Two statements by INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, one late last year and the other early this year, have left many Nigerians apprehensive about next year’s elections – the fifth in a row since a return to constitutional rule in 1999. At a stakeholders meeting last December in Abuja, organized by the Senate Committee on INEC in collaboration with Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) and the UK Department of International Development (DFID), Jega said N93 billion would be required to conduct the 2015 elections. He complained that “adequate funding” was one of the “challenging issues” INEC had to contend with. According to him, even that budget was small compared to what Ghana spent to conduct its last polls and Kenya’s also. Some 73 million Nigerians are expected to vote next year, and INEC proposes to spend $7.9 per voter, down from $8 in 2011.
“In preparing for the forthcoming elections, one guiding principle for the commission has been to make elections more cost effective and to give Nigerians better value for money”, he told the meeting. “Our estimate is that the cost of election per voter, which is an international standard for viewing the cost of elections, is coming down in Nigeria. We project that for the 2015 elections, this would come down further by almost $1 from $8.8 in 2011 to $7.9, representing almost a 10 per cent drop. This compares favorably with some other African countries. However, we are anxious about getting all our funding requirements met well in advance of the 2015 general elections.”
We recall that in 2012, just a year after the acrimonious polls that produced President Goodluck Jonathan, Jega also made an issue of adequate funding in the context of the 2015 elections. Then he complained that the INEC budget had been slashed by some 40 percent with serious implications. “Where we are having the most challenging issue is the slashing of the budget proposal by 40 per cent, as barely 60 per cent of the budget is appropriated”, he pointed out to senators who visited INEC headquarters in Abuja. “This has put INEC under a very serious constraint and pressure in terms of being able to do some essential and urgent jobs between now and 2015.” According to him, the commission had structures in only 600 out of the country’s 774 local government areas and many of its resident commissioners in the states lacked accommodation.
The other statement, the most controversial, was made by Jega on January 20, 2014, which seemed to just suggest that INEC was not in a position to give this country “perfect elections” next year. Receiving visiting United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. James Enwistle, in his office, the INEC chairman said, “we are not promising a perfect election in 2015 but we are confident that we will do our best. We have taken some steps to achieve this… The resources available to discharge that responsibility are usually insufficient, given the enormity of the task of dealing with a large illiterate population and to get them really understand what to do not only during voting but the larger issues of costing good candidates…”
Jega’s pragmatic approach to the 2015 polls has, however, been condemned by opposition political parties and other interest groups who suspected that he was reading the ruling PDP’s prepared script for rigging the elections. There is no doubt Nigerians expect a considerable improvement on the 2011 elections, which though considerably better than those in 1999, 2003 and 2007, were marred by post-election violence in the North. However, though we agree Jega may have been slightly naive and opened his mouth too much, he nevertheless knew where the shoe pinched. And he spoke as he saw things ahead of the polls. He needs a huge budget and it must come in good time. Secondly, the political actors and voters as well as the security forces must show a readiness to deliver a much improved election. In this context, we recall the words of UK minister for African affairs, Mr. Mark Simmonds, who spoke on Thursday in Abuja on the occasion of Nigeria’s centenary anniversary celebrations: “Next February’s elections will be a vital milestone. Mr. President, you have committed yourself to ensuring that the elections are free and fair. I am confident Nigerians will accept nothing less. And in doing so, you and your government could be a role model for many other African governments.” The outside world no doubt knows where the burden of delivering “perfect elections” lays – the government, not Jega.