Thursday, October 09, 2008

Proper funding for INEC

Recent reports that the activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are being hampered by paucity of funds are disturbing. This is because the smooth operation of the commission is very crucial to the growth, survival and flowering of democracy.

According to reports, the commission’s operations have been affected adversely by the recent mop-up of about N400 billion from Federal ministries and agencies. It was also reported that of the about five billion Naira which the commission requested for its operations, it got just about one fifth of the sum.

Scenarios such as this are clearly not good for a body that has an arduous statutory responsibility that borders on the conduct of elections, among other related functions.

There is no doubt that proper funding of INEC is a necessary requirement in a polity that aspires to democratic ideals. That is why the Electoral Act, 2006, made special provision for the funding of INEC. The Act establishes for the commission a fund to be known as INEC Fund. The fund is for carrying out its functions and purposes under the Constitution and the Act. It requires that the commission establishes and maintains a separate fund from which there shall be defrayed all expenditure incurred by it.

Apart from the functions reserved by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, for the commission, the Act goes ahead to assign it more roles such as the conduct of voter and civic education, promotion of knowledge of sound democratic election processes, and conduct of any referendum required to be conducted in line with the provisions of the 1999 constitution, among others. It is in recognition of the centrality and indispensability of these functions that the Electoral Act made allowance for the establishment of a special fund for the commission.

Under the present democratic order, the electoral commission led by Prof. Maurice Iwu has been undertaking these statutory responsibilities. Apart from the conduct of elections, particularly the landmark elections of 2007, it has undertaken voter registration and conducted voter and civic education at various fora.

At moment, the commission is carrying out the onerous task of delimitation of electoral constituencies across the country. These are money-gulping ventures which can hardly succeed without ready availability of funds.

The need for the commission to succeed in this regard is made even more imperative by the fact that ours is an evolving democratic order which requires that we plug any loophole that is capable of hampering our march towards a stable polity. There is therefore the need for INEC to be properly funded so that it will be in good stead to meet these all-important constitutional and statutory imperatives.

Regardless of the reservations in certain quarters, the present leadership of INEC has demonstrated commitment and readiness to bring about the needed changes in our electoral system. Apart from weathering the storm that attended the 2007 elections and even the repeat elections that followed in some States, it has gone ahead to seek the enthronement of equity and balance in the delineation of electoral constituencies. The latter exercise is still on-going.

These responsibilities come with a lot of challenges. But it is reassuring that INEC is confronting them with determination and utmost sense of patriotism. The progress which the commission is making in this regard must not be hampered by paucity of funds.

The Presidency should therefore take a good look at the statutes establishing INEC, especially as it concerns its funding, and act accordingly.

For a commission which holds the key to free and proper conduct of elections, the need for its protection through proper funding cannot be overemphasized. A properly and adequately funded INEC is less likely to be prone to the manipulations and machinations of governments and political marauders. It is therefore gratifying that we have in place the Electoral Reform Committee which is working hard to produce a blueprint with which our electoral system can be elevated to a more acceptable level. Proper funding of INEC should be one of its concerns.

Those who always find a whipping boy in INEC should also spare a thought in this regard. Criticizing the commission is not enough. Seeking realistic and selfless ways out of its handicaps and shortcoming is a more noble preoccupation.