BusinessDay

High cost of elections: A cause of concern

Nigeria will have presidential, governorship, and legislative elections on 25 February and 11 March 2023, and there will be a lot of money spent on running the elections and also on competing in the elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has put forward a budget proposal for N305 billion for the elections with documents from its committee on Election Project Planning (EPP) outlining how the amount would meet the needs of all of INEC’s 23 departments and directorates.

INEC explained that elections cost more per capita in most transitional or post-conflict democratic systems with an average per voter cost of $9 as opposed to $4-$8 in relatively stable but transitional nations and a $3 per voter cost in stable and established societies in the West, Asia, and Oceania, for example.

INEC says it has chosen to work with a $5.39 cost per voter aimed at a projection of 100 million voters in 176,846 polling units at the 774 local governments in the country for the 2023 election and this has led to the ₦305 billion mark that is 61 percent higher than what was spent on the 2019 general election. These are huge amounts that, if the Electoral Act (as amended) is obeyed during the campaign season, will not be surpassed by what is spent by the candidates and parties that are actually competing in the elections.

While speaking at a presentation at the Lagos Business School, Mr Bismarck Rewane, who is a member of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Economic Advisory Council said that as much as N6 trillion could be spent on the 2023 elections with the possibility of 34.65 million votes being available for vote-buying due to the poverty levels of the voters concerned.

Mr. Bismarck said a successful N1.1 trillion investment in the presidential election could be recouped quite easily in two or three years in office. That amount would be 40 percent of capital expenditure (CAPEX) for two years based on the country’s N18 trillion annual budget which has been proposed by the finance minister, Zainab Ahmed, for the fiscal year 2023.

The recently held Ekiti governorship election provides some justification for this projection with so many proven instances of votes being purchased at a range that stood between N5,000 and N10,000. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) made some effort at stemming the situation but its attempts were largely inconsequential and could not be said to have altered the impact of vote-buying with both key sides more likely to have just cancelled each other out at best.

Read also: As crucial elections approach, are Nigerians tired of their political leaders?

The vote trade most definitely corrupts the democratic process and is a factor in many underdeveloped countries such as ours. However, it is very difficult to discount or preach to people selling their votes, not with Nigeria having a 42 percent unemployment rate for people who are in the 15-34 age range and an estimated 23 million unemployed people according to the Unemployment/Underemployment report for the 4th quarter of 2020 by the office of the Statistician-General of Nigeria. It is telling that two years on, we have not had an updated Unemployment report, but that is outside the scope of this piece.

In Nigeria, vote buying happens twice: at the candidate selection level within the parties, and then at the general voting stage which is open to a cynical general public. The difference between the two forms of vote buying, and as a result the amounts involved, is the very large difference in the number of people who have to be bought over. A situation where maybe 200 people have to be bought over would cost less than what is required to handle a market of 23 million vote-sellers, so the amounts getting to each vote-seller would be more. This maths does not factor in the legitimate costs associated with media work, logistics, and other necessary components of the campaign process.

The economy is impacted in several ways by elections.

If the N6 trillion figure given by Mr Rewane is anything close to what the actual amounts involved would be, it is a safe bet that a reasonable portion of that expenditure would be made through transactions in dollars obtained from the parallel foreign exchange market with the attendant effect on the exchange rates that affect trade and inflation for all Nigerians.

The inflow of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has slowed down to a trickle over the last seven years due to the terrible policy decisions made by the Buhari administration and Nigeria’s 2022 economic performance could be abysmal as investors wait for electoral outcomes to ascertain the stability of the country and the identity and leanings of the new leadership.

I hope that the investors are eventually met with a set of outcomes that they would find encouraging, but in the meantime, we will see a slowdown in investment efforts and this is not helped at all by the difficulties that foreign companies are having with taking out their legitimately earned revenues.

Nwanze is a partner at SBM Intelligence

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