Elections: Strange idea of private sector funding
ELECTORAL bodies in West and Southern African countries have made a passionate plea to the private sector to contribute to the funding of elections because of the increasing cost of organising them, which they say government alone can no longer shoulder. This sounds strange and it should not be part of Nigeria’s electoral arrangement.
The resolution was contained in a communiqué the two regional electoral bodies issued at the end of their three-day conference in Abuja recently, which examined the opportunities and challenges inherent in using technology to conduct polls. The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mahmood Yakubu; President of the European Centre for Electoral Support, Monica Frassoni; and Chairperson, Electoral Commissions Forum of Southern African Development Community, Notemba Tjipuena; signed the document. They argued that since the private sector required “a stable and peaceful political and socio-economic environment to thrive,” it was only reasonable for it to contribute to achieving it.
Handling of elections is an integral part of a country’s demonstration of its sovereignty, which should be guarded jealously. However, technical, material and cash assistance usually drip from development partners as they push to deepen democracy in developing countries. This explains why these allies donated $80 million to Nigeria for the conduct of the 2011 and 2015 elections, according to Shamsuddeen Usman, the then Minister of National Planning, in July 2010.
These partners are, but not limited to, the following: Multilateral Development Agencies such as the European Union; African Union Commission; Department for international Development; Commonwealth Secretariat; Joint Donor Basket Fund/UNDP; and the World Bank. Also, Ford Foundation, International Republican Institute, Mac Arthur Foundation, the United States Embassy and its counterparts from Britain, Canada, Japan and South Korea have always assisted.
Organising elections is a heavy financial enterprise, globally. The Chief Technical Adviser to the INEC chairman, Bolade Eyinla, said the 2015 elections bore a “core cost” of $547 million, while total cost that included parties and candidates expenses stood between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. The 2015 general election witnessed the novelty of introduction of Permanent Voter Card and Electronic Card Reader devices, which helped to improve transparency and fairness, but at a very huge cost. Nigerians have been urging the commission to deepen the process so that every vote would count. No doubt, more money will be needed.
But no cost is too much to bear, to guarantee the will of the people in an electoral contest. Globally, governments bear this burden and it should continue to be so in Nigeria. Besides sovereignty, national pride is at stake; this is why some countries even spurn aid from foreign donors or prefer their co-sponsorship of activities like training commissions’ staff or organising workshops, rather than cash transfer. The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of them. In March, it outlawed foreign aid for the forthcoming presidential election in December. According to Lambert Mende, the government spokesman, this was tantamount to meddling in its internal affairs. The UN had earlier urged international donors to contribute $123 million to support the country’s round of elections for two years.
For INEC not to be cash-strapped, what is expected of it is to scrupulously prepare its financial requirements on time, which the Executive would forward to the National Assembly for appropriation. Being a four-year cycle project, a well-organised electoral body should not be caught napping. What is more, the adoption of first line charge of its funding in the Electoral Act amendment assuages any fiscal anxiety.
Indeed, cash donation during elections is a testy case globally because of its capacity to blight the process. In some countries, their laws bar private sector assistance even to political parties and candidates. It will be unthinkable in such places, therefore, for electoral bodies to now receive such aid. In 2014, Brazil’s Supreme Court declared the rule that allowed companies to donate to candidates and parties illegal. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, in a study that covered 180 countries, revealed that 39 of them outlawed it, which includes France.
Without question, the cost of conducting polls in Nigeria will remain huge as long as politicians embrace elections with a do-or-die mentality, thus leading to rigging, thuggery, maiming, killing of political opponents and snatching of ballot boxes. For these reasons, the entire police personnel, soldiers and paramilitary organisations are mobilised during general elections.
Conversely, cost is minimal in countries where elections are viewed as a routine civic responsibility; electoral officers move with sensitive materials to polling units unmolested by anybody. This happens, for instance, in Benin Republic.
However, to change the narrative of high cost of organising elections in Nigeria will require a series of measures – reforms driven by technology, sustained public enlightenment for attitudinal change and subjecting those who subvert the electoral process or attempt to do so to the due process of the law, no matter how highly placed they might be.