Senate President, Bukola Saraki, Monday accused supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari of ‘Conscientious Ignorance’ in their attacks on him on his perceived hesitance to reconvene the National Assembly to consider financial estimates for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to organise the 2019 elections.
Saraki in a statement also accused the President of a hidden agenda to scupper the 2019 election by his dithering procrastination to give assent to the 2018 Electoral Act Amendment Bill.
But the Presidency said the Senate president, Bukola Saraki, and the National Assembly should be held responsible for the delay in passing the supplementary budget for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for 2019 general elections.
The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP was, however, not as kind as it tasked the Presidency to accept blames for its perceived tardiness and apologise to Nigerians for the stress caused by the delay.
Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress, APC, however, blasted Saraki for playing what he called destructive politics by adjourning the Senate on recess when the issue was still on ground.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that the Senate and House Committees on Electoral Matters were to meet Monday to come up with a final report on the proposal from the Presidency on the election.
That report was to be submitted to the two committees on appropriation of the Senate and the House which would deliberate on it before submitting a final report to the Senate and the House sitting in plenary.
Senator Saraki’s assertions followed allegations last weekend by the Buhari Media Support Group in which the Senate President was accused of frustrating the 2019 election by deliberately refusing to reconvene the National Assembly to consider the INEC election spending plan.
Responding in a statement issued on his behalf by his special assistant on new media, Olu Onemola, the Senate President accused the Buhari Media Support Group of putting ignorance on display by selective consideration of the facts of the case.
He said, “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.
“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.
Noting what he described as the president’s delay in giving assent to the Electoral Act (Amendment Bill), Saraki said, “More importantly, the Electoral Act passed by the National Assembly to help legalize the various innovations that 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.”
Charging the presidency to accept blame over the issue and apologise to Nigerians, the PDP speaking through its spokesman, Mr. Kola Ologbondinyan, told Vanguard Monday that the Presidency got the budget on time but failed to transmit same to the federal Parliament for consideration.
He said, “The Presidency got the budget in February and deliberately kept it for reasons best known to them. The crisis the nation is currently engulfed in, with regards to budget for the elections, could have been averted if the right thing was done.
“The All Progressives Congress (APC)- led administration of President Muhammadu Buhari should bury its head in shame and apologize to Nigerians for taking us through these difficult times.”
However, the Presidency said the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, and the National Assembly should be held responsible for the delay in passing the supplementary budget for the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, for 2019 general elections.
The Presidency further explained that the National Assembly delayed the 2018 budget that was submitted in November last year for seven months, adding that there was no way a supplementary budget could have been submitted without the passage of the main budget.
In a statement signed by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, the Presidency noted that President Muhammadu Buhari reluctantly signed the 2018 budget into law after it had been distorted by the National Assembly.
In the statement, titled “Senator Saraki, look at mirrow, it’s your face that’s in it”, the Presidency denied any culpability by President Buhari in the supplementary budget delay.
The statement read: “The Presidency wishes to respond to the false accusations by Senator Bukola Saraki who alleged that President Muhammadu Buhari is to blame for the delay in approving the supplementary budget for INEC.
“On the contrary, the Senate President should 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.
“A supplementary budget cannot be submitted until the main budget is 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.
“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. There is no way President Buhari could have submitted a supplementary budget while the main one was still pending. It is never done.
“Because Saraki did not return the main budget, we could not have submitted the supplementary one.
“After the long delays, the President was pained to sign the much distorted, butchered and debauched document. In giving his assent, President Buhari said that he was compelled to sign the budget 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 7th November 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.”
“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. 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.”
In his reaction, Oshiomhole speaking through his Chief Press Secretary CPS, Mr Simon Egbebulem, said; “Dr Saraki is being economical with the truth. First, he distorted the entire budget that President Muhammadu Buhari presented to them and sent a carcass back to the president for his assent. That was why the president came up with this virement so as to consider those critical projects that they had tampered with.
“The INEC budget and other requests were sent to Dr. Saraki before the Senate went on recess and the Senate could have considered those requests before going on recess on a Thursday but Dr Saraki hurriedly adjourned the Senate on a Tuesday because he is playing destructive opposition politics in a bid to derail the Buhari administration and possibly shut down the government.
“If he were patriotic, going on recess should not even have been an option at that material time when the issue of the INEC budget, virement and others were already before the Senate. So, he is not a patriot as he would want Nigerians to believe. He is purely being selfish, untruthful and being clever by half,” he said.