Voter registration to take place first quarter of 2021 ― INEC Chairman

Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has disclosed that voter registration will take place the first quarter of 2021.

Speaking on Wednesday in Abuja when he appeared before the Senator Kabiru Gaya, of All Progressives Congress, APC, Kano South led Committee on INEC for the Defence of 2021 Budget proposals, the INEC Chairman explained that the Commission is earmarking the sum of 1 billion Naira for the exercise.

He said, “For continuous voter registration, the Commission intend to resume voter registration in the first quarter of 2021. And once we resume, it will be continuous for one and a half years, at least until six months to the next general election. In other words, the Commission is not going to resume voter registration for a week, two weeks or a month but we are working out the details.”

Professor Yakubu, who is also throwing his weight behind diaspora voting, has however called on the National Assembly to amend the Electoral Act to accommodate diaspora and early voting.

He said: “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. And 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.”

The INEC Chairman who is also seeking the approval of the Senate to spend 5.2 billion Naira from the special INEC fund to make up for the shortfall in the 2020 budget which was cut because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said that the Commission is also working to a situation where the staff get a totally different salary structure against the backdrop of the hazardous nature of the job being carried out by the staff.

Yakubu said: “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.

“So, the fund was established to allow the Commission to discharge those responsibilities. It was established in 2010, but there was no cause to spend from it, and from the last five years this Commission did not spend from it. But what has happened now is our budget for 2020 dropped to N40bn from N45.5bn in 2019.

“And as a result of the 10% COVID 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 committee that the rainy day has come. So we are taking part in the fund to balance our budget for this year.”

The INEC boss has also disclosed that in the year 2019, the Commission had 1,700 Pre and post-election cases in Court. On money spent on election cases, adding, “Each time anyone goes to court, INEC is joined, but we have to hire lawyers to defend us. We are not playing fantastic fee we are applying the 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 N4.5 million.

“But because of the number of cases, we are almost getting close to 1700 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.”

INEC chair on enhanced salary structure for Commission staff, said, “I remember when this matter was discussed last year you specifically tasked the committee to come back with suggestions and ideas on how we can enhance salary remuneration

“We promised to discuss salaries and wages commission and we will come back to see what can be done. We have not gone far on this matter mainly because there were many distractions. Essentially COVID-19 came in and the nation was shut down and after COVID we were confronted with two major elections, Edo and Ondo governorship.

“I assure you we will resume our discussions with the relevant agencies to see how we can get a totally different salary structure for INEC for the kind of work the commission staff are involved in. It is a work in progress.”

On some groups who are disenfranchised during the election, Yakubu said, “It is not just those in the armed services, the police involved in election duty, journalists, INEC ad-hoc staff and some INEC staff don’t vote. The reason is that you are posted for election duty to places other than where you are registered, and the law says you vote where are registered.

“So, if you pass some amendments to the electoral act to enable people to vote, two solutions perhaps; early voting, so that those involved in election duty can vote early or major reform of electoral legal framework to allow people to vote wherever they are.”

In his contribution, a member of the Committee, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, APC, Ekiti Central said, “We are going to really address the aspect of our own desired reforms to ensure that people that INEC relies on to be able to do their work as an umpire are also immune or sanctified against unnecessary temptations. We believe this issue of enhanced remuneration must be addressed. It is something that should be addressed because it is important.

“We appreciate if you can report back as soon as in the next three months specifically on this issue and it requires also any form of legislative action on our part this committee would be happy to work with the senate committee on the establishment and other relevant committees that can sit down with both INEC and the Physical moderation. It is an issue that is waiting to be addressed.”

Responding, Prof Yakubu said, “Let me on behalf of INEC thank this committee for this consideration and we promise we are going to come back under three months, it will not even be up to three months and I am sure that the staff of the commission will be excited to hear that the Senate is as interested in their welfare as we are in the commission.”

In his remarks, Chairman of the Committee, Senator Kabiru Gaya who congratulated INEC Chairman on his reappointment, said: “We are waiting for your name for clearance. For necessary screening. We know you have performed well, but still be ready for our questions. We are totally committed to a free fair and credible election.

“On your part, we expect that you make every money spent count for a credible and efficient electoral process.”

FG, States owe N154Bn in taxes — RMAFC

The Chairman Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, Mr Elias Mbam, on Tuesday, disclosed that the federal government, its ministries and agencies, and states were owing taxes, to the tune of over N154billion.

Mr. Mbam raised the alarm, at a budget defence session with the House Committee on Finance, chaired by Rep. James Faleke(APC-Lagos).

According to him, “The Commission over the years, despite its poor funding recorded tremendous achievements including revenue monitoring and recoveries from both the oil and non-oil sectors. The activities and recoveries, apart from enhancing the Federation Account, have had deterrent effects on the revenue-generating agencies and helped to minimise revenue leakages. 

These achievements include:“Recovery from Banks/Companies the monitoring, verification and reconciliation exercises which are still ongoing by the Commission on revenue collections and remittances by Commercial Banks, Companies and the agencies that collect/remit revenue to the Federation Account have helped to minimise leakages. 

The verification which took effect from 2008 is still ongoing and was reported to the Stakeholders through the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) and the National Economic Council (NEC). 

Sequel to the submission of Interim Report on the verification exercise and because of the tremendous result in terms of revenue recovery, NEC approved that the exercise is extended to 2019. As at date, over N75Billion has been recovered by the Commission. 

Furthermore, a sum of over N474Million was recovered in the ongoing recovery exercise by the Custom monitoring Committee of RMAFC Recovery from the Three (3) Tiers and Agencies of Governments. He said.

“The Commission in collaboration with FIRS in 2020 conducted an exercise on the reconciliation and recovery of tax liabilities owed the Federation Account from 2008 to 2019 by some Federal Ministries, Agencies and Department (MDAs), States & their MDAs and Local Government Councils respectively. The exercise is ongoing! and over N79Billion liabilities have been established”.

On revenue from Solid Minerals, the agency disclosed that over N27 billion was shared to states, from revenue of N27billion in 2020, he, however, decried that government had incurred a loss of over a trillion naira in the sector.

“Through the efforts of the Commission, an account for the solid minerals sector was opened at me Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) where proceeds from the sector were being paid. However, it is important to note that before the intervention of the Commission, the Solid Minerals Sector never contributed to the Federation Account. So far, over N31 billion has accrued into the account, out of which over N27 billion has been disbursed to the three (3) tiers of government, including the 13% derivation in which all the thirty-six (36) States benefited.

“The outstanding balance of about N4billion is awaiting relevant data from the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development for distribution to the 3-tiers of Government. Furthermore; the Commission conducted a nationwide monitoring exercise for the Solid Minerals Sector with the aim of examining royalty collections to the Federation Account & activities of Miners at the States & Local Government Councils for the period 2009 to 2015. This exercise is still ongoing; From the exercise, analysis carried out on ten (10) mineral types, namely; Gold, Tin-ore, Coal, Columbite, Kaolin Crude, Lead, Gypsum, Tantalite Crude, Zinc and Manganese taking into consideration their qualities, quantities and their international value, showed that the Federation was losing an estimated revenue of about N1.3 trillion annually”.

RMAFC, also sought the intervention of the House, to access enough funding to alter the revenue-sharing formula in the Federation.

The federal government has always taken the lion share from the Federation account, leaving the 36 states to share a lower percentage.

“The Commission has started the process of reviewing the existing Revenue Allocation Formulae. Preliminary works, including literature review, engagement with the major stakeholders, and collection of relevant data has commenced. However the process has been slowed down due to paucity of funds”, he pleaded.

The agency also sought independent management of Special Funds, i.e. Stabilisation Fund, Ecological Fund and Development of Natural Resources Fund for their respective purposes have been a source of concern to the commission because of the absence of an all-embracing management structure to manage the funds”.

Mbam, said “these funds sometimes are applied outside the objective of their establishment. The commission wishes to state that these funds are supposed to be kept in trust by the Federal Government on behalf of the Federation. Therefore, their management and operation should clearly reflect the purposes for which the funds were established. Accordingly, it is necessary that a management structure, which should include major stakeholders, be put in place to manage the Funds, with the secretariat domiciled in the Revenue Mobilisation”.

The Chairman of RMAFC, also pleaded with the House to amend certain sections of the Constitution, to enforce the direct allocation of Local Government funds, to beneficiary councils.

“The payment of statutory allocations due to Local Government from the Federation Account has been a major grey area in Nigeria’s fiscal operations. Allocations to the Fedéral and State Governments are paid directly to them while that of Local Governments are paid into the respective State Joint Local Government Accounts established by Section 162 (6) of the Constitution. However, these Joint Accounts are often subjected to manipulation and abuse by the supervisory authority of some State Governments.

“For an orderly and transparent fiscal operation at the Local Government level, their statutory allocations from the Federation Account should be paid directly to them instead of the Joint Account to avoid possible diversions and illegal deductions. This may require the amendment of the relevant provisions of the Constitution.

“Conflict between Provision of Section 162(1) and Laws Establishing Some Agencies of Government.

“Whereas Section 162 1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As Amended) provides that All Revenues with few exceptions should be paid into the Federation Account, the laws establishing some Agencies of Govern ent grant them authority to collect, retain and use revenues but remit on y the operating surplus to Government Coffers. In most cases, these Agencies do not even remit anything at all to Government. The Commission is of the view that such laws should be reviewed and all revenues collected by such Agencies of Government paid to the Federation Account as provided in the rule ant Sections of the Constitution. Furthermore, the Commission recommends that necessary steps be taken to reconcile Section 162 (1) and Section 80 (1) of the Constitution with the view to determining which agencies of government should remit revenue into the Federation Account”.

The Chairman of the Committee, while commenting on the presentation of the Commission, said the Committee will address their concerns.

He, however, warned the agency not to operate beyond its statutory mandate of mobilizing funds.