Some political parties in Ondo State have expressed concerns over a staggering N1.2 billion budgeted by the Ondo State Government for the conduct of local government elections scheduled for April 18.
The Peoples Democratic Party has already withdrawn from the contest, while the Zenith Labour Party is yet to decide its participation.
The Social Democratic Party has expressed fears that the election may not be free and fair, but had concluded plans to participate in the election.
PREMIUM TIMES checks showed that the Ondo State Independent Electoral Commission (ODIEC) charged with the responsibility of conducting the council elections has a budget of N1.2 billion approved for it by the Ondo State House of Assembly for 2020.
Out of that amount, specifically N1.150 billion will go for the conduct of the election in the 18 local councils in the state.
Other items on the budget include, reorganisation of the commission, N50 million; purchase of generating set, N9.2 million; three desktop computers, N750,000; three laptop computers, N750,000; and chairs and tables, N1.5 million.
The commission was also granted another N12 million as funds for “transition and other allied activities” within the year.
The budgeted amount is more than twice what was budgeted for the same elections in 2016, which was conducted by the previous government under Olusegun Mimiko.
The ODIEC received a total of N542.6 million then as its total budget for its administration in 2016, including the conduct of the 2016 local council elections.
The Ondo State Government, has however, defended the huge budget, saying it was necessary to conduct a credible and a well organised election, even though it is at the level of the third tier of government.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, the Commissioner for Information in the state, Donald Ojogo, said the amount is not outrageous considering the importance placed on the project by the state government.
“No sacrifice will be too much to be committed as far as the grassroots are concerned,” he said.
He noted that the state government had decided to put in place a democratic structure in all the local governments, adding that “it was not proper to leave governance at the council levels at the hands of caretakers.”
“So, whatever it will take government, it will ensure that the grassroots which is closer to the people is democratised,” said Mr Ojogo.
“We are not looking at the financial commitments; I thought you were going to mention N3 billion or N4 billion. It is still below N1.5 billion.
“I don’t think it is outrageous. Let us look at the bigger socio-political benefits that are accruable from the programme.”
He argued that electing officials at the local government level “involved so much money”.
“We want to do what is befitting and ensure that every measure that is desirable is put in place to make the exercise credible,” Mr Ojogo said.
“So nothing is too much to be put in place to ensure that the grassroots are democratised. It is not an outrageous cost.”
But the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the state is not comfortable “with a single provision of N1.15 billion for the conduct of election as provided for in the budget, without a clear breakdown on how the funds would be used”.
Remi Olayiwola, the publicity secretary of the SDP, told PREMIUM TIMES that the sum should have been completely broken down to ensure that every detail of the expenditure was well known.
He said unless that was done, it would be difficult to justify the amount budgeted for the election.
“It is the responsibility of the government to give us the analysis of the N1.15 billion budgeted for the election, so that we can see whether the amount is justifiable or not,” Mr Olayiwola said.
“But to just state a figure, will make it difficult for proper assessment of how the funds were expended.”
Also, the publicity secretary of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) in the state, Olatunde Felix, considers the amount outrageous.
“To budget such an amount is making the election too expensive and I think with the economic reality on ground, the amount should be reviewed,” he said.
He, however, noted that the members of the state legislature “should have known that there was a need for a downward review”.
He also expressed his disappointment at the lawmakers’ “lack of patriotism”.
He added that “with too much funds, it will not be strange if the election was for the highest bidder”.
Meanwhile, the PDP, which had stated it would not participate in the council elections, said it would review the situation “and take a position very soon”.
The party’s spokesman, Zadok Akintoye, said the party was concerned and was doing a review of the huge budget, after which a statement would be issued on it.