The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently presented a N38 billion expenditure to the Nigerian government as the robust financial basis to conduct the 2003 general elections. Of the amount, N8 billion would be needed to complete the voter registration exercise while about 400 million ballot papers would be required for the elections.
The INEC chairman, Dr. Abel Guobadia had similarly underscored the demand for the huge sum of money by reminding Nigerians that it was imperative to be properly funded in order to be able to squarely face the logistic requirements of electioneering which is based upon 30 registered political parties.
All Nigerians agree that the 2003 elections represent a major test case of our national democratic endeavour and our ability to pass the test of transition that has eluded us twice in the past, in 1966 and 1983. It is the fear that we might get it wrong again if the necessary things are not put in place that should make all of us pause.
Many commentators have been critical of the electoral body in recent times, seeing it as an extension of the ruling party's determination to win a second term in the upcoming elections. However, the financial constraints the same government imposes on INEC have served to puncture some of the most strident criticisms, which have not taken into cognisance the battle of funding the body has been fighting with the Obasanjo presidency.
It has become very urgent to remind the government that the funding of INEC should be made a top priority item of expenditure as we approach the elections. This would help us achieve an acceptable basis for elections, strengthen the democratic transition and push the onus of failure or success onto the shoulders of INEC.
We also want to warn that with 30 political parties potentially on the ballot, INEC has to be empowered financially to be able to cope with the expectations of Nigerians during the 2003 elections.
A cursory peep into the history of Nigeria has shown that the failure of transition between civilian regimes have always been hinged upon the very shoddy performance of the electoral commissions amongst many other problems.
We must therefore renew the commitment to break the jinx that has haunted the democratic transition over the decades, and as a result has foisted upon our country the albatross of military dictatorship with the attendant negative concomitants.
It is this background that explains our support for an urgent release of the appropriations due to INEC so that the body can get its act together, especially now that the timetable for the elections has been released and the parties are engaged in the process of primary elections which should present the list of their candidates for the 2003 elections.
If funding is the main problem that can largely determine the success or failure of INEC during the critical elections of 2003, then President Obasanjo should direct the immediate release of the funds required to protect the democratic future of our country. Please act fast.