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INEC’s N305b election budget: Matters arising

By Editorial Board
31 May 2022   |   3:03 am
The recent release of the budget of N305 billion by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2023 General elections has raised some eyebrows by various stakeholders.

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu.<br />Photo/FACEBOOK/inecnigeria

The recent release of the budget of N305 billion by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2023 General elections has raised some eyebrows by various stakeholders.

The budget which was increased by about 61.37 per cent or N115 billion over the N189 billion spent in 2019 is considered humongous by many. The excuse put forward by INEC for this huge increase is the change in the economic parameters of consumer price index or inflation and exchange rate depreciation relative to the situation in 2019.

The INEC narrative indicates that while the naira-U.S. dollar exchange rate was N305 in the official market in 2019, it is N420 and about N565 in the parallel market.

Inflation rate which was about 11.5 per cent in 2019 is currently recorded as over 16 per cent. Other justifications put forward by INEC in defence of the over 60 per cent increase in the budget also include the immense size of the country, the number of registered voters, number of polling units, number of electoral constituencies and the enormous number of personnel and material requirements for the forthcoming elections. While some of these justifications may not be totally faulted, there may be a number of issues that need to be considered by the Commission in coming up with a more realistic position in relation to the conduct of the 2023 General Elections.

First, what is the global best practice in the conduct of elections, particularly in countries with relatively similar circumstances to Nigeria? How are election materials procured? Are these done centrally or through the government bureaucratic system? How has the experience of past elections in terms of voter turnout affected the budget estimates? Experience in Nigeria since the return of democracy in 1999 indicates that voter turnout has never exceeded 50 per cent of the documented voter population for all categories of elections. This suggests that virtually 50 per cent of election materials are wasted after elections.

Alternatively, INEC officials being fully aware of this trend might have been taking advantage of this trend and thus helping themselves with the difference in budgetary provisions. These issues need further investigation. The other issue is that the voter’s register needs to be cleaned up. The rate of increase in the size of the register may not be realistic as many names there are those of dead persons. Since when has INEC cleaned up the register to expunge the names of dead persons or even those who have permanently relocated from Nigeria? The continuous expansion of the register leaves a bloated number for the size of the voting population which of course has cost implications for the country.

On another account, it may be noted that not all materials need to be purchased in every election cycle. Capital items such as vehicles do not have to be purchased every four years. Even for ballot boxes, in some developing countries such as Sri Lanka, the boxes are reportedly made of carved wood which helps to save cost as well as act as a disincentive for ballot box snatching which is part of our political history in relation to elections. It is also worthy to note that for virtually every election cycle, INEC receives funding support for the elections from foreign donors such as the European Union among others. How are these funds applied? Do they not affect the budgetary provisions for the elections? These external donations which usually come in foreign currencies should also confer on INEC some exchange rate differential benefits if applied in procuring materials locally. These are some of the questions that need to be clarified in relation to the budgetary estimates put forward by INEC.

Hence putting the blame entirely on the rate of inflation and the exchange rate between 2019 and 2022 for the humongous increase in the size of the budget for the 2023 elections may not be tenable. The effect of the exchange rate may already be reflected in the rate of inflation to a large extent. Moreover, what proportion of the materials used by INEC is imported?

Finally when last was the account of INEC audited, for the various elections to determine lapses that need to be addressed? These audits, if any, should be made public to provide answers to some of the posers being raised. It will assist the public to appreciate the work of INEC and if proven, applaud them for good efforts in the management of the electoral process in the country. People need answers to these questions since a lot of stakeholders strongly feel that the INEC can be more prudent than is presently stated. This is more so in this era when there is a clarion call for government and its ministries, departments and agencies to embrace the culture of reducing the cost of governance in the overall interest of the Nigerian society.

Ultimately, Nigeria can hardly afford or sustain the regular humongous increases in election budgets. Democracy may be generally expensive, but it behoves every country to look inwards and seek an indigenous solution to the cost issue else it drowns the gains or dividends of democracy. Failure to explore prudence in organising elections will serve as a disincentive to free and fair elections as well as open avenues for corrupt practices.