Politics: Huge cost of trust  Daily Parrot

Buhari and INEC Chairman 2023

The parlous state of Nigerian economy that has made paupers of otherwise  hardworking men and women has made shrewd management of common resources more imperative now than ever before.  It has therefore been advocated by many — activists, intellectuals and professionals — that areas such as the legislature, moribund or overstaffed executive bodies and agencies, as well as unnecessary travels should be pruned.

One other area that requires urgent attention is the cost of conducting elections. In 2019, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) put the cost of the general election at about N240 billion.  For the next set of elections, the commission projects it would spend about N305 billion. This does not include the annual budget of N40 billion for the commission’s operations. This is about the combined size of Ebonyi, Ekiti and Nasarawa states’ budgets.

This is not sustainable. But what could be done as elections remain the only acceptable mode of leadership recruitment in a democracy? What could be the cause of this prohibitive cost? Granted that the electoral roll has about 90 million Nigerians, that is the total population of many African countries, mutual suspicion among Nigerians, especially among politicians, puts pressure on the electoral management body to always prove its neutrality.  This comes at a cost.

The commission is also saddled with a constitutional duty of observing all primaries and meetings of the political parties at all levels. Ballot papers have to be printed like the currency abroad to assure opposition parties that government did not manipulate the system.

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Logistics and security remain major challenges. Nothing could be taken for granted. Even now that the Electoral Act allows for electronic accreditation, collation and transmission of results, INEC has made provision for some form of manual back-up. Our politicians approach elections as war commanders prepare for wars. Their main strategy is not just to overawe their oppnents through the ballot box, but to exploit every loophole in the law. Again, the commission is then forced to keep tweaking with the process at a cost; previously deployed materials are discarded and new ones procured.

Twenty-three years after resumption of the democratic journey, Nigeria ought to have made more progress than it has. Development,  socially,  economically and structurally too, ought to have garnered more speed. One thing that must be done urgently is to drastically cut the cost of governance. All those who use their position in the electoral system to cheat the nation should be prosecuted. According to Senator Kabiru Gaya who heads the INEC committee of the federal upper legislative chamber, only about one per cent of the almost 900,000 electoral offenders in 2011 and 2019 polls were arraigned and prosecuted. One main reason for this is protection by godfathers who regularly engage rough necks to perpetrate various forms of violence,  snatch ballot boxes and get officials to alter result figures. This embodens them to do the same at subsequent polls at great cost to the system.

This must change in 2023 if the financial burden is to be reduced.

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