The budget defence session of the House of Representatives took a dramatic turn on Wednesday, as members of the Committee on Electoral Matters disagreed with their chairman on the modality she employed in engaging the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmud Yakubu concerning the performance of his commissions 2020 budget.
The committee also curiously asked out all National Commissioners of INEC on the entourage their Chairman, Prof. Yakubu, as it opted to meet with only the Chairman in a closed-door session.
Chairperson of the committee, Rep. Aishatu Jibril Dukku had after making her opening remarks called on Yakubu to give an appraisal of the Commission’s 2020 budget performance, as well as make a presentation of the 2021 estimates, but was immediately challenged by one of her colleagues, Hon. Solomon Bob from Rivers State, to the effect that “the committee did not carry out any oversight on the commission in the year, but here are we, being called upon to superintendent over another budget”.
Repeated attempts by Dukku to explain that 2020 was ruptured by the lockdown occasioned by the outbreak of the Covid-19 could not stop Bob, who insisted that he must be allowed to land. “Honourable colleague, I rule you out of order”, a visibly angry Dukku told the man and hit the gavel, urging Yakubu to commence his presentation.
As a result, the committee was forced to move into a closed-door session, after the INEC Chairman ended his appraisal of the Commission’s 2020 budget performance, following a suggestion to that effect on the 2020 budget by Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, (PDP, Abia), which was immediately supported by Hon. Tajudeen Yusuf, (PDP, Kogi).
“The executive session is very important because 2020 is where the issues are. The budget has been implemented so that we don’t have to be asking the Chairman (Yakubu) subjective questions on the issue raised”, Yusuf said.
One of the National Commissioners who were asked to stay outside, Mr. Festus Okoye, however, told journalists that there was nothing strange about the committee opting to meet with only Yakubu behind closed doors.
“They have their own rules, they set their own rules so we have to comply. They can invite only the chairman for a meeting, so there is nothing strange in what is happening now”, he said.
The INEC boss earlier informed the panel that the Commission had to revert to its special fund, created under section three of the Electoral Act, in order to meet its mandates, due to a drastic reduction of its budget after the review.
According to him, its initial budget of N40 billion was reduced to N36 billion, when the Commission was already in the middle of implementation, and so had to draw N5.2 billion from the INEC Fund in order to deliver on its mandate.