An estimated N1 trillion was spent by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, political parties and candidates for the 2015 elections, it was revealed, yesterday.

The revelation, at a two-day Learning Conference on the Regional Cost of Politics, immediately drew strong disapprovals from concerned stakeholders with assertions that the high cost was the bedrock of the corruption that pervades the political system.

Among those who flayed the high cost of elections were legislators, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, President of the Transition Monitoring Group, TMG and Mr. Ibrahim Musa, Executive Director of the Civil Society Advocacy and Legislative Centre, CISLAC.

Some in the House of Representatives, however, described the high figure as provided by INEC as unrealistic as they put the blame on civil servants, who they claimed, inflate the cost of elections to their benefit.

It was revealed at the conference that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, expended N8.74 billion in traceable media and other related expenses in the 2015 elections while all the other opposition parties expended N2.91 billion for similar activities. Chief Technical Adviser to the INEC Chairman, Prof. Bolade Eyinla disclosed at the opening of the conference organised by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy that the “core cost” of the election as represented by expenditure by the commission and related institutions was $547 million, while total cost, including expenses by political parties and their candidates, was between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.

“In the last general elections in Benin Republic, the core cost was $15 million, and then you had a candidate who, alone, spent about $32 million. “In Nigeria, our core cost was $547 million. It is perhaps the most expensive elections that we have ever seen.

I have seen figures somewhere of between $1.5 billion to $2 billion and believe me; it is true if we knew what happened. In one scandal, we heard of $115 million”, he said. Eyinla also disclosed that 75 political associations have now applied to INEC for registration as political parties, saying existing laws do not give INEC the latitude to restrict the political space to fewer parties.

In her remarks, an INEC National Commissioner, Prof. Anthonia Simbine said the level of money in politics “is responsible for the kinds of governance we have at any given time. If you make an investment, you would want to reap from that,” she said.

According to her, some political parties have been angling for public support, saying there is no existing legislation to back that. On party financing, she said: “We have existing limits in the legal framework, but this has become somehow very unrealistic because there are no enforcement framework or capacity when people do what they are not supposed to do.

This is more because our society is cash-based and so the capacity of INEC is still very weak in tracking and monitoring party financing. “A review we did in 2015 showed that there is largely no record-keeping, including keeping receipts of financial support by political parties.”

Cost higher than 2011 polls

Country Representative of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Adebowale Olorunmola, noted that the cost of the 2015 election was higher than that of 2011.

“In 2011, all the opposition parties put together spent N2.04 billion in traceable expenditure, while the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party PDP spent N5.01 billion.

In 2015, all the opposition parties spent N2.91 billion while PDP spent N8.74 billion,” he said.

According to him, these are traceable expenses which were spent on media advertisements, campaign materials among others, to the exclusion of money spent in underhand dealings and the use of state-owned facilities including stadia for campaigns and other political activities. Earlier, Regional Director, Africa, and Europe of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, George Kunnath, urged countries in the region to critically examine the overall cost of politics, saying it has negative implications for the independence and performance of legislators.

Reacting to the revelation on the humongous amount spent on the 2015 election, Mr. Musa, executive director of CISLAC said the huge amount expended on elections was a direct correlation to the spate of corruption. According to him, politicians who break the bank to win election give priority to recovering their election expenses ahead of any other thing once in office.

“This revelation is very worrisome in the sense fact that the cost of election in Nigeria is becoming outrageous and ridiculous, and that is what is accelerating corruption in Nigeria because when people spend this kind of money to win elections, the first thing they do is to recover the money they have spent and that is why people and development suffer as a result.” Also speaking, Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi, the TMG president called for a cut down on logistics and other deployments which she said tend to increase the cost of elections.

“One of our concerns is that Nigeria invests so much in elections and there is the need for INEC and the government to begin to look at how to reduce the cost of elections. Even if you look at the cost of producing voters cards and you put it across for all eligible voters, you will see that it is a huge amount of money, whereas these same people also have national identity cards or some other cards.

“On the day of elections, huge amounts of money are used to bring policemen, ad-hoc staff, trainings, so there is a need for us to have a cost effective elections and that can be done if we cut down some of these.”

Some members of the House of Representatives also commented on the issue.