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Card readers, election materials, voting cubicles…what INEC urgently needs to buy with stalled budget

THE fate of Nigeria’s democracy hangs in the balance as funds needed for the next general elections, which are only six months away, have not been approved by the lawmakers.

On Tuesday, July 17 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari sent the 2019 election budget to the Senate for approval. Of a total proposal of N242 billion, N144 billion is to go the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) while the rest is meant for the Office of the National Security Adviser, Nigeria Police, State Security Service and others.

Exactly a week after however, and without passing the president’s supplementary budget, the Red Chamber decided to adjourn its plenary for two months. Indications that the legislative houses would reconvene on Tuesday to give the budget speedy approval also ended in disappointment.

This legislative omission is bound to have severe consequences on the country’s electoral norms and political stability as time is no longer on the side of the Commission. Mahmood Yakubu, chairman of INEC, has said N164 billion is urgently needed by August 15 to enable the Commission procure the first batch of tools and equipment.

Truly, INEC’s released schedule of activities for the 2019 general elections starts with the notice of election slated for August 17, 2018.

An official of the Commission has also explained that INEC needs to purchase over 600 items for the general elections. If procurement laws are to be strictly adhered to, he suggested, this should take up to seven months.

ITEMS TO BE PROCURED SOON FOR ELECTIONS TO BE HELD

Under the approved 2018 budget, N45.5 billion was allocated to the electoral commission, and all of it was ostensibly for personnel costs, salaries and wages. INEC’s capital projects have however been captured under the commission’s Strategic Programme of Action for 2017-2021. The document also provides for the ideal time frame for all projects and exercises.

Approval for the procurement of replacement smart card readers (SCR), the blueprint states, should have been secured by the second quarter of 2018 (before July). In the same quarter, approval should also have been secured for the procurement of battery lifespan check machines, 24-port software upgrade systems, and servers for all states.

By the end of the year’s third quarter, contracts should have been awarded for the modification of SCR hardware and the upgrade of card readers for voter verification and authentication.

Contracts for the procurement of operational vehicles should have been partly awarded in the first quarter of 2018, and the procurement of election materials for the 2019 general elections should have been done in the same period.

Others include the provision of voting cubicles and infrastructure at polling units for physically challenged persons, procurement of braille devices to enable Nigerians with visual challenges to vote, voter sensitisation, procurement of election observation kits, purchase and supply of first aid boxes, hiring of ambulances, and so on.

LAWMAKERS DO NOT DESERVE ALL THE BLAME

Even though it appears the Senate has decided not to meet to speed up passing the presented budget for political expediency, they deserve only part of the blame. This is because six months ago, INEC chairman Yakubu Mahmood himself declared that the 2019 elections budget would be ready in February and assured Nigerians this would be presented swiftly to the lawmaking body.

“It is exactly a year today to the 2019 General Elections scheduled for Feb. 16, 2019,” Mahmood had announced.

“The Commission has developed a strategic plan and programme of actions (2017-2021), in full consultation with stakeholders. In order to implement the plan, the Commission then developed detailed activities and assigned specific responsibilities and timelines for the 2019 general elections under the Election Project Plan (EPP).”

“There is no time to waste,” he added. “The 2019 General Elections are already around the corner. These are the last activities before the conduct of the general elections. The Commission believes in optimal utilisation of resources which is dependent on proper planning.

“With the validation of EPP workshop, having concluded and validated the strategic plan and plan of actions, work on 2019 elections budget will be concluded next week. Immediately after the validation, the budget will be presented to the appropriate authority for consideration and funding.”

This budget presentation “to the appropriate authority for consideration and funding”, however, did not take place until months later on July 17, when the president eventually forwarded the document to the Senate for approval.

 

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