N305bn election spend fails to dent familiar logistical nightmares
As early as 7:00am, over a dozen prospective voters had already converged at Polling Unit 025, Obalende, Eti-Osa LGA, but as of 9:00am, officials of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) had yet to arrive.
It was the same scene at a polling station in Umuahia, Abia state’s Umuda Isingwu village, where Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s former finance minister and current World Trade Organization chief, had come to vote.
” I have been waiting for one hour. Many villagers have been here since 7 a.m. It is 11.23 a.m. now. Where are the INEC officers?” She tweeted about it on her Twitter account.
From Imo to Delta and many parts of Lagos, thousands of voters were stranded, waiting for the officials of the electoral commission to arrive. Some voters began to organise themselves and began holding their own elections.
In many polling stations, the BVAS machine failed. After waiting for nearly half an hour, Nyesom Wike, the Rivers State Governor, could not be validated to cast his vote at Polling Unit 8, Ward Nine, Rumueprikon, Obio-Akpor, following the failure of the Bio-Modal Voter Accreditation System (BIVAS).
But this is not the only case. When the machine is not disputing the voter’s gender, it is simply not responding. The adhoc official kept hitting and taking it up in the air at different angles in one polling unit, ostensibly looking for a network. At some polling units, after accreditation, it could not transmit results, adding to tensions in an already charged environment.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) proposed N305 billion for the conduct of the 2023 general election last May, a 62 percent increase over what was spent on the 2019 general elections, but pouring more money into the elections has not alleviated the familiar frustration of Nigeria’s old logistical nightmare.
On February 25, the results of a country whose institutions have no commitment to excellence and a people too comfortable with mediocrity were on full display. Despite loud assurances, the electoral umpire didn’t live up to the billing.
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Elections across the world are generally expensive. In the 2020 United States presidential elections, political parties and interest groups involved in the election spent over $14 billion. The United States is an advanced democracy, and its problems are mostly engineered to serve some interests. The organization of Nigeria’s elections has not even the pretense that competence is worth considering.
Globally, the average Cost per Registered Voter Index (COVI) measures the adequacy of election funding, and stable democracies spend on average between $1 and $3 on the average cost per voter. In transitional democracies, it ranges from $4 to $8, while the cost is fixed at $9 and above in post-conflict democracies. Elections are often more expensive in countries without strong democratic traditions.
Using the metrics above, INEC has drawn up its budgets to accommodate for exigencies. INEC has put the cost per voter for the 2023 election at an estimate of $5.39, with a target of 100 million registered voters for the election. Using the N565 to $1 parallel market exchange rate, the Commission budgeted N305 billion for the 2023 elections.
During the last general elections, INEC spent N189.2 billion. The cost per voter was fixed at $6.24 at an exchange rate of N305, with a total of 84 million registered voters.
INEC spent N108.8 billion to conduct the 2015 general elections. The breakdown of the amount per the 68, 833, 476 registered voters translates to N1,749.38 per Nigerian voter, or $8.33 at the exchange rate of N210 per dollar at the time.
Against the backdrop of an economy in ruins under Buhari’s regime, the emergence of Peter Obi on the Labour Party ticket has galvanized voters like never before, leading to a surge in voter registration, a development that would have informed better planning.
Nigeria’s 2023 election budget is largely informed by the number of registered voters and the creation of 56,873 new polling units. A few days ago, the Central Bank said it had made cash available for INEC despite the rest of Nigerians queuing for cash in empty automated teller machines across the country.
INEC’s 2023 budget shows that 77 percent of the total budget went into logistics. Yet logistics, closely followed by violence, would dog the 2023 general elections, creating conditions where legal cases would flood the courts after the elections.
Mahmood Yakubu, the INEC chairman, said contingency arrangements have been put in place in areas where elections could not be held or where thugs made off with election materials.
While voting resumed in some areas marred by violence, the INEC boss assured those in line by 2:30, when the polls were supposed to close, that they would be able to vote.
In his briefing, the INEC chairman insisted that specific cases would be investigated and that those areas where elections could not be held on Saturday, like in some local governments in Delta State, would be moved to Sunday.
Some analysts are calling for accountability, as the failure of logistics is often evidence of poor planning. They also called on INEC to consider staggering the election to ensure better security and improved logistical arrangements.
Despite the problems, the 2023 presidential vote has witnessed a massive turnout, including in areas like the South east where many voters had previously been uninterested. The Nigerian government spends months urging Nigerians to come out and cast their votes; it would seem its energy would be better spent improving the capacity of INEC and security agencies to conduct viable elections.