Six weeks to this year’s general elections, the Federal Government has yet to appropriate the remaining N75bn out of the N120bn budgeted for the conduct of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

This, according to social commentators, lawyers, and other concerned stakeholders is already hampering the INEC’s preparations for the much awaited elections.

Saturday PUNCH learnt that INEC had estimated that it would need N120bn to prepare for the elections, but only N45bn was appropriated by the Budget Office of the Federation in 2014 budget, leaving a shortfall of N75bn.

The House of Representatives had recently raised concerns over the general elections, saying that adequate funding and security would determine the credibility of the polls.

The House Committee on Electoral Matters said it had resolved to summon the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, to brief the lawmakers on the preparedness of the commission to conduct the poll.

Chairman of the committee, Mr. Jerry Manwe, in an exclusive interview with one of our correspondents, said while Nigerians expected INEC to conduct credible polls, they were not asking questions about the funding available to the commission and the “disturbing insecurity situation in some parts of the country.”

Manwe said, “We expect a credible, free and fair polls, but this will again depend on funding of INEC and security.

“My committee will summon Jega to brief us on the INEC’s preparation for the elections. Jega has to come and meet with the committee because there are sensitive issues we have to look at, one of them is insecurity.

“Funding and security play a role in the credibility of any election. So, we will have to look at all these with the INEC chairman.”

In June, the House had raised the alarm over alleged shortfall in funding of INEC, especially as regards the general elections.

After going through the proposals for the 2014 budget, the committee said it found out that of the N120bn the commission proposed for the general elections, the Budget Office of the Federation only made a provision for N45bn.

The committee noted at the time that the approved N45bn left a balance of about N75bn.

“Of the N120bn that INEC proposed, only N45bn was given to the commission by government. It means that the commission is short of a huge difference of N75bn. As the committee on electoral matters, our work is to alert the relevant authorities on our findings and the implications for the 2015 elections,” the committee had warned in June.

Manwe had expressed doubts that the situation would have improved remarkably.

The International Crisis Group, a Belgium-based advocacy organisation, in a report titled: “Nigeria’s dangerous 2015 elections: Limiting the Violence” released on November 21, 2014, also claimed that dwindling allocations to INEC was already hampering its preparations towards the 2015 elections.

According to ICG, one of INEC greatest challenges arises from funding gaps.

It said, “In 2011, the commission was given

N85bn (then approximately $515m) from a special fund that enabled it to conduct that year’s elections successfully.

“However, in 2012, its allocation dropped to N35bn (some $225m) and then dropped further to N32bn (about $200m) in 2013. This year (2014), the commission had estimated it would need N93bn ($560m) to prepare for the 2015 elections, but it was appropriated only N45bn ($272m). The reduced funding and the inconsistent manner in which it is disbursed have hampered some of the commission’s preparations.”

The ICG noted that inadequate funding had affected the storage of voters’ data.

Explaining difficulties with equipment for updating the voter register, INEC Chairman, Jega, had said, “The major challenge was storage. For the last three years, every time we prepared our budget, we requested funding to create a facility in order to appropriately store our equipment. Regrettably, we never had this funding requirement met, and the way the equipment was stored really left much to be desired.

The ICG, in the report, gave this as one of the reasons INEC had not been able to produce a “clean” voter register few months to the elections.

The spokesperson for the INEC Chairman, Mr.   Kayode Idowu, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, said, “On the issue of funding, the commission is engaging the authorities and the response is encouraging; we must state that clearly. We are expecting an invitation from the National Assembly to appear before it as regards this issue.

“The funding of an election is not usually in the election year. Like I said, we are meeting with the authorities and releases are being made. There is no shortfall of funding anywhere. We don’t know where the figures being peddled come from and how it is being calculated.”

On financial constraint being the reason for the poor distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards, Idowu said, “Clearly and categorically, it is not true. We didn’t distribute the cards at the same time.

“As regards the issue of timing, it is a function of the budget. We have certain number of days at the polling unit level. It does not make economic sense to spend endless days at the polling units.

“All over the country, we are using about 350,000 people, paying them about N2bn per day. How can that be budgeted for? We don’t have the luxury of shedding off that kind of money for many days because we also have to look at the big picture.

“Many people are looking at the microscopic picture. For how long can we pay N2bn per day? That is why we said we would spend three days for the exercise. It is good to have a model that will save costs. That is why we said we are distributing the cards at the local government offices.

“We cannot keep these workers at the polling units for days because we cannot keep spending billions of naira every day. It simply cannot be budgeted for, it doesn’t make sense.

“We do not see any possibility that the election would not hold because of lack of funding. We should be optimistic that the elections would come and go without any hitches. The economic condition will not affect the election process, since the will is there.”

A Lagos-based economist, Mr. Babatunde Abrahams, said that inadequate funding could affect the integrity of the elections.

He said that if there are no funds to carry out the electioneering process in details, there would be certain flops that would be created which electoral fraudsters could exploit to rig the elections.

He also said that if the Federal Government and INEC were to be honest, the global slump in oil price would affect the funding of the upcoming elections.

He said, “When INEC presented its budget for the elections, the oil price had not fallen. They had based their budget on the oil price benchmark for the year, the only commodity on which the country survives.

“Now by my calculation, if the oil price has slumped and some of the countries that used to buy from us are not buying again either because they are finding alternatives to oil or have discovered the commodity in their own lands, then how would it not affect the funding that accrues to INEC?

“Yes, the commission may claim that they are receiving support from government to avoid hitches, but the truth is there is going to be some form of problem or the other except we want to be economical with the truth.”

Abrahams added that if the commission were receiving any financial support from the Federal Government at the moment, it meant that the latter was dipping its hands into funds meant for other sectors of the economy.

“Ultimately, it would require sacrifices here and there to make the next elections feasible from the economic point of view,” he said.

A social commentator and lawyer, Mr. Rasheed Bamisile, said it was embarrassing that the budget was released by the Federal Government in piece meal.

He said releasing the money in tranches was an indication that the Federal Government was not prepared for the smooth conduct of the much expected elections, especially if approval of the INEC budget was total.

Bamisile said, “Before the sum of the N45bn initially given to the INEC was released, there must have been approval by the ministry of finance or any other relevant government agency. So, withholding part of the money budgeted for the execution of the elections may be interpreted to mean that government is already putting a spanner in the wheel of the electoral process.”

According to him, the development may mar the credibility of the elections as some of the electoral officials may be lured or compromised by corrupt politicians, if their emoluments are not promptly paid by the INEC.

Bamisile said, “The general elections are less than two months away and if the remaining N75bn is not released to the INEC in the first week of January for the commission to address some likely challenges in terms of logistics, it means the commission will have to use one vehicle to convey election materials to about four or five local government areas and if this is the case, there is possibility that the credibility of election may be marred.

“The election may not be rigged, but if the process is underfunded, its credibility can still be doubted. The development can also affect the credibility of the INEC Chairman.”

Former Chairman of the Ikeja branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Monday Ubani, said the slashing of the N120bn proposed by the INEC to N45bn in addition to the non-release of the fund justified the fear that there might not be free and fair election in 2015.

He said, “If that is true then my fear has been justified that INEC will not conduct free and fair election in 2015. If a budget proposal of N120bn was made and only about N45bn was appropriated; even up till now the money has not been released.

“Then it means they are bent on ensuring that the election is not credible or that it does not hold. An alarm should be raised about the danger ahead.”

He added that slump in oil price should never be a basis for non-release of the fund.

He said, “Nigeria has been experiencing oil boom for many years, and we experience slump in oil price just for three months and you started imposing austerity measures on key sectors that do not affect the budget. That is baseless. Meanwhile, the austerity measures they are introducing have not reflected in the budget of the presidency.”

Another Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, said the non-release of the required fund to INEC would only compound the threat already posed by insecurity in the North-East to the credible conduct of the general elections.

The activist said, “The security challenges in North-East especially in three states still pose threat to the constitutional requirement that should be attained by a person that can be validly declared as winner of the presidential election.

“That alone should be enough challenge. The budget is a law, it is meant to be implemented. INEC must not be allowed to reel under underfunding. If INEC is not properly funded, there will be excuse for them to conduct elections that are not free and fair.”

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