President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, has described the Buhari Media Organization’s allegation that he is deliberately slowing down the approval of the budget request for the 2019 election as a clear example of “‘Conscientious Ignorance’ on full display.”
In a response to the group’s accusation, Dr. Saraki, through a statement by Olu Onemola, his Special Assistant on New Media, stated that despite the unforced errors on the part of the Executive, which failed to submit the general elections budget on time, the relevant committees of the National Assembly are still working assiduously to ensure that due process is followed in approving the President’s request.
But in a swift response, the Presidency dismissed Saraki’s allegation that President Muhammadu Buhari is to blame for the delay in approving the supplementary budget for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Malam Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, who stated this in a statement in Abuja on Sunday, stressed that the Saraki-led Senate should be solely held responsible for the delay.
Onemola’s statement said:
- In his famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated that “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” It is necessary to begin this response to the Buhari Media Organization’s statement about the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, by reminding us of this fact. This is because the statement issued in Abuja on Friday, August 17th, by the organization, is a careful and deliberate example of conscientious ignorance on full display.
- By now, the Nigerian people are aware that the Executive branch could have submitted INEC’s 2019 Election budget at the time it submitted the 2018 appropriations proposal last year. Furthermore, the Executive had from January till June this year to submit the budget request. However, due to a perceived lack of foresight, display of usual tardiness or an attempt to ensure that due process would not be followed, this request was submitted only a few days before the statutory National Assembly annual recess.
- Regardless of this unforced error on the part of the Executive, the National Assembly has continued its work on this budget. As it stands: the relevant Senate and House Committees have held individual budgetary hearings with the INEC Chairman and all his Commissioners on this budget. They have also held follow-up Joint Committee meetings to carefully scrutinize the provisions of the budget.
- Furthermore, the Joint Committees are now scheduled to meet on Monday when they are expected to come up with a Committee report that will be sent to the Appropriations Committee, which will spell out how to source the President’s virement request through the concerned MDAs.
- Any person or organization that is conversant with legislative due process would know that it is only after the Appropriations Committee has worked on the budget details that a plenary sitting is required to adopt the final report.
- The Senate President, the Senate and the entire National Assembly, are committed to ensuring that the 2019 elections receive all necessary funding. However, this should not be at the expense of due process and stated guidelines.
- Groups like the Buhari Media Organization that have worked assiduously — with conscientious ignorance as their guide — to attempt to scapegoat the Senate President for the failure of the Executive to submit INEC’s 2019 election budget on time, know that the National Assembly is and has been working on this budget request through its Committees.
- More importantly, the Electoral Act passed by the National Assembly to help legalize the various innovations needed for free and fair elections is still absent because President Muhammadu Buhari chose to withhold his assent the first time it was transmitted. The question the Buhari Media Organisation should ask their principal is: “What is he afraid of in the very progressive proposals contained in the Electoral Bill?”, “Why does he want to frustrate the 2019 election by denying the nation from the much-needed enabling law?”
- For the record, it is necessary to state that the Buhari Media Organization, in its failed attempt to mislead the public, has been crying more than the bereaved. During this process, INEC, that will utilize the funds and conduct the proposed elections, has stated that it is confident and comfortable with the thorough and transparent response exhibited by the National Assembly.
- In this regard, it is necessary to once again emphasize that the public will continue to see through all attempts to mislead them with empty political grandstanding that is detrimental to the adherence to due process that the National Assembly’s leadership is committed to upholding.
The statement by Shehu, however, asked the Senate President to look into the mirror and what he will see is his own face.
“He is solely to be held responsible for deliberately driving the nation to this cliff edge as far as the preparations for next elections are concerned.
“It is not true that INEC submitted their draft budget to the Presidency in February. No, it came much later but even then, this is not the real issue.
“The fact that their proposals came well after the President had laid his budget for the year 2018 before the National Assembly meant that their own will be sent as supplementary budget.
“This was clearly stated to them by the Minister of Budget and National Planning,’’ he maintained.
The presidential aide explained that a supplementary budget could not be submitted until the main budget was passed, and so the delay in passing the main budget was the reason for the delay.
The National Assembly passed the 2018 budget seven months after the document was submitted to the National Assembly by President Buhari.
He said: “Unless someone has forgotten, the budget was submitted to the National Assembly and it took the Saraki-led National Assembly seven months to release it.”
He said there was no way President Buhari could have submitted a supplementary budget while the main one was still pending, adding that “it is never done.
“Because Saraki did not return the main budget, we could not have submitted the supplementary one”.
Shehu noted that after the long delays, the President was pained to sign “the much distorted, butchered and debauched document”.
While signing the budget, President Buhari said that he was compelled to sign it so as not to keep the economy continuously on a standstill.
In his words: “When I submitted the 2018 Budget proposals to the National Assembly on November 7, 2017, I had hoped that the usual legislative review process would be quick, so as to move Nigeria towards a predictable January-December financial year.”
The presidential aide further said that, “it is also worthy of note that this is the first time in Nigeria’s history that a government would bring together the cost of an election in one budget, with each agency involved invited to defend their portion of the budget before the National Assembly.
“It is all part of the transparency that this government is known for.’’
He observed that in the past, “governments would approve INEC budgets and funding without a breakdown, often using ways and means to fund it. Not so under President Buhari’’.