Failure of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to conduct the forthcoming Kogi and Bayelsa States Gubernatorial elections loom due to paucity of funds, writes OKECHUKWU JOMBO
As the Kogi and Bayelsa States Governorship elections slated for November and December respectively draw nearer, and with the Acting Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Amina Zakari disclosing that the Commission is not yet prepared for the polls due to paucity of funds, observers are worried that the exercise may just be like the previous ones, characterised by lack of materials and manpower.
Zakari had lamented that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government has not made funds available for the electoral umpire to start major preparations. She maintained that the over N100 million budget allocated for the governorship elections had not been released.
INEC, in July, fixed November 21, and December 5, 2015 for the conduct of governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, respectively.
The information which was contained in a statement by INEC’s Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Chris Iyimoga, had added that primaries for the elections would be held on or before August 23, and September 5, 2015, respectively for the two States in accordance with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2014 (as amended).
Governorship elections did not hold in the affected states during the last April 11, 2015 governorship election because the tenures of the two Governors were yet to end.
Zakari stated that, approaching the Federal Government for funding was the only choice. “For Kogi, I am still expecting the budget, but we have done the budget for CVR and PVC distribution. They were approved when there were enough members of the Commission.
“For Kogi, we are coming up with the budget. For Bayelsa, we have to go back to government for the budget. Nonetheless, we have started preparation.
“We had preliminary meeting with the RECs last Wednesday to discuss modalities for the CVR. We have a work plan for the CVR, so we want to start early. Then we would have a work plan for the elections. We should soon get approval for Kogi.
“We would get a memo and budget for Kogi. But for Bayelsa, we have to go back to government because we had anticipated Bayelsa to be in next year’s budget, but due to the timelines approved in the constitution, it is better to prosecute the two elections this year.
“Next year, we take Ondo and Edo, so that we can have a paced process so we don’t get inundated with too many elections like we did between 2011 and 2015, so we can tidy up and ensure seamless delivery of credible elections to Nigerians.
“The processes have started. We are comfortable. The RECs are already doing what they need to do at the lower level.
“I always told the staff there are soft issues you can do without money. You can begin preparations without money. While you are waiting for the core issues, you can begin with soft preparations and this is the example of what we are doing. In fact, our timelines have not been derailed for any reason.”
On the amount to be spent on Kogi election, she said; “Normally, for governorship elections, it costs us between N500 million and N600 million.
“This is all inclusive. It includes payment of ad hoc staff and the bulk of our cost is usually the payment of honorarium to ad hoc staff. But we have some savings.
“We still have leftovers, non-sensitive materials from the 2015 elections, and we are not going to procure a lot. We will just concentrate on procuring the sensitive materials.”
On the above premises, INEC has said it would soon present to the Budget Office of the Federation its financial estimates for the governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states scheduled to hold on November 21 and December 5, respectively.
The Director of Voter Education and Publicity, INEC, Mr. Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, said that it was too early for the commission to determine the budget for the polls, as it had yet to consolidate the budgets of all its departments. He added that budgets for subsequent governorship elections slated for 2016 would also be reflected in the soon-to-be-submitted budgetary recommendation.
Osaze-Uzzi said, “As I speak, I am on my way back from Kogi. We just had a stakeholders meeting and next week (this week), we are doing the same in Bayelsa. We have already started the preparations for Kogi and Bayelsa.
“We also factored the Federal Capital Territory, Ondo and Edo elections into next year’s budget, so we are in the process of preparing a budget for those elections, which we will submit to the Executive and then to the National Assembly. But now, we are concentrating on Kogi and Bayelsa,” he said.
Osaze-Uzzi further noted that, although the dates for next year’s elections had not yet been fixed, “in due course, they will.”
According to him, the remnants of materials from the general elections would be used for the Kogi and Bayelsa elections, in addition to others that will be procured.
He noted that, “The process has started for the procurement of the other materials that will be required, but only non-sensitive materials. We are going to take leftovers; we’ve taken stock of what is there and what isn’t. We will add to the remaining and go ahead with it,” he added.
Zakari said the commission would apply lessons learnt from previous elections in raising the bar during the Kogi and Bayelsa polls.
“In conducting elections in both states, the commission will apply lessons learnt from the previous elections beginning with the stand-alone governorship elections in Anambra, Ekiti and Osun states, and the general elections,” she said.
She said INEC would also carry out Continuous Voter Registration exercise in both states.
She also said registered voters would get their Permanent Voters Cards while provision would be made for voters’ transfers in the states.
The INEC boss called for continued support from development partners and civil society organisations towards improving the country’s electoral process.
“INEC in partnership with key stakeholders in the political parties, security and civil organizations, will strive to ensure that both elections in Kogi and Bayelsa are transparent and well run,” she said.
She warned against electoral malpractice in both states and said that INEC would continue to drive transparency and effectiveness in the country’s electoral processes.
“Any INEC official found wanting at the tribunals will be punished to the full extent of the law,” she added.
Zakari disclosed that the commission’s transitional plans were needed to lay foundation for the future.
Suffice to say that apart from at least sixteen political parties that are involved in elections, the newly registered Democratic Peoples’ Congress (DPC), says it will field candidates to contest governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states.
In a communiqué signed by the National Chairman of DPC, Reverend Olusegun Peters, primaries to decide candidates for the Kogi and Bayelsa seats would be held on September 12 and September 28, respectively.
“The NEC resolved that our great party shall field candidates to contest the forthcoming Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections.
“NEC also urged credible Nigerians, who desired to contest these elections on the platform of the DPC to obtain the party’s nomination form for a fee of N5 million,” the communiqué stated.
It said that the sale of nomination forms for Kogi State governorship would start from August 12, while the nomination form for Bayelsa governorship poll would be on sale from September 1.
The party resolved to strengthen its structures in the 36 states of the federation and the FCT, and directed state chapters to embark on massive sensitisation and mobilisation of new members.
The DPC also resolved to uphold internal democracy at all levels in its determination to be “the third force” in Nigeria’s political equation.
The party also declared its resolve to partner with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to ensure free, credible, transparent and acceptable elections in the country.
“NEC also urged INEC to improve on electronic voting system as obtainable in most democracies around the world. This will eliminate electoral malpractices, and violence that have characterised elections in Nigeria since independence in 1960,” the communiqué stated.
The question now is, when will Federal Government release funds for the preparations to begin? This is because they need money to conduct voter registration and other sundry matters without which the whole exercise will be a failure and this is not good for the polity.