

“The single line of N40 billion covers all the INEC offices nationwide from the local,  state and national.

“By the time you talk about the DTA as provided by circular and you convert it to Naira and kobo, it crashes given the exchange rate. So, under overhead, we pay for all these including issues like diesel for our generators because sometimes, we are almost always on generator, not only in our conferences but also in our ICT server room.

The plight of the commission caught the attention of Senator Abdul Ningi who acknowledged that the commission was treated unfairly due to the amount of funds allocated to it.

The Bauchi Central Senator said that there was poor engagement between INEC and the Federal Ministry of Budget and National Planning.

He said: “I am amused and concerned that the executive treated INEC in this manner, we think that INEC would have had deliberations with the Federal Ministry of Budget and Planning, that’s why we are having these discrepancies.”

Ningi, however, assured that the complaints of the commission would be forwarded to the Senate committee on appropriations for immediate action.

Ningi asked Yakubu what would be the fate of next year’s elections if the N40 billion is eventually passed.

In his response, Yakubu expressed optimism that a separate budgetary sum will be appropriated for the commission.

He responded: “In elections 2024, if we don’t get the money I’m sure the money will be found either by appropriation except that we shall say it out. If we don’t conduct elections, there will be a constitutional crisis. I have already spoken to the Minister of Budget and Planning in this manner.”

He also reminded the Senate that INEC still relies on the Federal Government for funding, adding that the commission is not empowered to generate revenue, neither does the commission accept financial gratifications or funds from external sources.

Adamu Aliero charged the electoral body to improve on its conduct of elections in the country. He raised the alarm that the country risked being taken by military coup if its electoral process failed to improve.

He said: “Nigerians want a situation where the votes will really count, although there have been some improvements. Without that, Chairman, the future of democracy in Nigeria will be at stake. We are surrounded by neighbouring countries that were formerly governed by democracy like Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, but now, they have been taken over by the military.

“We want a situation where if you vote in a particular unit, you can see it elsewhere, even though it requires full electronic election. If there’s no improvement in the Nigerian election, I will not contest again. We want solutions to come from you being the umpire.

In his opening address, Chairman of the committee, Senator Abiodun noted that though the last general elections witnessed some improvements, there were, however, still some lapses.

“It’s an established fact that most Nigerians, including the INEC are now saying that though the Electoral Act 2022 has been the best so far, we still have some gaps after the implementation in the 2023 elections, and have said that there’s room for amendment.

“Be rest assured that the committee will leave no stone unturned until our electoral process gains the expected public trust and serves as a qualitative leadership instrument as promised by this administration.”

According to the N40 billion budget, the INEC dedicated the entire amount for personnel cost leaving other expenditures at zero .

In the N89 billion recommended by INEC, N44.532 billion was set aside for personnel costs. The sum of N7.978 billion was for overhead cost, N30.302 billion for electoral expenditure, while N6.186 billion was for capital expenditure. Also N323 million and N866.800 was for utilities and maintenance services among other expenses.

SourceSUN

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