Thumbs down for INEC

YEAR in year out, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducts elections into various offices in Nigeria, either through the main general election, the by-elections or other supplementary elections. INEC has been involved in the conduct of elections for an unbroken period of 20 years on, from 1999 to 2019. It would seem, however, that there is still a lot to be done to get the electoral umpire moving. For sure, INEC is the only statutory body authorised to organise or conduct elections in Nigeria, in respect of certain offices created by the Constitution.

INEC is one of the federal agencies established under Section 153(1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, with its functions stated in paragraph 15 of the Third Schedule of the said Constitution. Under and by virtue of Paragraph 14 of the said Third Schedule, the chairman of INEC should be at least 40 years old, he must be non-partisan, he must not be a member of a political party and he must be a person of unquestionable integrity. By law, the major functions of INEC are to: “organise, undertake and supervise all elections into major positions of national importance as stated in the Constitution; register political parties; monitor the organisation and operation of the political parties, including their finances, conventions, congresses and party primaries; arrange and conduct the registration of persons qualified to vote and prepare, maintain and revise the register of voters for the purpose of any election; monitor political campaigns and provide rules and regulations which shall govern the political parties.

From all the above, INEC is the alpha and omega of major elections in Nigeria. This is further confirmed by Section 158 (1) of the Constitution, which states that INEC shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other authority or person. In plain language, therefore, the Constitution has set out to establish an electoral body that is truly independent, given the unique roles that INEC has to play in the emergence of leaders across the land. Statutorily and financially, therefore, the goal is to make INEC a self-accounting body, in order to guaranty its independence and impartiality. But this has not been the case at all, over the years.

Now let us relate all these with the recent presidential and National Assembly election that finally took place on February 23, 2019, after the initial postponement at dawn. There were too many challenges associated with the registration of voters and issuance and collection of the permanent voter’s cards, which indeed should be the foundation of any electoral success. Without any doubt whatsoever, there was some form of disconnect between INEC and the voters, in terms of voter education and information, especially in relation to the collection of the voter cards. The procedure was unduly bureaucratic, unwieldy and frustrating. You just had to keep going and going, at times for many days on end. With the resources committed to this exercise, there is no reason any voter should have been denied this entitlement at all.

Then comes the main election. The first thing to note is that INEC could not boast of adequate personnel to handle its very sensitive matters. For sure, the Constitution has stated clearly that its personnel must be impartial and non-partisan. For crying out loud, how do you recruit youth corps members from all over the country and you don’t expect them to be partisan? When they have parents and relations, all of who may be actively involved in politics? And some of the youth corps members themselves are active politicians! There is just no way anyone can expect loyalty from a youth whose father, mother, brother or uncle is contesting election on the platform of a major political party, no matter the jurisdiction of his posting, as loyalty for the presidential election for instance, is to the party, not the individual.

Then comes the returning officers, who are mostly members of the academic community, recruited on temporary contracts to assist in the collation and announcement of the election results. These are very elderly men and women, mostly in their late fifties or early sixties, who have risen in rank through the system, to become Vice-Chancellors, over many years. The Supreme Court has recently ruled that civil servants are not exempted from participating in politics, thus making it possible for these returning officers to bear allegiance to certain political interests. This is not to impugn their integrity in any way, but it is possible that in the process of time, a lecturer may have become influenced by one political leaning or the other. The issue then is that there is no way INEC could boast of the impartiality or neutrality of its ad hoc personnel, not to be biased in one way or the other in favour of or against a particular political party or interest.

On the day of election itself, we met the unexpected, as there were cases of locations that were totally neglected by INEC, which did not benefit from the distribution of election materials, especially in the difficult terrains of the Niger Delta. In some other cases, the election materials did not arrive early, whilst yet in other cases, INEC personnel were simply overwhelmed by partisan security agencies and thugs, recruited by politicians. It was a case of general unpreparedness on the part of INEC, notwithstanding all the time it had to prepare and organise the elections and the huge funds committed to it. For a fact, INEC got a whooping N189.2 billion for the 2019 elections, broken down as follows: Printing of ballot papers – N31.49 billion, just to print papers; Logistics expenses – N7.4 billion, an overhead which is indeterminable. And when it is remembered that the elections earlier scheduled for February 16, 2019 were postponed at the last minute due to logistics and operational issues, then one cannot but conclude that INEC spells nothing but bad image for Nigeria; Logistics for technical officers –  N55 million, being a duplication of logistics expenses above. How does anyone budget a whole N7.4 billion for logistics and then would proceed in the same budget to allocate another head of N55 million for another separate logistics, allegedly for its technical officers. It is nothing but bazaar for INEC.

Procurement of non-sensitive materials got 6.125 billion, most of which were not delivered to their locations timeously, thus leading to tension, controversies and even outright cancellation of election; Feeding of policemen – N6 billion, this is nothing but fraud, as could not but wonder what kind of food that policemen would guzzle for just two days, even if INEC were to feed the entire police force! And these policemen ended up being compromised by politicians, who enticed them with money, despite this huge budget for them by INEC.

Election day allowance got N6 billion, when most of the youth corps members slept in open spaces and on bare floors; deployment of support staff – N495 million, being a clear duplication of the N6 billion election day allowance, presumably to be paid to support staff and ad hoc personnel.

For Campaign finance tracking, N160.7 million was allocated, being money to be expended upon deployment of technology to monitor the finances and expenditure of political parties, which in point of fact, INEC never does; Monitoring of parties, primaries – N630 million, another clear case of duplication. Or how do you monitor political parties if not to track their funding and finances?; Supervision and reconnaissance – N286 million, a clear case of multiple duplications, as the job of monitoring and supervision are basically the same; Outreach activities – N587 million, which is supposed to be part of voter education, already covered and addressed in the same budget; Interface with groups – N125 million, being a duplication of outreach activities, or else how do you embark upon an outreach without interfacing with people and groups?; Advertisement – N149 million, which should have been part of outreach activities and interface. And pray, what on earth is the difference between advertisement and outreach?

Voter education got N710 million, when most people were completely in the dark about the activities of INEC. And still, INEC budgeted separately for advertisement; Situation room – N730 million, being the most annoying and embarrassing item on the budget. We all watched the INEC situation room, devoid of any special decorations or items of value, but just placing chairs, tables and microphones. Even at that, election results could not be announced for some locations until about four days after.

There are still many more of these ridiculous items budgeted by INEC and for which fund was duly released, but no tangible results were obtained. It should be possible for the National Assembly, as part of its oversight functions, to do a thorough audit of INEC finances, especially against the background of the poor outing of the agency in the last presidential and National Assembly election, which is nothing but money down the drain.

We must be sufficiently outraged as a people, that an organisation that has been so empowered statutorily and financially to usher in a functional transition programme has come out with such woeful performance, as happened on February 23. We should not and cannot take this from INEC, as we go into the governorship and house of assembly election on March 9. Somebody should be answering questions with the financial intelligence experts and the security agencies to explain the reasons for the huge embarrassment foisted upon us since these elections began. It is not right and there is no other way to put it than that INEC has failed Nigeria.

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