Despite what any person or group may think or say, there are enough reasons now for genuine concerns on the credibility and ever-increasing attached- cost of INEC’S idea of what should give the nation a free and fair election in the 2011 polls.
From INEC’S exhibited mindset, it could rightly be assumed that the January 2011 polls may actually be tending to be “the best Nigerian election money would buy”.
Is it not funny that before our eyes, the term “credible elections” seems to have become synonymous with “unreasonably expensive,” simply because some groups of privileged few are scheming to rule at all costs? Whose money are we even talking about? These are the monies that could have been used to execute projects that would have direct impact on the lives of the already battered real people of this country.
It all started when Prof Atahiru Jega, frankly told the Senate that the new timetable was unrealistic considering the enormous job needed to be done to guaranty credible free and fair elections. But it could become realistic if President Jonathan can provide between N55- N72 billion, just to prepare fresh voters’ register. Otherwise, Nigerians should be ready to make do with 10 percent credible election using a reworked Maurice Iwu’s implausible voters’ register.
In the first instance, the use of such wide margin in the budget calculation was very interesting. And while Nigerians were still jostling to support or protest against the amount of money being asked for, the INEC came up with another figure of N74 billion. A more harrowing figure of N82 billion was later dangled which was later upgraded to N84 billion for the same voters’ registration exercise that the commission earlier asked for N55- N72 billion.
The Commission claimed the request for N84 billion was to enable the purchase of equipment for the voters’ registration exercise and for payment of overheads of personnel to handle the exercise. “The estimate was based on 120,000 capturing machines because the time is short, and this would avoid moving machines from one capturing center to another. Also, moving machines from center to another exposes the data captured to abuse and adulteration, apart from not meeting the November deadline,” it was said.
So because we have boxed ourselves into this tight corner, we must be prepared to pay the price to come out of it. Good argument!
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremandu, speaking to journalists in Lagos in his response on the N84 billion request by INEC was quoted as haven said: “Well, that is his own estimate; that is not my estimate. We should be talking about how to save money from that figure… For the purpose of the election, I think it is reasonable but a country such as here where we have so much poverty, it is on the high side. He may have to adjust it to be more realistic.
“We believe there are other ways we can adjust this, because that figure is much because he is looking at one Data Capturing Machine (DCM) per polling booth and we have 120,000 of such (polling booths). So if there is no way we can deal with it in such a way that there could be like two polling booths per DCM, I’m sure its going to reduce the figure. We will work it out with him but he is going to get all the support he needs for us”.
While Nigerians were still waiting to see how the Senate will work it out, President Jonathan himself introduced another interesting dimension to the issue by asking the National Assembly to approve a supplementary budget of N89.6 billion for the INEC in preparation for the 2011 elections. Whatever the word “preparation” meant in the request was not stated.
So from N55 billion, we have now reached N89.6 billion and still going. Up, Up Nigeria! It means if you want credible, free, and fair elections, you must rogger X naira raise to power Z billions, where z stands for limitless amount. Good mathematics, is it not? In as much as we need credible election, Let us equally remember that majority of the Nigerian populace are suffering in real term.
Nobody should blame concerned Nigerians who are already alleging that there are indications of deliberate schemes to mess up the nation’s aspirations of having credible, free and fair polls in the 2011 general elections before they actually take place.
As aptly captured by a well-known political analyst: “A credible voters’ register is non-existent and to produce one in a hurry, the country has to provide N72 billion by August 11, an amount that has now suddenly gone up to N74 billion within a week. Is the computer error alluded to by Professor Jega for the variation due to changes in the exchange rate? It is like old times all over again; nothing has changed, except the personnel involved (even that is debatable).” No be me talkam o!
The imagination of this concerned Nigerian must have been blown apart to hear that in another one week the figure witnessed staggered shoot-up from N74 billion through N82 billion; N84 billion to N89.6 billion and still counting?
Prof. Jega himself believes and has said it for everybody to hear over and over that a lesser amount could suffice if the time available for registration were to be longer. So the INEC boss has shifted the blame from the commission.
In the words of the Deputy Senate President: “It is the people who are asking for date. Jega personally has never asked for any date. What they (INEC) wanted us to do was to adjust the period for registration of voters, from 120 days to 60 days minimum, which we have done under the new electoral Act. He is not asking for any date, what he is asking for is the money to go and do his assignment. And as soon as he gets money, I am sure he would deliver.”
The big question: How did INEC arrive at the first range of figures and the subsequent ones? It doesn’t matter who is complaining about it, N84 or N89.6 billion is too much money. Were we not told Maurice Iwu’s INEC was going to procure data capture machines? So where are those ones? Is Iwu’s INEC, different from Jega’s INEC? And what is the actual or rather final cost for the generation of a new voters’ register by INEC? Nigerians are waiting to know.