The federal government has proposed the sum of N242.445 billion for the conduct of the 2019 general election. The figure which is quoted in President Muhammadu Buhari’s virement proposal to the National Assembly is to be drawn from the 2018 and 2019 budgets to prosecute the elections. This figure is a far cry from the amounts spent for the conduct of any general election in the recent past. Even more ironic is that this administration pride itself on its prudence, frugality and with zero tolerance to waste and corruption. In spite of the controversies that trailed the 2011 general election conducted under the then chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Maurice Iwu, the sum of N122 billion, which is about half of this current proposal, was spent. Even the 2015 general election conducted by Professor Attahiru Jega cost the nation N108.8 billion. Yet, that election has been the most applauded in this republic.
However, while INEC’s cut of the entire sum of N242.445 billion is N194 billion, security agencies including the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the Nigeria Police Force and the DSS are to share the remaining amount in the budget.
The total police budget for the elections stands at N30.5 billion; the ONSA, N4.2 billion; the Department of State Services, N12.2 billion; NSCDC, N3.5 billion and the Nigeria Immigration Service, N2.6 billion. A further breakdown of the proposal indicates that: N310 million for the NSCDC would be used to feed and administer drugs to dogs that will be deployed in states for the 2019 elections; the N7 million for the police would be spent to feed 50 horses that would be used for patrols during the elections, which will take place between February 16 and March 2, 2019; N499.5 million will used for hiring speedboats; N87.5 million would used by the police for the maintenance of aircraft; N407 million will go to the maintenance of vehicles for election monitoring, while N126 million will be used by the Nigerian Immigration Service for printing of name tags for its personnel that would be involved in the election. Already, N166 million has been requested for pre-election training, among other sundry items.
INEC has been making frantic efforts to justify the huge allocation made to the agency. They mention overhead cost and logistics, which include hiring of vehicles, acquiring generators and mattresses for staff across the country as part of what it is going to spend the money on. Others include the need to get enough card readers, upgrade and enhance them for the elections. The current proposal of N242 billion then deflates the logic espoused by the INEC boss prior to 2015 election. With a difference of about N150 billion when compared to what was spent on the last general election and less investment in technology, the presidency should come up with convincing explanations for the huge expenditure. Whatever the justification of the INEC and security agencies, it is our stand that this huge sum is unreasonably high at a time when most the Nigerians are dying in poverty as a result of the near absence of social protection.
It is our considered opinion that government should not waste this kind of money just to conduct elections when the masses cannot have dividends of good governance on the excuse of scarce resources. It is obvious from the breakdown of this budget that some of the contents are grossly inflated, while others are a good example of misplaced priority. For instance, the hundreds of millions earmarked for feeding of dogs and horses that will be used for the elections is just a slap on the face of an average Nigerian. Were the dogs’ daily feeding and maintenance not already provided for in the budget of the NSCDC for the year, or do the dogs need a special kind of feeding for the election days? This is just one instance. We recommend that the National Assembly should undertake a thorough scrutiny of the proposal by President Buhari with a view to pruning the budget considerably. The lawmakers should also consider a situation where all the elections are held on the same day. This will go a long way in reducing not only the huge expense and a host of other challenges associated with the conduct of elections, but also the aggregate loss to the economy due to shutting down of the entire country on election days.