Thursday, April 30, 2015

2015 elections, Nigeria’s costliest!

As the Independent National Electoral Commission winds down on the 2015 general elections which were held on March 28 and April 11 with supplementary polls on April 25 and 28, I join millions of Nigerians and indeed other world leaders to congratulate INEC and Nigerian government on a successful exercise. Local and international observer groups have been lauding the significant improvements we have made as a country in consolidating democracy.

Indeed, there were many firsts recorded with the just concluded elections. It is the first time in this Fourth Republic (i.e. 1999 to 2015) that the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) would lose power at the center and many of the states (Both executive and legislative arms). It is the first time an opposition political party would defeat the ruling party in states like Kaduna, Niger, Katsina, Adamawa, Plateau, and Benue. It is also the first time several peace accords would be signed by political parties and their candidates contesting presidential and governorship elections.

At the level of the Independent National Electoral Commission, it is the first time machine readable Permanent Voter Cards and Smart Card Readers would be used. By far the most significant and germane to this discuss is that the 2015 elections is the costliest this country had ever witnessed.

Many factors are responsible for this. One of such is the postponement of the elections from February 14 and 28 to March 28 and April 11. That six weeks polls shift contributed in no small measure to increasing the cost of the elections. The independent National Electoral Commission had to spend more resources on voter education and mobilization, engaged more ad-hoc personnel to distribute the Permanent Voters Cards as well as on training of ad-hoc poll workers on the use of smart card readers. The electoral commission also spent resources to field test the card readers in some selected Wards across 12 states. Likewise, political parties and candidates spent more money than initially planned on their campaigns while civil society organizations working in the area of elections also spent more on voter sensitization and subsequently, election observation.  

The hyperinflation plaguing the country was also a contributory factor. During the electioneering period, the Naira was on a free fall against other major currencies such as the American Dollar, Euro and Britain’s Pound Sterling. That gave rise to high cost of living. The political spending of major political parties and candidates also worsened the inflationary trend.

Another causative factor is the amount of illegal spending embarked on by the major political parties like the PDP and APC. There is no gainsaying that the two parties alongside their candidates broke campaign finance regulations. The Centre for Social Justice (a non-governmental organization which tracked campaign finance of the presidential candidates with funding support from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems) revealed at a press conference on March 9, 2015 that PDP and APC overspent beyond the permissible limit of N1 billion ceiling specified for presidential candidates in Section 91 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. The Lead Director of CSJ, Eze Onyekpere said the PDP expended N3.5 billion on publicity between December last year and February this year while the APC spent N1.42 billion during the same period.

2015 general elections also witnessed a lot of vote buying. Accredited observers reported incidents of cash for votes where voters were paid between N1, 000 and N5, 000 for their ballot. There were also allegations of purchase of Permanent Voters Card ahead of the elections.   The APC in December 2014 raised the alarm that a certain political party is engaged in buying Permanent Voter’s Cards with a view to disenfranchising the owners of such cards, especially in opposition strongholds. In a statement issued in Lagos on Friday, December 19, 2014 by its National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said while such purchased PVCs may not be transferable, those who are buying them are doing so to reduce the votes in the opposition strongholds and improve the chances of their own party at the polls. (See Vanguard Newspaper of December 19, 2014, online edition)

In a related development, the Peoples Democratic Party raised alarm over the alleged purchase of Permanent Voters Cards by the All Progressives Congress ahead of Saturday, April 25, 2015 re-run election in 250 electoral units in Imo State. In a statement by the state PDP Publicity Secretary, Kizito Onuoha, the party alleged that the agents of the APC had embarked on the massive purchase of PVCs at the cost of N10, 000 each from Imo voters. (See The Punch, April 17, 2015, online edition). Apart from the illegal purchase of PVCs, desperate politicians also sponsored miscreants to steal the Permanent Voters Cards in states like Lagos, Rivers, Edo and Delta. Politicians also distributed Rice, Recharge Cards, branded T-Shirts and Face Caps etcetera to induce voters. Funding of political thugs to commit electoral offences such as attacking INEC offices and opposition party offices, snatching of ballot boxes and molesting of opposition supporters also featured prominently in the course of the just concluded elections.

It is recommended that INEC should organize post-election retreat where its campaign finance monitors, those from the civil society and political parties can compare notes on issues of campaign finance in the lead up to the 2015 general elections; do a cost estimate of what different stakeholders spent on the elections and map out how to reduce cost of elections in Nigeria. INEC needs to make perpetrators of campaign finance breaches to face due punishments. Otherwise, impunity will continue to thrive.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja.