• Thursday, April 25, 2024
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INEC’s budget for BVAS surpasses market cost by 30%

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The Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC’s) N105.25 billion budget for acquiring the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) surpasses the estimated market cost by 30.4 percent.

The BVAS devices, which were used during the controversial February 25 elections, EMP2920 Biometric tablets, were manufactured and supplied by Shenzhen Emperor Technology. BusinessDay found that the unit cost of the device is $795 (N366,089.55 at the rate of N460.47/$) on Amazon, where the device sells under a different name SecuMind Tablet Biometric CX2920.

According to the information on the Federal Communications Commission website on the product, it was built on March 16, 2017.

Cost of 9 key items in the 2023 proposed election budget

INEC said it acquired 200,000 units of the device. At the rate of $795 for each device, the 200,000 devices would cost $159 million (N73,217,910,000), 30.4 percent lower than INEC’s budget of N105,250,000,000 for the BVAS devices.

The commission’s budget has become a major subject of discussion for the public, many of whom say the electoral umpire’s execution of the February 25 was underwhelming and was not commensurate with the huge amount of money deployed for the exercise.

“You should not be INEC chairman if you have not run a major logistics company before; don’t understand the technology and its limitations; or have a history of questionable character. Given the budget allocated to the 2023 elections, INEC failed woefully,” Kola Oyeniyin, founder and CEO of Venia Group, said.

INEC had asked and got approval for an N305 billion war chest. The election budget was different from the N40 billion the commission wanted for its annual operations. The 2023 election budget is the highest budget the electoral body has ever received. INEC got N234 billion in 2019, a record compared to the N18.8 billion used to execute the same presidential and National Assembly elections in 2015.

In terms of size, the budget is the largest in Africa; however, in terms of spend on each voter, it lags the budget of Kenya for the August 2022 elections. The Eastern African country’s budget for the election was N176.6 billion, which amounts to spending an average $17 on each voter, compared to Nigeria’s $9 spend.

An analysis of the INEC’s 2023 election budget shows that nine items account for 79.68 percent of the total budget. Procurement of accreditation devices took the bulk, accounting for 34.51 percent of the entire budget, while provision for run-off elections is 8.89 percent. Honoraria for ad hoc staff, logistics, and printing of ballot papers cover 7.79 percent, 7.54 percent, and 6.78 percent, respectively.

Tech experts who spoke to BusinessDay said the electoral commission would not be paying their technical partners, Emperor Technology, nor spending it all on logistics to bring the devices into the country.

Emperor Technology, the supplier and partner of INEC, is not a new company. The Chinese company was established in 1995 to provide identity information services. Some of its services include carrier data security, physical and digital identity verification, smart card, and card-free epayment. Besides subsidiary companies in Beijing, Hong Kong, Baotou, Changsha, and Huizhou, and five branch offices in Shanghai, Zhengzhou, Xi’an, and Chengdu in China, Emperor Technology also has service centres in the United States, India, Russia, and Nigeria to provide local supports and customer care.

Read also: Nigeria’s democracy is fine, but not much else

Members of staff of the company in Abuja were recently misconstrued as agents attempting to manipulate the elections with a BVAS machine and arrested. The Nigerian police force later released a statement saying they were able to confirm that the staff of Emperor Technology, outsourcing engineering services to the INEC, were immediately released to go about their lawful business.

BusinessDay was not able to ascertain how much INEC paid Emperor Technology as its technical partners; however, experts say the commission would have considered questions being raised as to the inflated cost of the BVAS devices. The commission did not also have the Tender Information on the website.

“As long as due diligence by the procurement office is followed (usually that means they had at least two or three quotes from other vendors which were more expensive), then no foul play occurred under our laws,” said one of the experts who wants to remain anonymous to speak freely.