… Litigation fees for 1,700 election cases weigh down commission
… Resumes voter registration, mulls diaspora voting
BY BODE GBADEBO, Abuja
Against the backdrop of a shortfall of N4bn in the 2020 budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic, the electoral umpire has decided to access N5.2bn from the INEC Fund to meet its needs.
INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, made the disclosure on Wednesday at the 2021 budget defense exercise of the Commission before the Senate Committee on INEC chaired by Senator Kabiru Gaya (APC, Kano South).
LEADERSHIP reports that INEC Fund was established in 2010 as a contingency fund by virtue of Section 3 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) and it currently has about N10bn in its kitty.
Yakubu recalled that INEC was given a budget size of N45.5 in 2019 and it was reduced to N40bn in the 2020 fiscal year, and later slashed to N36bn in the revised 2020 budget in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was simply impossible to operate within the revised 2020 budget,” Yakubu told the lawmakers, adding that there was the need to draw funds from the INEC Fund for the first time in order to augment the Commission’s 2020 budget.
“The Commission cannot be independent unless it is financially independent. There are some activities that happen that are time-bound or bound by some specific provisions of the constitution that the Commission has to undertake.
“But what has happened now is that our budget for 2020 dropped to N40bn from N45.5bn in 2019. And as a result of the 10% COVID-19 cut, it further dropped to N36bn in the middle of the year when we had already made preparation for expenditure, and therefore, since that Fund is made for the rainy days, I informed the (Senate) committee that the rainy day has come. So we are taking part of the fund to balance our budget for this year,” Yakubu explained.
According to the INEC chairman, part of the tasks before the commission for which funds are required include continuous voter registration (CVR) for which over N1bn has been earmarked to kickstart the exercise.
On the proposed N40bn 2021 budget of INEC, the chairman said the budgetary provision was inadequate, adding that “there are issues but we have proposed how to get out of the issues.”
“The funds are not enough across the board but we will manage it,” he told the lawmakers.
He noted that with over 16,000 workforce, the Commission’s personnel cost in the 2021 budget increased because of the new minimum wage with concurrent increase in contributory pension remittances, among other obligations.
Yakubu also said that litigation fees being paid to lawyers who are defending INEC at various courts in election disputes was another challenge, adding that the commission was involved in about 1,700 election cases nationwide.
“Each time anyone goes to court, INEC is joined, but we have to hire lawyers to defend us. We are not playing fantastic fees, we are applying Federal Ministry of Justice scale of fees. If for instance you have a case for governorship election before the Supreme Court, it’s a maximum of N4.5million.
“But because of the number of cases, we are almost getting close to 1,700 pre-election and post-election cases in 2019 alone, and everyday you hear people going to court and joining INEC, but we will continue to do what we can within available resources,” he said.
On continuous voter registration, he revealed that the Commission will resume the exercise in the first quarter of 2021 and it will last for 18 months until six months to the next general election of 2023.
In an interview after the budget defense exercise, Yakubu also told journalists that INEC was contemplating Diaspora Voting once the necessary legal frameworks are approved by the National Assembly.
“The Commission is desirous of giving Nigerians living abroad the right to vote. After all, all our neighbouring countries do so. But it requires the amendment to the constitution and the Electoral Act for that to happen.
“We have already worked out the document. Once the law is amended today, we can roll out. We are ready. We have had several meetings with the Nigerians In Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) but we can’t go beyond what the law provides,” he added.
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