Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Cost of 2007 Elections in Nigeria

Periodic elections are an integral part of representative democracy. Elections offer citizens the choice to decide who should be their leader. It also offers voters the opportunity to remove non-performing representatives from power. A common voter education slogan is, ‘your vote is your power; use it wisely’ Elections represent the voter’s right to take part in forming a democratic government. Every election comes with a cost; unfortunately, many of us focus more on the economic cost of holding elections, while leaving out the social and political costs. Even when economic cost is analyzed, all aspects of the cost are rarely captured.

For a start, who are the people and institutions who make and spend money during elections? There are three categories: the election management bodies, that is, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and State Independent Electoral Commission (SIECs); political parties; and candidates. This is exclusive of the support from non-state actors like the international donor community and NGOs. The 2007 General Elections were arguably the costliest elections Nigeria has ever conducted. Apart from the cost of employing a 5,000-strong workforce in headquarters, and state and local government offices of INEC; about 500,000 ad-hoc staff were engaged to run the polls, and about the same number were hired to conduct the electronic voters’ registration exercise from October 7, 2006 – February 2, 2007. The attempts to use the electronic voting system (EVS) also added to the huge financial cost for the election as 33,000 Direct Data Capture Machines were ordered and when the vendors were behind delivery schedule, implementers had to improvise, acquiring thousands of laptops in order to conduct the Voter Registration. In order to implement the EVS, contracts were awarded for VSAT installations to enable Electronic Transfer of Election Results. Other notable issues that led to the huge cost of the election were the need to re-print over 65 million presidential ballot papers 5 days before the April 21 elections as a result of the Supreme Court ruling overturning the initial disqualification of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Not only that, some INEC staff did not properly vet the ballot papers before they were printed, thereby adding an extra day to the elections. The April 2007 elections were initially planned for 14 and 21 April; however, because of errors of omission or commission by some unscrupulous INEC staff, the elections had to be re-conducted in about 31 of 36 states in Nigeria on April 28, 2007. Not only did the Commission have to procure fresh sensitive election materials for the April 28 polls, it also had to pay the ad-hoc staff on election duty on that date.

With regard to political parties, it will be interesting to know how much the 50 registered political parties received and spent individually and cumulatively on the elections. Sections 225 and 226 of the 1999 Constitution and Section 88 of the Electoral Act 2006 mandated political parties to render annual accounts of their income and expenditures to the INEC, while Sections 89 and 94 of the 2006 Electoral Act also requested the political parties to file their election expense returns to the INEC as well as publish this information in at least two national newspapers. By the INEC deadline of 31 January 2008, only 26 of the 50 registered political parties had submitted their election expenses report to the Commission; none has yet officially published it in two newspapers.

According to the INEC official report on the 2007 general elections, 9,802 candidates ran for 1,564 positions nationwide during the April Polls. The breakdown is as follows:

Type of Election No. of Candidates

  • Presidential (I Seat) 25
  • Governorship (36 Seats) 485
  • Senate (109 Seats) 810
  • House of Reps. (360 Seats) 2,358
  • State House of Assembly (990 Seats) 5,788
  • FCT Area Council Chairmanship (6 Seats) 37
  • FCT Area Legislative Council (62 Seats) 299

Total 9,802

It is very important to know how much each of these candidates spent on their elections. Section 93 Subsection 2-7 of Electoral Act 2006 placed limitations on the amount each candidate may spend in order to run for office. Subsection (8a, b, and c) identified three important areas that candidates’ elections records had permission to omit: monies spent before notice of elections was issued by INEC; monies spent by candidates to obtain their party nominations; and, lastly, monies spent on their elections by their political parties. Aside from this, there was no provision in the law compelling candidates to submit their election expenses to INEC or to publish it for public consumption.

As electoral and constitutional reform is on-going, it is imperative to have legal and accounting mechanisms that will enable the public to know how much each of these critical actors in the electoral process received from private and public sources, as well as the amount of the resources generated for elections that were spent and how it was also expended. Right now, even though INEC, as a public institution is accountable to the National Assembly, an attempt to probe the award of contracts and the funds appropriated to the Commission by the Senate in May 2007 was rebuffed by INEC, who claimed that its solicitors advised ‘that the power of the National Assembly to investigate under Section 88 of the Constitution is incidental to legislation’. INEC claimed that only the Auditor-General of the Federation may audit its account and subsequently submit its report to the National Assembly according to the provisions of Section 85 of the 1999 Constitution. No-one knows when the Auditor General will finish auditing INEC’s account. However, it is unlikely to be very soon, in the light of the controversies surrounding a number of contracts for the elections alleged to have been awarded by INEC. In fact, former Senate President Ken Nnamani called it a ‘bazaar’. According to INEC, only when the report is ready will it be sent to National Assembly for consideration and the findings made public. This, too, is unlikely because the law does not provide for it, nor will the National Assembly – themselves the beneficiaries of the flawed 2007 elections – likely take steps against INEC, even if corrupt practices by the Commission are proven.

As the National Assembly attempts to amend the 1999 Constitution, it is important to note that while it is imperative for INEC and perhaps State Independent Electoral Commissions to be funded from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, it is equally important to insert a disclosure clause that will ensure value for money, and to make the audited accounts of the Commission publicly available to interested individuals and organizations. As previously mentioned, there is also the need for individual candidates and political parties to submit their audited election expense reports to INEC and to publish these in at least two national newspapers.

No financial audit reports have yet been published in any of the three national newspapers as stated in Section 88 (4) of the Electoral Act 2006, nor has the Commission made the audited election expense reports submitted by political parties after the 2007 elections available for public inspection. It also remains to be seen what steps the Commission will take against the political parties that did not submit their election expense reports. It is imperative to capture the income and expenditures of all the critical actors in the electoral process, whether these are Election Management Bodies, candidates, or political parties. We need to generate this data in other to help in the planning for future general elections. However, as illustrated above, it is a Herculean task to capture all the financial resources that go into any election. Even the 2007 elections are proving difficult to document because some of the candidates and parties who contested in the last general elections are still at the election petition tribunals, and a significant number of the election returns have been annulled by the courts. With some of the cases still on appeals, the actual cost of the 2007 elections may not be known until the tribunals have concluded their work and subsequent by-elections conducted in areas where the tribunals have so ordered. Despite the daunting challenge, we still need to grapple with this fact and compute the available income and expenditure figures on the April 2007 elections.

The cost of last April’s 2007 General Elections may be gargantuan in monetary terms; however, the real cost is the subversion of the will and intents of the people. Billions of naira may have been expended on the polls by the electoral commissions, the political parties and the candidates, yet the outcome of the elections has been ruled fundamentally flawed by Election Petitions Tribunals (EPTs) and election observers. These problems necessitated the setting up of the 22-man Electoral Reform Committee in August 2007. The ultimate challenge now is how to restore people’s confidence in the electoral process. The only way to achieve this is by genuine electoral and attitudinal reforms.

*This article was first published in IFES Money and Politics Newsletter of February 2008 (Volume 10)