Sunday, 28th May 2023

Unbundling N254bn budget for 2019 elections

By Tope Templer Olaiya, Features Editor
23 July 2018   |   4:23 am
Last week Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote to the Senate requesting the lawmakers to approve the sum of N254,445,322,600 to be drawn from the 2018 and 2019 budgets to prosecute the 2019 general election.

INEC chairman Prof Mahmoud Yakubu

Last week Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari wrote to the Senate requesting the lawmakers to approve the sum of N254,445,322,600 to be drawn from the 2018 and 2019 budgets to prosecute the 2019 general election.

While the budget for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the entire sum is N194 billion, security agencies in the country, including the Office of the National Security Adviser, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the Nigeria Police Force and the DSS, are to share the remaining amount in the budget.

The total police budget for the elections stands at N30.5 billion; the Office of the National Security Adviser, N4.2 billion; the Department of State Services, N12.2 billion; NSCDC, N3.5 billion and the Nigeria Immigration Service, N2.6 billion.

A further breakdown of the 2018 virement proposal sent to the National Assembly for the 2019 general election by president contains as follows: N310 million for the NSCDC to feed and administer drugs to dogs that will be deployed in states for the 2019 elections; N7 million for the police to feed 50 horses that would be used for patrol during the elections, which will take place between February 16 and March 2, 2019; N499.5 million for hiring of speedboats; N87.5 million by the police for the maintenance of aircraft and N407 million for maintenance of the vehicles to be used for election monitoring; and N126 million by the Nigerian Immigration Service for printing name tags for its personnel that would be involved in the elections while N166 million was requested for pre-election training, among other sundry items.

INEC’s director of Voter Education and Publicity, Oluwole Osaze Uzzi, in a TV programme had hinted that the commission’s share of the budget would be spent on overhead cost and logistics, which include hiring of vehicles, acquiring generators and mattresses for staff across the country. He said: “I can give you a hint on some of the heads covered by the budget which are personal cost. We also have to get enough card readers and enhance them for the elections.

Uzzi, who highlighted the need for upgrade of the card readers, said: “You do know that your laptops, even in the best storage conditions, don’t work efficiently and effective as they did eight years ago. Technology has moved on. So, with the improvement of technology we have to enhance the card readers and voters cards.”

Details of the spending on the elections have pitched many Nigerians against the presidency, with the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the country arguing that the said amount is too high. They have also advocated intensive scrutiny of the proposal by the Senate.

On August 12, 2010, the House of Representatives approved N87.7 billion for the 2011 general election with a charge that INEC cannot afford to fail in conducting a credible election in the country.

In 2015, though INC proposed N93 billion, Nigeria spent a total of N108.8 billion to conduct the 2015 general elections, which produced President Muhammadu Buhari, 31 governors, 109 senators and 360 House of Representatives members, as well as thousands of state assembly members.

The breakdown of the amount per the 68,833,476 registered voters translated to N1,749.38 per voter or $8.33 at the exchange rate of N210 per dollar at that time. The amount per Nigerian voter compared favourably to the 2011 general election budget with a provision of $9 or N1,890 per voter.

As at June 14, of this year, 9,700,998 Nigerians have been added by INEC in its continuous voters registration exercise to the 68,833,476 registered voters in 2015 election, making the updated voters’ register a total of 78,534,474. If all of this number votes on election day in 2019, then N3,240 would have been expended on an average voter for the two-day exercise.

The innovation of the Permanent Voter’s Card (PVC) and smart card readers to the general elections was explained as the huge difference of about N21 billion between the expenditures on general elections in 2011 and 2015.

Apart from outrightly disbanding the voters’ register used for the 2011 elections, which contained names like Mike Tyson, Bill Clinton, Muhammed Ali etc, and beginning a fresh registration of all eligible Nigerians, INEC’s leadership under Prof. Attahiru Jega in 2014 had said the investment in PVCs and card readers was with an eye on saving the country further costs in the future.

The current proposal of N254 billion then deflates the logic espoused by the INEC boss prior to 2015 election. With a difference of about N150 billion and less investment in technology, stakeholders have called on the presidency to come up with convincing explanations for the huge expenditure.

A civil engineer, Deji Olanipekun, said: “From the records, if in 2011, the Nigerian elections was conducted with about N87 billion, in 2015 with about N93-108 billion under the Jonathan administration, hyped to be the most corrupt, it beggars belief that today, being the most sincere regime, which touts itself as a regime of integrity, we want to conduct the 2019 election with N244 billion. That means what recently happened in Ekiti governorship election, the vote and buy strategy is a dress rehearsal for next year’s election.

“But this is the issue I have, why has the minimum wage of N18,000 for a Nigerian worker remained the same since 2010 if budget and expenditures keep going up for non-living entities. Seriously, it doesn’t add up. This is why we need intelligent, sincere and honest leaders in this country.

In his reaction, the executive director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Center (PLAC), Clement Nwankwo, decried the rising cost of elections in the country, even as he questioned the procedure used in seeking for the funds.

He said: “INEC’s budget is N194 billion. I don’t know why they are adding security money into it. The question is why are we spending so much? There is even a more sinister situation here. The budget is being prepared based on virement from existing expenditure head and majority of that virement is coming from monies that the National Assembly has set aside for constituency projects. So, that is even a much more confusing situation with the budget.

“We have the DSS with a huge budget as well as the office of the NSA with its own budget. So, I worry why security is taking so much money for elections. Elections are getting very expensive in this country and we shouldn’t be spending this much on elections.”

On his part, the executive director of Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Adetokunbo Mumuni, who raised some questions over the estimated figures, charged the National Assembly to diligently scrutinize the election budget. He however noted that the president was only working based on what the security agents and INEC came up with and submitted to him.

“If what we hear is that the president relied on figures and estimates from INEC and security agents, then the next question therefore is how are we sure that the amount submitted by INEC and security agents are indeed what they need? So, it goes back to the same question. Whatever that is appropriated must be fully accounted for and must be transparently spent. That is important in a democracy.

In a democracy, there can be no hide and seek. Every little cash must be made open on the table so that a government that is fighting corruption must be seen to be preventing corruption. but I have little expectation from the National Assembly, because I don’t believe in the transparency of the National Assembly. You remember that Prof Jega who used to head INEC publicly said when the National Assembly says they are doing oversight function, which is part of their responsibility, they end up using it to blackmail people to demand money.

Also, the executive director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Mr. Auwal Rafsanjani, expressed concern that election is increasingly becoming a serious financial burden for the country’s economy because of lack of proper institutionalisation of election processes. He lamented that issues like voters registration, which is supposed to be continuous, procurements of certain electoral materials, which are not necessarily attached to election cycle period and a whole lot of activities that shouldn’t be attached to election cycle period are causing unnecessary huge election budget.

Meanwhile, in a recent interaction with newsmen in Lagos, INEC’s chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, decried the huge expenses election is costing the country. He said: “In France, ballot papers are simply A4 sheets, but here our ballot papers have the same security features like our currency and they are guarded like our currency too.

“All sensitive materials are kept at the vaults of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in Abuja and even for staggered elections like Ekiti and Osun, they are only moved few days to the state capitals under the same intense security like bullion vans. All these things cost a lot of money in logistics, planning and implementation. In other parts of the world, elections are done in a simplistic and less costly way. In our own case, election is done as if the whole country has to suspend all its activities to hold elections.

“So, the question we need to ask ourselves is why is it that in other parts of the world credible elections are done with less cost implication?”