By Ifeanyi Ugwuadu
It is often confusing to pin down the government’s expense figures or differentiate budgets from actual spending. The Nigerian government, like most African countries, especially enjoy the distinction of either having zero accountabilities or at best presenting opaque accounts on their spending. It is rather a well-known secret that unspent budgets that are cash backed are never returned to the treasury.
For once, let us look at the basis of the N305 billion budgeted for the 2023 general elections that were held on February 25 and March 18, 2023, against the deliverables promised by INEC. First, it was the excitement built around new registrants that swelled the voter records to nearly 100 million voters. Alongside this was the promise of an election never witnessed in Nigeria in terms of its transparency, technology deployment, and human and other material assets. Nigerians were treated to a new tech lexicon; IREv, BVAS, and so on. “This election can never be rigged” became the epitaph and the signature rhetoric of both the President, Muhammed Buhari and the INEC leadership spearheaded by the chairman, Mahmood Yakubu.
At the mention of the tech-driven process, the youth and enlightened population revved with subdued expectations and surged forward. Suddenly, the PVC acquired a new currency waxing a larger life image. Every eligible voter charged into the melee for a new Nigeria. At the same time, the budgeting funding and the earlier queries on the colossal figure paled into insignificance. The consensus among Nigerians was that if INEC could deliver an election that would be unable to be rigged, altered or tampered with by politicians, then any amount is worth it, just to establish a clean process for electing political leadership.
All this while, preparatory to the election, my rabid mind continued to evoke the memories of one of Nigeria’s ex-international footballers that bears the same first name as the INEC chairman. Placed in front of him was the ball at the penalty spot. The entire nation watched in great anticipation and anxiety at the kick that was to give Nigeria victory. But….in one moment, it was blown away!
Staged against the heroic defence of the Osun and Ekiti States elections and the robustness of the new technology, the deceit and hubris were total and the voting population swallowed it hook line and sinker. At the Chatham House, in London, the grand plan to hoodwink was escalated to international believability.
In their budget defence, INEC claimed it was investing in “top-notch cyber security systems to ward off attacks by hackers against its servers, website and database” and in line with this, it would require N117bn to deploy the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System and the Result Viewing Portal.
The Commission was to develop tighter protocols to ward off attacks from hackers like the one in the Osun governorship elections based on the ’fundamental principle that elections must be efficient and cost-effective to deliver better value for money.’’
Thus, the 2023 elections were built around technology and clean results. There was no difference between what happened in 2019 and this year. If anything, it worsened and exposed the Nigerian system and population to further ridicule.
The 33-member Election Project Planning Committee inaugurated on June 10 2021 with the mandate to undertake a review of the 2019 EPP, develop the 2023 EPP and the required framework for its periodic monitoring and evaluation alongside the implementers are answerable for the apparent failure of this project.
On face value, the 2023 election cost 61.37 per cent more than the 2019 elections. Compared to the consumer price index, forex and other macroeconomic variables, the real terms figures may only differ slightly. Yet, in terms of the number of votes recorded, it was a dismal outing.
The N305billion binge and wasteful budget
The highest budget item gulping 34.51 per cent of the entire election budget was spent on the procurement of “Accreditation Devices” at a total of N117 billion. Other key budget items included; Honoraria for Adhoc Staff put at N23.77 billion, or 7.79 per cent of the budget. Election Logistics Expenses (Movement, Deployment and Retrieval of Men and Materials for Election) gulped N23.01 billion representing 7.54 per cent.
Surprisingly, “Printing of Ballot Papers” cost INEC N20.68 or 6.78 per cent of the budget while another printing heading, ‘printing of result sheets’ cost the country N9.58 billion. This is indeed aggravated wastefulness. Anyone who witnessed the last election would objectively conclude the same in terms of the volumes of papers that were wasted. Hardly would anyone adduce the argument that voter turnout was the reason for the wasted bundles of ballot papers. Take for instance where the so-called number on the voter register at a polling unit was 1,800 and 3000 ballot papers or more were allocated to the Returning Officer. Some voters who waited after voting would have noted hours spent defacing the used ballot papers.
The other item is both the combined N46.78 billion supposedly spent on ad-hoc staff as honoraria and ‘retrieval of men and materials.’ The process for this was simply shambolic– at least in my polling unit and the majority of the Ward where I monitored right up to the collation centre, the whole process was chaotic. A significant number of the ad-hoc staff protested the nonpayment of their honorariums and that caused a delay in the arrival of materials and deployment. In most cases, private vehicles belonging to members of a particular party brought in the materials with the INEC team. So much was budgeted and it failed to impact the process positively. I will leave out other key budget items because they follow the same pattern.
INEC’s general election budgets, runoffs or even staggered State elections are usually based on the number of people who registered for the election. Against this background, N139 billion was spent in 2011 on the 73.5 million registered voters for that year and this comes to N1,893 or $9 per voter. In 2015, N116.3 billion was budgeted at N1,691 or $8.5. The obvious decline in the 2015 budget doesn’t follow familiar patterns considering that it was planned based on higher voter registration. However, in 2019, the figure spiked to 84 million registered voters and N189.2 billion was spent to execute it. Budget based on 100 million registered voters.
According to Dataphyte, of the N444.5 billion spent on general elections in 2011, 2015 and 2019, N255 billion was lost due to low voter turnout. Even so, the fact that ballot papers and result sheets printing come under separate budget heads, shows the level of sleaze and reckless spending that government allows ever again in this badly hampered economy. Combined with its 2023 budget of N50 billion, which increased by 20% from the annual figure of N40 billion, a total of N355 billion would have been spent on this year’s election.
Three States to complete the route and future budgets
The off-cycle election in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi States on November 11, 2023, 2023 would complete the waste so that the remaining budgeted monies can be justifiably pocketed. If the country fails to resolve the money, process, confidence and many other issues of this election, it would be difficult to imagine how we take the next steps if there are indeed steps after this.
A good deal would have resulted in Nigeria winning: Nigeria would have won if the voice of its youth had been allowed to resound in victory. If the political elite had allowed the future of this nation – the youths and women, to win and restore confidence to nation building. The cost will be greater if the spate of ‘japa’, hopelessness and lack of belief in one’s own country spreads. They wanted a country that they wanted to devote their youthful zeal and energy to build. But the political class wouldn’t see the deal and seal it.