The recent declaration by the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof Attahiru Jega, that the body requires N92.9billion to conduct the 2015 elections is raising questions, writes Shola Oyeyipo
Agreeably, conducting elections requires huge financial, administrative and logistical operations. This must have informed the position of the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega in his foreword to the body's strategy plan for 2012 and 2016 where he enumerated the complex nature of holding elections in Nigeria and around the world.
Jega listed among other things, professional training of multitude of electoral officers and ad-hoc or temporary poll workers, designing and delivering voters' education, registering voters, regulation of political parties, monitoring political party campaigns, procurement of hundreds of election materials in enormous quantities, developing voting and counting procedures, liaising with stakeholders, dealing with security, adjudicating electoral disputes as some of the aspects of conducting elections that gulp money.
He acknowledged that things must be done within specific time-frame set by laws and that in doing those, the electoral body has employed a number of innovative approaches, some of which are now considered best practices to improve the management and conduct of elections. They include the use of information and communication technology, adoption of more transparent and inclusive processes, professionalisation of the organisation, amendments to legal framework and improvement of relationships with external stakeholders, amongst others.
According to Jega, these experiences were factored into the production of INEC's strategy plan to which he said: "I am confident that this strategic plan will help the commission to manage electoral processes better, plan for change in a systematic approach, adapt processes based on new information and the changing political, financial or cultural environments, and foster better communication within and outside the commission."
But despite this agenda by INEC, Jega recently briefed the Senate Committee on INEC headed by Senator Andy Uba, at a one-day stakeholders' forum and said the 2015 elections would gulp N92.9billion. The declaration was however met with stringent criticism by members of the public.
Ironically, the criticism that greeted Jega's tentative monetary demand did not seem to take cognisance of the fact that he had even noted that the coming election would cost the nation less, compared to previous elections.
For instance, the body projected that the cost for the 2015 elections would be reduced by about $1 (N160) as against the $8.8 (N1,478) in 2011 to $7.9 representing almost a 10 % decrease in cost, which is about N1,264 per voter for a total of 73.5 million voters. Jega however added that the guiding principle for the commission has been to make elections more cost-effective and to give Nigerians better value for their money. He said the commission wished to meet its funding requirements ahead of the elections, and hoped to hold the elections between January and February 2015 to allow for time to resolve all litigations that could arise from the exercise. But Nigerians are not swayed. Many are of the view that despite the huge financial investments in INEC since the Fourth Republic and the consistent promises to give Nigerians credible election, the body has continued to fail the people.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Fred Agbaje, wondered why INEC required as much as it is demanding for the election. His position tallied with that of the Senate President, Senator David Mark, who craved credible election.
"The 2015 election should never be about funding, but on how we can have a free and fair election where votes will count. Not the type of shenanigans that took place in the name of election in Anambra State," Agbaje said.
He argued that the financial demands of the body were rather wasteful, saying "What on earth does INEC need $515m for; another aimless jamboree? $7 per voter? How many voters do actually turn out for elections? What happens to the $7 of those voters who do not turn out? And how did INEC arrive at $7?
"Electoral fraud has now been extended to INEC funding fraud. INEC's concern should be how to conduct a meaningful and credible election and not money. The previous money INEC got in respect of past woeful elections, what became of them? It's more money, more fraud and woeful elections results. INEC's priority now should be on relevant logistics for the conduct of credible election. Nothing more," Agbaje said. During Jega's presentation, Mark, who was represented by the Majority Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, specified that the conduct of a credible election is paramount as it would confer legitimacy to elected officials. "If elections are not credible, the public will not see those elected as authentic but they would be seen as impostors. If elections are credible, those elected would be regarded as authentic."
He therefore admonished Jega and INEC to take a cue from the recent Anambra governorship election and "do a postmortem, so that we can improve on the identified failings during the election as we move towards 2015″.
Generally, it is believed that INEC under Jega has been receiving so much money for elections. There are also those who are already apprehensive that with the benefit of hindsight, the current figure for 2015 general election might escalate as it was during the 2011 election.
The cost of the 2011 general election, it would be recalled, was put at a staggering N470.78 billion, which represented about 1.9 percent of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Several international observers referred to the electoral process as very expensive and among world records in terms of costly elections.
Controversy over the cost of elections is not new. In 2007, INEC submitted a supplementary budget of N19.7 billion to the House of Representatives as a result of its delay in submitting to the budget office on time. This was followed by outcries. Then Special Adviser to the president on Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit, Professor Adekunle Wahab, criticised INEC for inflating its budget by N34million. He reminded the legislators that its original budget of N70billion forwarded to the budget office for 2006 budget was slashed to N52billion.
"Most people accused us of removing the butter from their bread. When the butter is too much on the bread, it becomes difficult to know whether you want to eat bread or butter". Also in 2007, the Chairman, House Committee on Finance, Alhaji Umar Abubakar, queried why N3billion was set aside for the purchase of ballot boxes in the supplementary budget, after same amount was approved for the same item in the 2006 budget.
Piqued by the huge public funds that would be wasted if the funds were approved for INEC, and the fact that the people always feel shortchanged by the outcomes of most elections, many are grumbling. Their concern is not just about the cost of the election, but more of a demand for value for money. The only way this could be achieved, observers thought, is by giving the people free, fair and credible elections. And where this is not so, INEC should make bold to declare that such elections are not acceptable.