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Still counting the real cost of 2019 general elections

By Emeka Nwachukwu
18 March 2019   |   3:47 am
This year’s general elections may have been concluded technically, with supplementary elections yet to be held in some states notwithstanding. The February 23 Presidential and National Assembly first leg of the exercise may have set the pattern for which subsequent ones would follow after being shifted for one week on election day, February 16, by…

Representative, National Security Adviser, Sanusi Galadima (left); INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu during a press conference on the forthcoming gubernatorial election in Abuja… yesterday. Photo: Lucy Ladidi

This year’s general elections may have been concluded technically, with supplementary elections yet to be held in some states notwithstanding.

The February 23 Presidential and National Assembly first leg of the exercise may have set the pattern for which subsequent ones would follow after being shifted for one week on election day, February 16, by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Addressing a press conference a few hours to its commencement on the fateful day in Abuja, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, had told the entire world that the decision became inevitable in the face of logistical hiccups besetting the commission.

He explained, “Following a careful review of the implementation of the logistics and operational plan and the determination to conduct free, fair and credible elections the commission came to the conclusion that proceeding with the election as scheduled is no longer feasible”.

Apparently miffed by the 11th hour shift, Nigerians characteristically lampooned the electoral umpire for sloppiness, wondering why a body that had mouthed preparedness all along suddenly cancelled the exercise on the very day it was to hold, when the body had three years to prepare for it.

However, the next election day came and citizens trooped out in their numbers to exercise their franchise and choose those to pilot the affairs of the nation in the next four years for both the executive and legislative arms of government starting May 29 this year.

Though incidents of violence, ballot stuffing, snatching of election materials and thuggery were recorded in a good number of states in spite of President Muhammadu Buhari’s widely criticized shoot order given to security agents for ballot box snatchers, dysfunctional smart card readers and late arrival of the commission’s ad hoc staff as well as materials still reared their ugly heads.

Suffice to note that the first shift had its root in materials for the exercise not finding their way to final destinations in good time. Besides, there were mix-ups and other avoidable administrative lapses.

For instance, there were reports that result sheets meant for Imo, Lagos, Kano were found in Gombe, Kwara, Oyo and vice versa.

The missing results’ sheets as well as the ones that were mixed up came to the fore when stakeholders examined sensitive electoral materials that were retrieved from different registration area centres in Owerri.

Also, the Form EC 8B of INEC, which is one of the sensitive election materials meant for Kano State, was found among the materials in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) branch in Dugbe, Oyo State.

Amid these unsavury tales, the cost of the elections, both those already conducted and others yet to be held as supplementary, is still being counted across the country.

A worker tries to carry empty ballot boxes at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on March 8, 2019. – Nigerian voters will go to the polls on March 9 to elect governors and lawmakers in 29 of the nation’s 36 states two weeks after presidential and national assembly elections in which Buhari was elected for a second term. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP)

The economy
IT is a given that the entire nation is shut every election day. This happened in three Saturdays. That means economic activities were grounded and that translates to loss of revenues to government, companies, business concerns, and individuals

The situation would be better appreciated when daily revenue losses in the biggest spare parts markets in Africa, Ladipo, Tin Can Island and Wharf, in Lagos, the country’s economic hub, are computed.

Imagine how much was lost on February 16 when people were forced to stay at home and yet could not perform what they set out to do.

Already, Chief Executive of Financial Derivatives Company Limited, Mr. Bismarck Rewane, estimated that the postponement had cost businesses about $7.605 billion (N2.737 trillion).

The amount is about two per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is approximately $427 billion. He listed the costs associated with the postponement of the elections to include direct cost, disruption cost, opportunity cost, consequential cost, and reputational cost.

In his view, Director General of Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, valued a loss of about $1.5 billion while the President, National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTs), Mr Ken Ukaoha, says the country lost more than N140 billion.

They estimated the real value of loss to near impossibility considering that some states had declared Friday a work-free day. In addition, many businesses and financial institutions also operated half-day on each Fridays of the elections.

More so, journalists, university lecturers as well as international observers and local observers had been deployed to states, lodged in hotels, ready for deployment to the polling centres before the shift and then again during the elections. All these have clear economic implications, they contended.

However, if Onitsha International Market, Anambra State, Alaba International Market, Lagos and other high revenue-yielding businesses are added, the loss in billions of dollars stares one in the face.

Furthermore, the inconclusive polls in some states and supplementary elections for some governorship, federal and states legislative constituents would also gulp more funds to conclude. Obviously, these may not be captured in INEC’s financial outlay.

Officially, the electoral agency got a N189 billion budget to execute the 2019 project. While defending the budget, which is the most expensive in Nigeria’s history, Yakubu had said the increase was necessitated by a number of factors, including additional political parties, increased number of registered voters, among others.

Also, the Director of Voter Education and Publicity of INEC, Oluwole Osaze Uzzi, said INEC budget would be used in procurement of enough card readers, upgrading them for the elections, as well as funding of overhead cost.

Uzzi, who spoke in a television programme, said: “You do know that your laptops, even in the best storage conditions, don’t work efficiently and effectively 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.”

IT has become quite worrisome a trend that after several years of democratic practice, Nigeria still finds it difficult to conduct a violence-free election.

Despite the high military presence witnessed at polling units, the country continues to record increase in the loss of innocent citizens. A mere democratic activity to elect persons for service turns to bloodletting in parts of the country; elections have almost become war.

In a recent report, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room (NCSSR) had revealed that a total of 58 lives were lost during the course of the elections, with Rivers State taking the lead with 28 deaths. This does not include several Nigerians injured and properties destroyed as a result of the fierce battle for governance.

The Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre and Convener, NCSSR, Clement Nwankwo, expressed worry about reports of excessive military involvement in the elections, particularly in the South-South and South-East, specifically Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Imo States.

The security operatives also reported the arrest of 128 persons for alleged vote-related offenses, including ballot box-snatching, vote-trading and impersonation, while a “cache of explosives” was found.

ADDED to the numerous losses is the several precious man-hours sacrificed by the citizenry in their devotion to enthroning a nation that works for the greater good of the people. Schools were closed down on workdays for the four-year ritual, thus denying students learning in the process.

Moreso, the Senate and House of Representatives had in November, taken time off to concentrate on their electioneering campaigns and elections.

Majority of Senators in January stayed away from plenary, a development that forced the only nine Senators present to adjourn sitting for lack of quorum. Much precious time was lost to electioneering, which should have been devoted to good legislative work to better the lots of the people.

Other losses
MILIONS of electorate had travelled far and wide so they could vote where they registered, but got up from bed the next morning after the day’s journey to learn that their money, energy and time had gone down the drain. Accidents would have happened in these futile trips by Nigerians to cast their votes; exact casualty figures are not known.

The closure of borders, the restrictions on movement during the exercise, the deployment of military troops and number of police and security personnel are some inestimable losses Nigeria incurs during each electioneering year.

The expenses of political parties on campaigns and other activities including the great threat of vote buying may be another cost yet to be valued.

According to section 91 of the Electoral Act, 2010 as amended, the maximum expenses to be incurred by a candidate at a presidential election shall be N1 billion; for governorship, it is N200 million.

The act also places a campaign ceiling of N40 million and N20 million for senatorial and House of Representatives’ candidates respectively while it fixes expenses in the state assembly and chairmanship election for an area council at N10 million. But how this is monitored and ascertained is another cause of concern.

The ruling APC had fixed its expression of interest and nomination forms for presidential aspirants at N45 million, while PDP too also fixes a fee of ₦12 million.

Also, while APC fixes N22.5 million for both expression of interest and the nomination forms for governorship aspirants, that of PDP is N6 million for both expression of interest and nomination forms.

Again, APC’s Senate aspirants pays N7 million and N3.8 million for the House of Representatives, while PDP’s Senate and House of Representatives’ aspirants pay N3.5 million and N1.5 million respectively. State House of Assembly aspirants for APC pay N2.5 million, while that of PDP is N600,000.

All these run into several billions of naira for the total number of aspirants in the various elective positions.

Going electronic voting
IF Nigeria must go beyond this level and compete favourably with other countries in the conduct of her polls, it must consider having elections in one day through the adoption of technological approach.

The first step is for President Buhari to sign the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2018,which allows for electronic voting, knowing he has nothing to fear as he wouldn’t be contesting a third tem.

A former Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, once advised that elections in the country, after 2015, should be held same day, saying that staggered elections were costly.

Besides, Jega said holding elections same day was in line with global practices, citing Ghana, Sierra-Leone, the United States and Venezuela as countries that held their elections in one day.

In a recent interview with The Guardian, a professor of Political Science and Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU) Lucky Andrew Afinotan, said it is possible for the country to hold all the elections on a single day, instead of two to three weeks apart, so as to save time and resources and prevent voter apathy.

Afinotan added, “Our present crop of leaders are only interested in perpetuating themselves in power and will not agree to conducting elections electronically in a single day. All our lawmakers want to cling to power for as long as they live. Do you think they would pass into law, the use of technology for elections? It is possible to have all the elections in a day, but they won’t do that because they want to leave room for manipulation and rigging.”