There is palpable anxiety among officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over the possible effects of the shutdown of the National Assembly on the Commission’s N242,445,322,600 2019 poll budget.
Amid ripples of defections, the National Assembly on Tuesday began its annual recess which will end on September 26.
The President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who is also the chairman of the National Assembly, said the recess was necessary to enable the lawmakers to participate in party primaries ahead of the 2019 elections.
But the timetable released by the electoral commission indicated that the primaries will hold between August 18 and October 7.
It was however learnt that preparations for the poll might be hampered by the vacation of senators and members of the House of Representatives.
Instead of a seven-month timeframe to prepare for the poll, INEC might only have between three and four months to prepare if the proposal is approved in October.
According to investigation conducted by our correspondent, INEC needs to procure about 600 items for the poll, including sensitive materials like ballot papers and non-sensitive types.
Most of the items are not those INEC can pick on the shelf within a month or two, especially in view of the nation’s long-winding public procurement process.
A National Commissioner in INEC, who spoke in confidence with our correspondent, said the shutdown of the National Assembly will affect preparations for 2019 poll.
The source said: “There is no way the shutdown will not affect our preparation timeline because we need funds to procure items required for 2019 poll.
“We are procuring over 600 items for the general election. If we have funds, we need about seven months to prepare adequately for the poll.
“At the rate we are going, we may have to put all items in place within three to four months to the general election.
“And the law makes it mandatory to subject all procurement to the evaluation of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and the relevant laws of the land.
“What we are trying to do now is to prioritise these election items and ask the Federal Government for cash reprieve to pay for these materials ahead of approval of the budget by the National Assembly.”
Responding to a question, the source added: “Certainly, we will work round the clock within available time limit to give the nation a free, fair and credible general election.”
Another top official in INEC gave technical details on why the election budget must be approved at the right time.
The source said: “We started implementing 2019 Election Project Plan (EPP) and Strategic Plan of Action in January. Each item in the EPP has a timeline and threshold that must be met at a particular time.
“If we slow down on any timeline or fail to meet any threshold, it will lead to pressure on us.
“So, for those items that require procurement, we are really behind time. These materials include ballot papers, smart cards, ICT bordering on electronic transmission of results, and other sensitive security items which I cannot disclose.
“Assuming the National Assembly approves the budget now and the cash is released, we must work for about 20 hours daily between August and February 2019.
“The Executive and the National Assembly must have a common ground in order to hasten the consideration and passage of 2019 poll budget. If it means creating a window within the recess period to approve the budget, it will be better for the nation.
“The truth is that the September 26 resumption time of the lawmakers is a bit late because we need funds to procure materials, some of which are customized and sourced from abroad.
“The ultimate however is that the 2019 election must be conducted within the stipulated time allowed by the 1999 Constitution. “
When contacted, the Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Wole Osaze-Uzzi, only said: “Prompt passage of the budget or bill will aid our preparation for 2019 poll.”
The 2019 election will hold in 1,558 national, state as well as local constituencies in the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) beginning from February 16.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on July 17 forwarded the election budget to the National Assembly.
He said: “As you are aware, the 2019 general election is scheduled to be conducted early in 2019. To ensure that adequate arrangements are made for free and fair election, it has become necessary to appropriate funds to enable the relevant agencies to commence preparations.
“INEC and the security agencies have accordingly recently submitted their requests and these have been subjected to the usual budget evaluation. The aggregate cost of the election is estimated at N254,445, 322,600. However, in line with the prevailing fiscal I’m proposing that the sum of N164,104,792.65 be provided for through virement or supplementation of the 2018 budget.
“I propose that the balance of N78,340,530,535 mostly related to personnel allowances, fuelling and other costs not required until election proper be provided in their 2019 budget.”