By; Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
Torrent of criticism/knocks from good spirited Nigerians has trailed the bogus budget proposition of N305 billion for the 2023 general elections by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently submitted to the National Assembly. it is equally not surprising to see some supporters of the government argue that in a democracy, government agencies and commissions such as INEC are at liberty to take or discard advice and public opinion as public opinion does not always provide clear-cut policy guidance.
It is also not impossible to see in the coming days, Nigerians who will advocate that even in situations where public opinion is clearly in favour of a certain course of government action, the authorities may decide otherwise-particularly when they realize how uninformed, superficial, and changeable most opinions really are, Government may reject people’s opinion as a result of its own convictions, the recommendations of the public service, the pressure of advocacy groups and lobbyists, or the rigidity of the ruling party.
But, in spite of these slanted and asymmetrical arguments, looking at INEC’s action from all ramifications, one thing seems to stand out; that the electoral umpire against all known logic came up with such a bogus demand without minding that the Federal Government’s debt servicing to revenue ratio recently jumped from 54.66 percent to 72 percent, and at a time when the nation is going through harsh economic situation in the country, a state of depression (or is it a recession) that has been designed by yet to be established architects, is in my view not only shocking but a sign that our leaders are not ready to serve the masses, serve the economy or feel the pains poor Nigerians stoically endures.
Going by media reports, The Senate Committee on Appropriations had invited INEC to present the budget so as to include it in the 2022 budget billed for passage by both chambers of the National Assembly. And during the presentation, INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, among other remarks explained that the N305 billion is different from the N40 billion yearly budget of the electoral body. He noted that while N100 billion had been released to the Commission out of the total projected expenditure, it would not be enough for adequate preparation towards 2023. He concluded.
Before diving into particulars that render the present development as a reality to worry about, it is important to underline the fact that 2023 general election is not only important to the nation Nigeria but key to determining the future of the nation’s existential journey particularly as no nation can rise/develop above the quality of its leadership. It is not only our patriotic duty to give the project the objective attention that it deserves; it is our moral duty at the most fundamental level.
However, it is said that in strategy formulation, timing is key.
Likewise, more than anything else, for INEC to present such bogus and thoughtless budget for election in a nation where poverty daily drive citizens into the ranks of the beggars, lends credence to the age-long belief by Nigerians and development professionals that there is something deeply troubling about public leadership in Nigeria; their relationship with reason, their disdain for fact and lack of curiosity about any new information that might produce deeper understanding of the problems and policies that the nation is supposed to wrestle with.
Cast a curious look at this development, one cannot but raise certain questions.
Is the election that expensive? If yes, and requires/demands such a volume of money, it will again necessitate the question as to how come some African countries that are more impoverished than Nigeria able to organize electoral exercise in their country. Is the 2023 election the first general election to be held in the country? Is INEC saying that the nation did not make gains in the time past that they can build on? What really shot the present budget up? Is it logistics, security or human resources considerations? If logistics, what about the items such as ballot boxes etc bought/used for the previous elections? Can’t INEC find ways of deploying previously bought items/equipment to use?
There is a lot that is wrong with our country. But one thing that bothers me in addition to the above is that this development is not an isolated case.
Just recently, the Nigeria’s National Population Commission, (NPC), going by media reports, in a similar style said it requires about N400 billion to organize the national census scheduled for May 2022, just months to the onset of the 2023 general elections.
The headcount and general elections the reports noted were given as the reason for the failure of the National Assembly to pass the next year’s annual budget, in keeping with the resolve of the federal legislators to maintain a January-December budget cycle. The cost of prosecuting the census represents an 83.38 percent jump from the N217 billion proposed for the exercise about four years ago, in what is blamed on a combination of inflation, Naira devaluation, and the cost of engaging over 1.5 million personnel.
Yes, the truth, the bitter truth is that the census is known to provide the most important population statistics required for planning and development in any country. But the validity of this claim notwithstanding, it will again elicit the posers as to; how many are we in Nigeria to require such a budget? What is the cost implication for conducting head count per citizen? If this is confusing, why can’t NPC as a body engage the best minds to help get the answers and deploy the resources we need to move into the future?
In many ways, the present administration may have a sincere desire to move the nation forward, but there are two major militating factors. First, there is no clear definition of our problem as a nation, the goals to be achieved, or the means chosen to address the problems and to achieve the goals. Secondly, the system has virtually no consideration for connecting the poor with good means of livelihood-food, job,s and security. This is the only possible explanation for this situation.
Finally, as the debate rages, one point INEC, politicians, and of course Nigerians must not fail to remember is that ‘a precondition for an honest government is that candidates must not need large sums to get elected, or it must trigger off the circle of corruption. Having spent a lot of money to get elected, winners must recover their costs and possibly accumulate funds for the next election as the system is self-perpetuating.’
• Utomi is the Programme Cordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via; email@example.com/