INEC’s cost justification

For the umpteenth time, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has explained that the cost of conducting elections in Nigeria is relatively high because of the country’s own peculiarities.

Chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, cited the web of security that is usually thrown around the election process as an example. He spoke during an interactive session with editors last week in Lagos.

He also listed cost of logistics, highly-secured ballot papers and allowances for personnel as other reasons for the huge expenditure on conducting elections.

He said: “In France, the ballot paper is like an A4 sheet of paper, because it is unthinkable that anybody in France will snatch the ballot paper. But here in Nigeria, we print ballots papers in currency quality and we entrust them to Central Bank of Nigeria.

“The ballot papers will now be moved with all the protocols and security according to the movement of the national currency, just to protect the process. This is not going to be done cheaply. So, we pay for lack of trust in the system,” the INEC boss said.

Yakubu, however, said that Nigeria’s elections are not the most expensive in the world if the entire cost is spread per head of the voting population projected to be about 95 million. He said that the last elections conducted in Ghana, Kenya and Guinea-Bissau were more expensive, if the voters’ population was considered in relation to the cost.

“The cost in Nigeria, I think, is nine dollars (N4,500) per head as against what happens in other countries. Ours is not even the most expensive. The cost of elections in Nigeria in 2023 is N305 billion of the national budget of over N17 trillion.

“The cost of elections is just 1.8 per cent, not even up to two per cent of the national budget. If we remove the technology cost, 60 per cent of the cost of elections in Nigeria is spent on logistics and personnel allowances,” Yakubu said.

He said the commission would engage no fewer than 1.4 million Nigerians for national and state elections as ad hoc staff, who will have to be paid and transported to their various locations. “I am sure as we continue to build trust and confidence in the process, the cost of elections will come down considerably.”

On electronic voting, Yakubu said that the country was getting closer to achieving it, noting that it involved several processes.

It could be recalled that the then INEC national commissioner in charge of Benue, Enugu and Anambra states, and currently commissioner for information and voter education, Mr Festus Okoye, had, during an interaction with leaders of political parties, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and the media in November 2018 in Makurdi, the Benue state capital, attributed the high cost of conducting elections to prevailing insecurity in most parts of the country.

He acknowledged that though such huge deployment of security personnel during elections helped in stabilising the electoral process, it was also capital intensive.

Okoye called on the stakeholders to mobilise the electorate against electoral violence and general insecurity in the country.

It is instructive that INEC has proposed N305 billion for the conduct of the 2023 general elections. This was contained in the commission’s Election Project Plan (EPP) document made available to newsmen during the INEC media quarterly meeting ahead of the 2023 general elections.

According to a copy of the EPP booklet, the commission said it would need N305 billion to conduct the 2023 general elections. EPP committee document gave a breakdown of what each department of the commission would require as its budget for the 2023 general elections.

According to the EPP document, INEC has 23 departments and directorates. INEC said, for instance, that “for established and stable democracies, the average cost per voter is pegged at $1 to $3. In transitional democracies, it ranges from $4 to $8, while the cost is fixed at $9 and above in post-conflict and some transitional democracies.”

Because of this, the commission said that elections tend to be more costly in nascent democratic countries. Accordingly, 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 quoted in its EPP document.

Blueprint cannot agree more with the explanation by INEC, particularly, that of its chairman, on the perceived high cost of conducting elections in Nigeria. In fact, Professor Yakubu’s comparative analysis of the cost of elections with less endowed countries like Ghana, Kenya and Guinea-Bissau justifies the fact that Nigeria’s is not expensive.

Nevertheless, we call on relevant authorities and stakeholders in the Nigerian project to create a conducive atmosphere to enable INEC to deliver free, fair and credible elections at minimal cost. Although, the electoral umpire has consistently cited insecurity as the main factor for the perceived high cost of conducting elections in Nigeria, it is pertinent to draw attention to the hyper-inflation with its attendant high cost of living; this must be addressed.