By Omeiza Ajayi
The 2019 election budget has stirred so much controversy since it was made public, but part of the controversy is the delay in passing the budget by the National Assembly.
While the executive and the ruling party blame the lawmakers for hurriedly going on a long recess without considering the budget, the national assembly leadership has argued that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration had all the time in the world to present the budget but has now chosen to treat the election as if it were an emergency.
While these two critical arms of government bicker, it is important to look at the budget critically and also examine why it is important to give it the needed legislative backing on time.
The total budget required for the elections is 242.45 billion out of which INEC has proposed a budget of 189.21 billion for the conduct of the 2019 General elections, with the difference going for security.
Months ago, the commission launched its 2019 election project plan, but implementing the plan would prove herculean should the delay in the passage of the INEC budget subsists.
Just yesterday, the commission published the Notice of Election, the first in the series of 14 activities associated with the election.
INEC will issue the Notice of the 2019 General Elections on Friday 17th August, 2018. The Presidential and National Assembly elections are slated to hold on Saturday 16th February 2019 while the Governorship and State Houses of Assembly elections are slated to hold on Saturday 2nd March, 2019.
The 28th April, 2019 is the last date for all elections to have been conducted. Pursuant to Sections 76(2), 116(2), 132(2) and 178(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Section 25 of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) elections shall not hold later than 30 days before the term of office of the last holder of that office.
The National Assembly has gone on its annual recess and its official resumption date is Tuesday 25th September, 2018.
It is important to note that there is a 7 week gap between the current last election date and the actual last date possible by law, that is, from 2nd March to 28thApril, 2019. In addition there needs to be at least a two-week gap between the National and State elections meaning National elections can’t be later than 14th April, 2019.
Abiodun Ajijola, National Coordinator of Election Monitor, a civic group believes that the implication of all these is that the country cannot afford to wait till 25th September 2018 to pass the budget for the 2019 Nigerian General Elections.
“It therefore becomes critical that the National Assembly urgently reconvenes to ensure that there is a budget for next year’s election. Failure to reconvene the National Assembly to pass the INEC budget urgently and long before the official resumption date of 25th September, 2018 is capable of plunging Nigeria into an avoidable and unnecessary constitutional crisis which must be completely avoided”, he stated.
Breakdown of the budget
According to INEC’s election project plan, the 2019 general elections budget proposal of about N189 billion is broken down into four components viz; the Election Operational Cost which is estimated at N134.4 billion; the Election Technology Cost, estimated at N27.5 billion naira while the third component and fourth components of N22.6 billion and N4.6 billion are for Election Administrative Cost , and contingency, respectively.
While there have been outrage in some sections, especially the social media regarding these costs, it is important to understand that in Nigeria, we are mostly paying for our intolerance and greed. Election in Nigeria is war!
But the bottom line according to the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu “budgets are put together putting into consideration the number of registered voters. He stressed that there had been a 17.1 percent increase in the number of registered voters since the last general election.
“As at the 11th of August, the Commission had registered 12.1 million new voters. if you add this to almost 70 million on the register before the 2015 general elections, we have well over 80 million registered voters as we speak, we have a 17.1 percent increase in the voter population over and above the register used it the 2015 general elections”.
“The Commission is going to conduct elections into more constituencies in 2019 than the 2015 general election with the FCT Area Council end of tenure elections coinciding with the general elections in 2019”, he said.
Prof. Yakubu explained that “the Commission would be conducting elections into 1, 558 constituencies across the country. “We are conducting elections into one Presidential Constituency, 109 Senatorial, 360 Federal Constituencies, 991 State Constituencies, 29 State governorship elections, and for the first time the general election is coinciding with the Area Council Elections in the FCT so we are going to conduct 68 elections in the FCT in addition to elections in other constituencies”.
The INEC Chairman also attributed the increase in the Commission’s election budget to the increased number of political parties since the last election and explained that producing ballot papers for 91 political parties as well as monitoring their conventions, Congresses and primaries would cost more.
“We had a little over 40 political parties in 2015 but as at today we have over 91 political parties in Nigeria and we are still considering applications from 140 associations for registration. If half of the political parties field candidates, we are going to process a total of 70,809 nomination forms for the election, if all the 91 political parties present candidates for all the constituencies we will process over 144, 000 applications for the election. So it is really a huge task for the Commission”.
He advanced other reasons to include the increase in the cost of logistics, which include increase in the price of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) which is needed to fuel all the Commission’s vehicles, increase in exchange rate of foreign currencies as compared to 2015 and increase in the number of voting points due to increase in number of registered voters.
One of the most fundamental innovations in the election project plan is the decision of INEC to introduce measures that would allow the visually-impaired to actively participate in the next general elections.
The International Centre for Eye Health ICEH at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine had between 2005 and 2007 conducted the National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey in Nigeria.
The survey showed that an estimated 4.25 million adults aged 40 years in Nigeria are visually impaired or blind. This is a huge figure, but INEC will for the first time engage in deployment of Brailles and Assist I’ve Tactile Balloting Instruments and Biting Cubicles for Physically challenged voters. The project is expected to gulp N150 million.
The commission would at the same time spend N94.5 million in transcribing election materials into Braille. Such materials would include INECs Voting Procedures, Frequently Asked Questions among others.
What is however disheartening in the budget is the allocation of a paltry N25 million for the prosecution of electoral offenders. Since 2011, INEC has not been able to successfully prosecute up to 10 percent of electoral offenders. In fact, after the 2011 general elections, out of nearly a million electoral offenders, the commission was only able to prosecute just 200. Perhaps, the creation of an Electoral Offences Commission would be what is required to restore some level of sanity in the nation’s electoral space.
The commission is supposed to have commenced some trainings for its personnel as well as place orders for election materials. The success of the forthcoming general elections is largely dependent on the cooperation between the executive and the legislative arms of government.