Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The next Nigerian elections will likely be the most important ever conducted. One reason is because Nigerians will be stuck with the winners of the January polls for anywhere between 4 to 8 years. Even more significant is the fact that if, 12 years after a return to democratic rule, Nigeria is unable to carry out credible elections, there may not be many more opportunities to create a truly democratic system of government.

INEC announced that it needed at leasN74 billion by August 11th. That money was needed to not only create a new voter's register and train 360,000 personnel, but to conduct federal and state-government elections in less than six months. The Senate, which had been on vacation, met on August 10th to discuss the issue. During the meeting, Senators reviewed INEC's request and a letter from President Goodluck Jonathan in which he asked for approximately N90 billion for election purposes. President Jonathan assured the Senate that the sale of federal government bonds would cover the cost. According to Punch Newspaper, the additional amount was requested to fill all "funding gaps for the 2011 general elections." The Senate eventually agreed to give INEC $87.7 billion. That amount breaks down to include the following: 
  1. N4 billion for vehicles
  2. N3 billion for collapsible ballot boxes 
  3. N5.4 billion for the review of the voter register
  4. N10.8 billion for operations (personnel cost requirements and cost for registration of voters nationwide)
  5. N222 million for hotel accommodation for state INEC commissioners
  6. N3.66 billion for logistics and transport
  7. N502.5 million for training of staff for voter registration
  8. N10.3 million for printing of voter register 
  9. N5.4 billion to clean up the electronic voter register after election
  10. N155.5 million for Servicom
  11. N64.78 million for electoral hazards allowance
  12. N222 million for voter education, display of voter register across the 774 Local Government Areas
In reaction to the budget approval, the Senate's speaker, David Mark, said,
"We have expressed our reservations. In spite of the reservations, we don't want to give INEC or anybody an excuse for not conducting a credible election next year... [w]e have gone the extra mile to do this so that INEC can deliver credible election in 2011 that will meet international standards."
Other senators, such as Victor Ndoma-Egba and Anyim Ude had similar views.

With this in mind, the legislative exercise of reviewing and approving a budget for the nation's election-governing body was a sad display of an inherent lack of professionalism, transparency and commitment to the fundamental elements of democracy and governance. Despite adequate knowledge of the need to address INEC's budgetary crisis, both houses of the legislature opted to remain on holiday. INEC chair, Attahiru Jega, informed the legislature that he would need $74 billion by August 11th to have any chance of conducting credible elections.

The 'distinguished' members of the Nigerian Senate did not convene until august 10th in what was referred to as an emergency session in the press. The 'honorable' members of the House of Representatives could not be bothered to meet before then either as the lower body will only meet on August 12th. It is expected that like the Senate, they will approve INEC's budget request. Such a lackadaisical attitude to their duty to promptly and adequately address the issue of funding INEC reinforces the well-voiced criticisms that Nigerian officials are only concerned about their pockets. This belief is hard to dismiss, especially as legislators earn between $1.7 mm (Senators) to $1.4 mm (Representatives). That money, plus government-issued allowances, power and connections practically ensures that these men and women will win reelection come 2011. As such, it is no surprise that they show their disinterest in creating the right environment for credible elects so explicitly.

Similarly, President Jonathan's behavior during the days that led up to the budget approval must be called into question. Unconfirmed news reports alleged that he had instructed the Minister of Finance to make the money requested by the election body available. Jonathan did, in fact, send a yet unseen in public, letter to the Senate in which he encouraged them to quickly approve INEC's budget. Interestingly, he requested a budget of approximately $90 billion , almost $15 billion more than what INEC actually asked for. The details of why Jonathan would inflate INEC's budget especially, when he himself asked for a 40% cut across the board in  spending, remain unclear. However, given the fact that he increased the budget for Nigeria's 50th independence celebrations by over 161%, the inconsistency should come as little surprise. Disappointingly, Jonathan's uncommitted approach to getting INEC the financial support it needs reflects many things. Arguably, it reflects the fact that his guarantee of free and fair elections is hollow, and/or he is powerless to stand up to the legislative body and thus could not, as Commander in Chief, compel them to act quicker. If either scenario is the case, things do not look good for the future of Nigerian democracy. Having a leader whose words are useless will relegate the people to continued suffering with little say in the nations future. And, if Jonathan is too weak to stand up to the politicians who were responsible for his ascension to the proverbial political throne, then there will never be a chance of peaceably changing the status quo as the legislative body, which is the beneficiary of things remaining the same, will be too strong to challenge.

Conducting credible elections are always a daunting task, particularly in a country as large and complex as Nigeria. With less than 6 months before the next election period INEC faces a difficult challenge and hopefully, it can achieve it's mandate. However, that will be impossible if Nigerian officials fail to adequately support INEC or at least not interfere with it's duties, the challenge will be insurmountable. The approval and dispersal of funds to finance INEC is a step in the right direction, but now, it is time for INEC and all other parties to commit to credible elections not just via their words, but via their deeds.

From the Archives:
- Nigeria's Legislators Aren't Serious About Elections
The Nigerian Coup Nobody Saw Coming
- Nigeria's 'Distinguished', 'Honorable' & Useless
Chinyere Igwe: Reflective of a Bigger Nigerian Issue
Getting The Senate We Paid For
Getting The House Of Representatives We Paid For

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