In the face of increasing lean resources, Nigerians expect their public office holders to be prudent with funds in their care. This is even more important in a state like Osun, where state wealth largely comprises federal allocations. However, it would appear unbelievable that resources allocated for the conduct of the recently-held local government election were diverted by election officials. SODEEQ ATANDA, who was in the state recently, writes on his findings.
Election Date Announcement
On August 15, 2022, Olusegun Oladitan, the chairman of Osun State Independent Electoral Commission (OSIEC), told the state about his commission’s preparedness to conduct an election for local government and local council development areas in the state. Exactly two months after, the election was held.
But it was not without controversies on the legal capacity of the commission to proceed with the election. The state electoral body is an establishment of the state of assembly act passed into law by the seventh Assembly on July 28, 2022; as a consequence, all previous electoral laws in the state became repealed.
However, the confirmation of the appointment of the commission’s leadership had happened since May 27, 2020. Olusegun Oladitan was appointed Chairman, with Rufus Oyeniran, Yinka Ajiboye, Alhaji Wahaab Adewoyin, Oladosu Gidigbi, Abosede Omibekun and Alhaja Babalola Adubi appointed members.
It is not in question that their appointments as officers of the commission make them public officers and salary earners working for the people of the state.
OSIEC in the Midst of Millions of Naira
When asked how much the election would cost the commission, Oladitan had said in August during a live radio programme, Frank Talk, on Rave FM Osogbo, as reported by Osun Defender: “As of now, we are looking at maybe half a billion. I always want to run away from cost. What I’m always concerned with is what people want. We should not sacrifice the people’s desires at the alter of cost.”
But FIJ’s investigations reveal that contrary to the chairman’s claims that the commission would spend N500 million on the election, the commission indeed spent about N1.5 billion, more than triple the promised sum.
THE COMMISSION MOTIVATED BY CORRUPTION
Electoral officers are expected to be above board in the handling of elections and funds allocation. It is particularly important in the case of OSIEC, which operates in a state with low financial capacity, categorised by a BudgIT report as one in distress.
A document obtained by FIJ revealed that from the election funds, members of the commission appropriated over N263 million and pilfered large sums with impunity.
While the commission is found to have budgeted for materials not used or bought, the chairman took N16 million for himself, seven members took N84 million, while five directors embezzled N40 million.
Money was shared by the officials of the electoral umpire in order of hierarchy, as eight deputy directors went home with N28 million, 55 staff got N55 million, personal assistants to the electoral commissioners took N4.9 million, field officers got N30 million, while drivers and orderlies took N5.6 million.
FIJ’s investigations show that apart from brazen personal enrichment, the commission’s officials allocated funds for sundry items that were never bought in the specified quantities. For instance, the commission allocated N14 million to the purchase of COVID-19 protective items, but those items were rarely available on election day.
LAMENTATIONS OF INSUFFICIENCY
Apart from inflating the prices of election materials, OSIEC did not provide adequate materials to the ad hoc officials who oversaw the voting process as presiding officers (PO) and assistant presiding officers (APO).
FIJ found out that the ad hoc officials lacked many items on the election day because they were not provided by OSIEC. Although N14 million was allocated to the purchase of nose masks and hand sanitizers, many ad hoc staff told FIJ they were unaware of this, as the commission did not supply them with any COVID-19 materials.
Speaking with FIJ, a presiding officer in Iwo Federal Constituency who simply identified himself as Fatai lamented that election materials released to them were barely enough.
“In my own unit, they gave us pens, permanent markers. We did not receive any nose mask or hand sanitizers,” he told FIJ.
“On the election day, some OSIEC officials came to visit us. When we asked for refreshment, they said we should approach the local government chairman for that, as OSIEC officials did not have provisions for that.”
A card-carrying member of the APC and a native of Iwo who simply identified himself as Monsuru spoke about some abnormalities he saw during the election as an election official.
“OSIEC did not give us enough materials for the election. Even they are yet to pay us our money. I don’t know what’s wrong with them (OSIEC),” he said.
Asked how much OSIEC promised to pay its ad hoc staff, he replied: “It is not official; they did not disclose the exact amount.”
Asked what criteria qualified her to work as a PO, a lady in Osogbo South LCDA who simply wished to be known as Fatimah told FIJ: “All of us who worked as ad hoc officers were selected based on our membership of APC.
“Our selection was based on party membership. In my ward, there are eight units and in the eight units, we did not have hand sanitizers. I got one nose mask, but others did not get.”
According to Leke Oyeniran, a legal practitioner and founder of Learned Library Electronic Law Report, a state electoral commission is a legal body recognised by the constitution and their staff are public servants under federal salary structure.
“By virtue of Sections 6 and 7 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN), a state electoral commission is a corporate body and their staff are public servants under federal government salary structure,” he said.
“The law places premium on their integrity and public accountability. If, by any chance, they are found to be guilty of abuse of office and corrupt personal enrichment, they may be liable for bribery and corruption.
“However, their trial will be subject to the criminal law procedure of the state. Each state, including Osun, has its criminal law for trying criminals before the court of law.”
Meanwhile, Simeon Amusan, the Clerk of the State House of Assembly, has not responded to the Freedom of Information request sent by FIJ on November 11.
The FoI request was sent to the Assembly for a copy of the budget approved by the legislature for OSIEC to prosecute the election exercise.
Editor’s Note: Some names were changed as requested by the sources. Some sources also requested to be addresssed by their first names only.
This story was produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).
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