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April 16, 2023

How Nigeria spent N207 billion on 68 million Nigerians who didn’t vote

INEC

•INEC source admits to flaws in polls’ conduct, defends Mahmood Yakubu, blames partisan RECs

By Olalekan Bilesanmi
& Dickson Omobola

N207 billion may have been expended on 68 million Nigerians who registered to vote in the 2023 elections but for one reason or another ended up not being able to perform that civic responsibility.

The inability to vote has been blamed on alleged shoddiness on the part of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) whose officials arrived late for polls commencement and could not attend to most of the potential voters who had stormed polling units across the nation before the election closed, relocation from Nigeria and death among others.

Meanwhile, a source at INEC has absolved the Commission’s Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, of blame on some of the issues that attended the polls, saying the electoral management body’s (EMB) boss did all he could to deliver Nigeria’s freest and fairest election but some “human factors” stopped him.

He listed the factors to include unanticipated glitches associated with the technology deployed and the activities of what he called partisan Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs).

The INEC Chairman has come under harsh criticism for the way the polls were handled and declaration of Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner of the presidential election with the celebrated writer, Chimamanda Adichie, being the latest high profile Nigerian to say the EMB disappointed the people.

Indeed, the two main opposition presidential candidates (Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the People Democratic Party (PDP) and Mr Peter Obi of the Labour Party, LP), among others, are at the tribunal to challenge the outcome of the poll.

Polling ought to have opened with accreditation at 8. 30 a.m. and voting immediately while the exercise should close at 2. 30p.m. but in many polling units across Nigeria, accreditation didn’t start until noon and in some cases the evening of February 25, the first day of election when Nigerians voted for their next President, senators and members of the House of Representatives.

Many people left polling units in frustration while those who were prepared to wait ultimately couldn’t vote because officials closed without attending to them.

Of the 93 registered voters across Nigeria for the 2023 polls, only 25 million voted in the February 25 elections, leaving 68 million unable to participate in the exercise.

And for the March 18 governorship and House of Assembly polls, the turnout was worse. Estimated 21 million people voted.
Voter turnout for the elections is the worst since the 2011 polls.

Whereas the number of registered voters in Nigeria’s elections declined from 73 million in the 2011 polls to 67 million in 2015, it moved up to 82 million in 2019 and 93 million in 2023.

Poor turnout figure

Meanwhile, turnout was 39 million in 2011, reduced to 29 million in 2015, remained at 29 million in 2019, before moving to 25 million (presidential and National Assembly polls) and 21 million (governorship and House of Assembly polls) in 2023.
Analysts said the poor turnout figure recorded in the 2023 polls could not be blamed on apathy given that Nigerians across the country, especially youths, expressed willingness to vote, a situation that apparently led to the upsurge in voters’ registration in the INEC continuous voters’ registration exercise which inevitably added 11 million voters to the register used for the 2019 elections.

Sunday Vanguard findings showed that INEC may have put the cost per voter for the 2023 elections at an estimate of $5.39, with a target of 100 million registered voters for the polls, using the N565 to $1 parallel market exchange rate as of April 2022 (10 months ago) when it released its Election Project Plan (EPP) document.

Projected budget as of that time was N305 billion.

But the election management body (EMB) ended up registering 93 million voters, seven million down from its estimated 100 million.

In essence, instead of spending N305 billion on 100 million voters, the budget ought to have come down to N298 billion for 93 billion registered voters (at N3, 207 per voter).

Further calculation shows that of the 93 million registered voters, only 25 million voted in the February 25 polls, meaning that N207 billion was earmarked for the remaining 68 million voters who could not exercise their civic responsibility while estimated 21 million voted on March 18.

Meanwhile funds were used to procure ballot papers among other items for the polls.

For instance, 93 million papers would have been printed for each of the three segments of the February 25 elections, that is, one each for the presidential, Senate and House of Representatives polls.

At the end of the day, only 25 million each voted. 68 million couldn’t.

For the March 18 polls, 21 million voted, but whereas a little lower than 93 million ballot papers would have been printed for the governorship segment of the exercise because it was holding in only 28 states, the entire 93 million would have been printed for the House of Assembly segment because the election was holding in the entire 36 states.

The actual cost of printing of the ballots could not be ascertained at press time.

Provision would have also been made for the printing of result sheets.

There were other expenses including personnel emoluments for the elections which would not have changed the amount spent by the country had more voters exercised their franchise in the 2023 polls.

But there were also expenses incurred on equipment like the newly introduced Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) machines and vehicles which use are not limited to the 2023 polls as they can still be used in subsequent polls and, therefore, according to analysts, the cost cannot be calculated per voter in this year’s elections.

EPP document

Sunday Vanguard recalls that INEC had proposed in April 2022 the sum of N305 billion for the conduct of the 2023 general elections.

This was contained in the commission’s EPP document unfolded during the EMB meeting with the media ahead of the 2023 general elections.

According to the document, INEC would need N305 billion to conduct the polls.

The document gave a breakdown of what each department of the commission would require as its budget for the general elections.

According to the EPP document, INEC has 23 departments and directorates.

INEC said, “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 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.

As a result, the actual figure is N304.54 billion, representing a 61.37 per cent increase over what was spent to conduct the 2019 general elections.

The EPP report said that INEC spent N189.2 billion to conduct the 2019 general elections, explaining that the cost per voter was fixed at $6.24 at an exchange rate of N305 with a total of 84 million registered voters.

In real terms, the cost per voter for the 2023 election reduced compared to 2019 ($5.39 against $6.24 in 2019), but the exchange rate has skyrocketed since the 2019 general elections.

In addition, the increase in the number of registered voters — one of the determinants for planning election budgets — and the creation of 56,873 new polling units, among others, may also account for the increase in the proposed budget for the 2023 elections.

An analysis of the 2023 proposed election budget showed that nine items accounted for 76.68 per cent of the total budget. Procurement of accreditation devices was earmarked to take the bulk — 34.51 per cent of the entire budget – while provision for run-off elections was 8.89 per cent of the budget. Honoraria for ad hoc staff, logistics, and printing of ballot papers covered 7.79 per cent, 7.54 per cent, and 6.78 per cent, respectively.

On funding the 2023 elections’ budget, INEC explained that the Federal Government would provide the required funds for the commission to cover the fixed and direct costs.

INEC further explained that although it was not reflected either in the fixed budget of the commission or in the core costs for the conduct of elections, it will also receive support from development partners for some of its electoral activities such as training, capacity building, civic and voter education, production of information, education and communication materials, and engagement with stakeholders. It said all these were geared towards strengthening the integrity of the electoral process, promoting citizens’ participation, and enhancing advocacy for inclusivity concerning women, youths, persons with disability and other marginalised groups.

“For the 2023 elections, INEC has projected 100 million registered voters, proposing N305 billion to conduct the election. With the country’s declining voter turnout rate, the possibility of a huge waste of funds is quite concerning. To prevent another situation of huge resources going to waste as a result of lower voter turnout, the electoral commission may need to adopt workable measures to ensure more participation at the 2023 polls”, the EPP had said

Voting materials

The document said that INEC will spend not less than N239.2bn on procuring voting materials and vehicles that will be used in the 2023 general elections.

It also said that N239.2bn, which constituted 78.44 per cent of its N305billion budget, would be spent on 10 critical items which included ballot papers, operational vehicles, ballot boxes, allowances of ad hoc workers, the printing of result sheets, logistics and procurement of accreditation devices.

Part of the proposal in the N239.2billion budget was the N27.1billion set aside by the commission for possible run-off elections, including the one for the presidential poll.

A breakdown of the document, 2023 EPP indicated that the highest single component will be the procurement of accreditation devices which will gulp N105.2billion. This also constituted 34.51 per cent of the total election budget of N305bn.

The allowance for ad hoc workers, who will be more than one million people, was pegged at N23.7billion while N23billion was set aside for election logistics expenses which included the movement, deployment and retrieval of men and materials for the elections.

INEC was also expected to spend N20.6billion on the printing of ballot papers and N12.7billion on the procurement of non-sensitive materials. The commission set aside N9.5billion for the printing of result sheets, N7.8billion for the procurement of ballot boxes and a separate N5.39billion for the same purpose. The electoral body was also expected to spend N3.9billion on the procurement of operational vehicles.

The Yakubu story

Defending Yakubu on the flaws in the polls, the INEC source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the issue owing to the sensitive nature of the matter, cited the Chairman’s quest to use technology to drive credible polls which, according to him, motivated the use of BVAs and IREV.

“It was for the reason of ensuring credible polls that the INEC boss resorted to the use of technology which was a clear departure from the past when polls were blatantly rigged by politicians altering election results at will”, he said.
“And we saw all the attempts some politicians, even parties made to abort the use of technology for the polls. Some people even went to court about four times and there were also efforts to remove Yakubu on this premise but he stood his ground.”
The INEC source said the Chairman was vindicated as post-election investigation showed that BVAS performance at the polls was over 98% successful.

On the alleged shutdown of the presidential portal of IREV to sabotage the system and influence the outcome, the source said nothing could have been further from the truth.

According to him, it was in an effort to prevent hacking into the system that necessitated the shutdown for a while.

He noted that whereas the portals for other elections, including the governorship, senatorial, House of Representatives and House of Assembly, had been tested to near perfection in off cycle polls (Ondo, Ekiti, Osun, Anambra, Edo), INEC never had the opportunity before the 2023 polls with a view to testing its effectiveness.

“The server operator was based in the UK”, he said.

Narrating what happened that inevitably gave the impression that the presidential portal was deliberately shut down by saboteurs determined to manipulate the outcome of the result, the source said: “The server operator was baffled by the volume of data and other things entering the portal on February 25 and thinking that hackers could have been at work and in their panicking situation, they shut down the portal.

“The shutdown was the reason the portal couldn’t take the presidential election results uploaded into the IREV from polling units whereas the senatorial and House of Representatives portals were uploading.

“But there were a local back up in Abuja which was activated immediately but it also generated some issues which led to a situation whereby one state result went to another state as shown on the IREV.

“Meanwhile, the issues were corrected when the server operators in the UK restarted the presidential election portal”.
On whether the portal shutdown could have affected the integrity of the presidential election, the source said no.

“The portal has the capacity to store uploaded documents and alter send to IREV without any form of tampering”, he added.
According to him, those vilifying Yakubu should understand that were it not for the technology he introduced into the polls, it would have been difficult for those who now have access to BVAS which stored all the information they can now use to challenge the declaration of winners in the elections at the tribunal to do so.

Speaking on how the activities of some RECs impacted negatively on the outcome of the polls, the source said some of them were clearly partisan, saying it was unfair to now blame such activities of RECs on the EMB Chairman as they were outside of his control.

“For instance, about 19 RECs were appointed close to the polls and as it turned out many of them were clearly partisan and to make matters worse some were deployed to states where they had sympathy for the ruling parties”, he pointed out.
“Should we also blame INEC or the Chairman for this?”

The source noted that it is only INEC out of the agencies of government that participated in the election that has carried out disciplinary measures against erring staff to the extent of recommending to President Muhammadu Buhari the sacking of two RECs who had been found wanting in their conduct in the polls.