Unsustainable cost of elections in Nigeria
Proposal by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to spend N305 billion on the conduct of the 2023 general elections once again raises the question as to whether or not Nigerians are paying too much for their democracy; and whether, given the parlous state of the national economy, the process can be sustained. This amount is exclusive of the Commissions annual allocation, said to be N40 billion. Notably, the 2019 general elections cost tax payers over N242 billion. In spite of this humongous amounts expended, the country’s general elections have not been free of violence, electoral fraud, malpractices and voters’ apathy. Statistics revealed that less than four persons, out of every 10 eligible voters, determined the outcome of the 2019: the lowest presidential election turnout Nigeria has recorded since independence. This begs the question, what is responsible for the high cost of Nigeria’s elections? Does allocating more resources guarantee a fair and credible election? And how can the country reduce the cost to a more affordable level?
Following the conduct of the Anambra State gubernatorial election, the INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, admitted that the cost of the election was higher than those of other recent elections in Edo and Ondo states, due to the “very unusual circumstances” as the Commission had to rebuild its burnt offices amongst other things. Indeed these “unusual circumstances” which border on electoral violence, fraud, selfish ambitions and other forms of malpractices remain the bane of Nigeria’s electoral challenges and high cost of election processes. Most politicians perpetuate these acts in order to get into political offices which allow them unfettered access to state resources. And as long as corruption continues to strive in Nigeria, the nation will continue to witness the influx of corrupt politicians, a general sense of insecurity during elections and a major part of its resource allocated to the replacement of electoral materials, facilities and provision of security. In ideal climes, the rewards of public office are not fueled by personal pecuniary gains at the expense of the ordinary people but an innate desire to contribute to the growth and development of the society.
While the Electoral Act prescribes a punishment of 12 months imprisonment or a maximum fine of N500,000 or both for giving or receiving bribes at an election, several video clips of political party agents distributing money, textile materials, and other items to voters to buy votes during elections could be found in the public space, yet reports of an arrest or prosecution on this premise are scarce. The Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Kabiru Gaya, revealed that INEC has achieved less than 1% prosecution of the 870,000 and over 900,000 alleged electoral offences reported during the 2011 and 2015 general elections.
Sometime in 2019, INEC chairman while making a case for the establishment of an Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal, sought to excuse the poor prosecution of electoral offences, which he blamed on the lack of capacity to arrest offenders and conduct investigations, powers constitutionally vested in the Police. According to him, a case may go on for several years and most were actually dismissed for want of diligent prosecution while in others, attorneys-general in some states entered nolle prosequi to get the alleged offenders off the hook. He further admitted that “even where the commission recorded the most successful prosecution of electoral offenders following the violence witnessed in a bye-election in Kano State in 2016, it is unclear how many of the 40 offenders sentenced to prison with the option of fine actually spent time in jail. The fine was paid presumably by their sponsors.”
Perhaps swayed by these arguments, the National Assembly in its wisdom on of July 13, 2021, passed a Bill seeking to establish an Electoral Offences Commission, the Bill which amongst others proposes stiffer sanctions for electoral offences, empowers the Commission to investigate electoral offences, prosecute electoral offenders and maintain records of all persons investigated and prosecuted. Indeed any attempt to further strengthen relevant legislation as would ensure the growth and development of the nation’s democratic process should be supported.
However, is the establishment of such a Commission the answer to the nation’s poor rate of prosecution of electoral offences? Would the Commission once established not liaise or require the support of the police and other security agencies in the discharge of its functions? Are the powers of the Commission not to be subjected to the provisions of Sections 174 of the Constitution which empowers the Attorney General of the Federation and the states respectively to institute, continue, takeover or discontinue criminal proceedings against any person? The poor rate of prosecution of electoral offences or absence of same is not for want of a relevant agency but the absence of the political will by the appropriate authorities to do so. The powers now sought to be vested in the Commission have at all time been vested in relevant security agencies who have failed, neglected and or refused to act upon same without any reprimand, at least to the knowledge of members of the public, by the executive arm of government under whose watch they serve. Thus, the nation suffers not for want of adequate laws but for the enforcement of same. The establishment of such a commission, without the will by the government of the day to punish electoral offences, will only lead to an increase in budgetary allocations for the purpose of the conduct of elections. Unfortunately, this Bill is yet to become law following the refusal of the president to endorse it as it were.
The sustenance of a democratic system is the obligation of every citizen. Those burning down and vandalising INEC’s offices and equipment are not ghosts. Nigerians have a duty to help unravel them for the authorities to bring them to book. Ultimately, INEC must begin to look inward to identify novel and ingenious ways to cut down on cost while sustaining the sanctity of elections and their processes.