Without doubt, INEC budget for the 2019 general elections should raise serious cause for concern for the future of democracy in the country. With a proposal of N248 billion, including security, for the polls, there are questions about its sustainability given the fragile and oil dependent nature of the economy. Rising electoral burden on the economy
Although the actual budget for INEC operations is N189 billion, an increase of over N70 billion from the 2015 elections, Nigerians should be agitated on the rising cost of elections in the country. At this rate of increase, the next in 2023 may see the nation spending half a trillion on polls. President Buhari’s proposal to the NASS was N143 billion.
And this does not include the losses incurred by the economy on the shut down during the polls. One estimate suggests that the economy loses over $1 billion each day the economy is grounded as during and strikes.
This is not good enough. The immediate question is: can Nigeria afford such a cost in view of the struggle to meet revenue pressures for capital expenditure and social welfare. How would the nation cope were elections to fall in a year of low oil price and government revenue?
It seems to this newspaper that our leaders do not have any deep thought for the future of their policies and actions, because we have made our elections one of the major booby traps for our democracy.
Arguably, democracy in the country is facing an endless catalogue of serious challenges and unless our leaders admit such and embark on concerted effort to salvage it, the future may remain uncertain and even bleak. Every other challenge such vote buying, unbridled appetite to own parties which now stand at 91, and desperation for power pales into insignificance compared with the cost of conducting elections.
In an economy that is just exiting recession and unable to fund needed capital projects, it is senseless and unconscionable to expend this humongous amount on elections, which may have little bearing on the lives of people. Generally in this country, elections have become rituals for the political class to entrench their positions of power rather than effect necessary changes in the social and economic wellbeing of the masses.
Elections are indispensable to democracy as a means of regenerating and renewal of leadership for the interest of the people. It is also to ensure that no leadership or party becomes complacent and indulgent enough to ignore the mandate and interest of the people. It presupposes the existence of viable options and alternatives between leaders and parties. The essence is to ensure competition and variety.
Unfortunately for us, this is not exactly the case, except in the First republic when ideologically different parties existed and held sway in the regions. The outcome was the massive development drive through competition in the regions. However, this is no longer the case especially with the merger of the ultra conservative Congress for Progressive Change and the progressive Action Congress to form the APC.
Admittedly, such amorphous fusion did not begin with the APC; but it is the climax and consolidation of the selfish and purposeless party leadership that has been imposed on the country’s politics with all the politicians crisscrossing from one party to another to continue in power.
Also the do or die nature of election clearly vitiates is political relevance and public accountability, as elections are usually marred and hardly free and fair and do not reflect the electoral ability of candidates. So, with the loss of its significance, elections have become ‘necessary evils’ that come every four years without appreciable improvement either in its conduct or the welfare of the people.
Therefore, to devote a whooping sum of N248 billion for the upcoming polls is scandalous and portrays the country as unserious toward social and economic development.
Particularly vexatious was the registration of 40 new parties increasing the number of political parties to 91. According to INEC, this is one of the elements responsible for the high cost. But beside this the N6 billion and N2 billion etc budgeted for Police and Immigration service for the election to say the least is dubious. Why should extra budget be made for them by INEC when their respective budgets could have easily accommodated such extraordinary expenditure? It could lead to double budgeting and corruption.
It appears to this newspaper that everything about this country and its democracy is tailored to failure ultimately. As a developing country, Nigeria should evolve a system that is consistent with its income and development capacity. Other nations are rigorously looking for ways to reduce the cost of governance; but the reverse is the case with us. The issue of constitutional review has been so flippantly treated without regard to its consequences.
The NASS should wake up to its constitutional responsibility to save this democracy and the nation. Without reducing the cost of governance, this paper believes the future is bleak. Because with population growing faster than GDP, and recurrent expenditure including cost of election rising, with little for capital expenditure, the challenges of development and social welfare will become more and more acute. This can only be a recipe for disaster.