• Monday, June 17, 2024
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BusinessDay

INEC’s cost estimate yet unknown days to Edo, Ondo guber polls

Politics is not a Game

Thirty-four days to the gubernatorial election in Edo State and 55 to the same exercise in Ondo State, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is unwilling to disclose to the public, an estimate of what it hopes to spend to conduct the exercises.

Although Festus Okoye, INEC’s national commissioner and chairman of Information and Voter Education, in an exclusive interview with BDSUNDAY, noted that some costs would likely drop following the observance of Covid-19 protocols, he was not willing to put a figure to the question.

Political watchers are of the view that the recent outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic presents INEC with a unique opportunity to devise strategies and innovative ways of conducting elections in view of the peculiarity of the period and expected drop in government revenue and spending.

Speaking on the peculiarity of conducting election in a Covid-19 era, Okoye said the commission had devised strategies on how to respond to the effects of the pandemic on the electoral process and the impending cut in government spending, stressing that a large number of manpower would be needed to conduct a successful election this period.

He said that the commission was taking extra precautions in the conduct of election during this period, noting that the commission would print and deliver ballot papers, result sheets and deploy these materials taking into consideration the Covid-19 protocols.

“Things are still evolving in relation to the cost of conducting elections during this difficult circumstance. In our policy document on conducting elections in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, we made it clear that the broad objective of the policy is to prepare the commission to respond to the effects on the electoral process of the twin challenges of Covid-19 pandemic and looming cuts in government spending and to communicate same to stakeholders,” he said.

According to him, “the commission will provide facemasks for all election officials. It must provide hand sanitisers for all the polling units. It must provide methylated spirit for the Smart Card Readers.

“The commission is also providing infrared thermometers for all the collation centres and is in discussion with the presidential task force on Covid-19 in relation to the provision of thermometers at the polling units”.

The National commissioner further said that in line with the protocols, “we have to observe social distancing in terms of number of buses we hire and other things we do.”

“On the other hand, there are certain things that we can no longer do physically. For instance, some of our meetings are now done virtually, in which case, if we are saving the cost of air transportation and hotel bills, these costs are now ploughed back into providing pharmaceutical interventions, robust media engagements, sensitisation and deepening of technology in this particular election. But in all, I must say that Covid-19 has created challenges for us and has jerked up, just a little bit, the cost of conducting elections,” he said.

Some commentators, who spoke with BDSUNDAY, believed that INEC should make elections in Nigeria less expensive. They also expressed the view that the Edo and Ondo gubernatorial elections needed not to be very costly, as the Commission could carry out some of the assignments virtually. They also said that the Covid-19 afforded INEC a great opportunity to go electronically in the conduct and eventual computation of election results in Nigeria.

A chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and former candidate for the House of Representatives in the 2019 election, Kunle Okunola said with the outbreak of Covid-19, he expected INEC to adopt innovative strategies to conduct election across the country, saying it was obvious that the commission was wasting fund unnecessarily.

Okunola advised INEC to adopt electronic voting to reduce the burden of contesting elections on candidates in the country. He further stressed that electronic voting and tabulation of results were long overdue in Nigeria.

According to him, in view of the outbreak of Covid-19 where a lot of things are now done virtually, I believe that their cost should drop this period, though the electoral body has stipulated duration to conduct elections according to the constitution.

“But if INEC is really serious they should go digital with the conduct of elections in Nigeria, so that this election would not be easily compromised.”

“INEC should be proactive; until now nobody knew Covid-19 was coming. They should move from this manual system to electronic; if ordinary market women can have social media on their phone where they chat and relate with people, why can’t INEC have an App where people can easily register to vote.

“When you have such an application in your phone it would be inscribed into your number and you can vote,” he added.

Okunola believed that if technology could be used to produce food and others, INEC could as well use it to improve the nation’s electoral system.

“Why do you want to continue rigging people out? All this is endangering people’s lives; you have to be declaring public holiday for election, the government and the people would be losing money,” he pointed out.

The politician further tasked the Commission, saying, “we should make it cheaper; you have to pay for agents all over the place, imagine the cost. That is why our election is so expensive and it is only millionaires and those who can cut corners that can contest in Nigeria.

“We have a lot of young people who are not voting; they don’t want to stress themselves and endanger their lives to vote. Electronic voting would solve a lot of things. Whatever the process, it should be for the interest of Nigerians and Nigeria.”

Recall that in 2019, Nigeria’s National Assembly budgeted N242 billion for the conduct of the nation’s general election. The amount had elicited criticism among stakeholders in the country, who said it was one of the highest in the world.

It was believed that spending such a huge amount of money on a general election was not justifiable considering the huge socio-economic challenges the country is grappling with at the moment.