Crisis is brewing at the headquarters of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, in Abuja, following the decision of the Commission to contract the printing of the ballot papers to be used for the presidential and governorship elections to a foreign firm at the cost of N6 billion.
Although the Commission is yet to award the controversial contract to any of the foreign firms, it has, however, set in motion the process that will lead to the award of the pricey job to either an American or European firm any moment from now.
To ascertain which firm should be given the job, top officials of INEC are set to depart Nigeria this week for the United States of America, Germany, Italy and Ukraine in the first leg of the move to inspect elite printing companies, which can handle the job, classified as ‘security documents’ by the commission.
Under the plan, which has already been wrapped up by the commission, the sum of N6 billion is to be used in printing ballot papers meant for the presidential and governorship election slated for February next year.
Similarly, the commission has set aside the sum of N3 billion to be paid to local printers to produce the ballot papers to be used for the National Assembly and House of Assembly elections in Nigeria next year.
In all the commission will spend a whopping N9 billion for the printing of ballot papers for the five set of elections, which the electoral body has decided to stagger because of its claim that it does not have adequate logistics to run it simultaneously.
A competent source in INEC told Vanguard that many officials, who were uncomfortable with the decision of the management to farm out the job to outsiders, have made their opposition known to INEC Chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega.
One of the sources close to the commission said: “The INEC officials will visit the United States of America, Germany, Italy, Ukraine, among others to inspect some printing presses that will produce the ballot papers for the next general elections in 2015.
“INEC will specifically produce the presidential and governorship ballot papers abroad while those of the National Assembly and House of Assembly will be printed in Nigeria. The proposed budget for the overseas printing is put at over N6 billion.
Vanguard learnt that those opposed to the printing of the papers abroad have reportedly drawn the attention of INEC Chairman to the fact that it was against the interest of Nigeria for such action to be taken at the time when the Presidency had already made a case for the printing of the documents locally.
The antagonists of the proposal, Vanguard also gathered, had reportedly opted to report the action of the management to President Goodluck Jonathan, who only last week made a case for the printing of security documents with the Nigerian Security and Minting Printing Company, as a means of promoting national security and job creation.
The angry officials are said to have queried the rationale of taking such a huge and security-related job outside Nigeria when there were many local printing companies that could conveniently handle it. To prove their point that the papers could be printed locally, the officials cited the successful printing of the ballot papers used in the Anambra, Ekiti and Osun elections by local contractors.
According to them, the papers that were printed within the country were foul-proof and passed all INEC’s security checks.
While kicking against the foreign contract, the officials, who pleaded anonymity, called on the Federal Government to stop the commission from awarding the job to foreigners especially as the materials needed for the printing were also available in the country.
They also pointed to the fact that the 2011 election was postponed because of the non-delivery of the ballot papers sprinted abroad on time.
But a senior INEC official told Vanguard on Monday that the commission would remain focused in its honest and earnest desire to ensure the success of the 2015 election.
Defending the decision of the management to print the papers abroad, the officials, who pleaded anonymity because he had not been authorized to speak on the matter, said that no company in Nigeria had the capacity to produce the quality and quantity of paper required and be able to deliver to the commission before December this year.
“We are concerned about the capacity of printing press in Nigeria. The time available to us as a commission to conduct the election and the quality and quantity of materials to be delivered by the local contractors do matter to us,” the official said.
“If you must know, for us to conduct the election in February 2015, it means that we must take delivery of the ballot papers in December this year to avoid a repeat of what happened in 2011 when we had to postpone an election because of the late arrival of ballot papers from South Africa,” the officer added.
Reminded that the President last week made a case for the printing of such vital documents with the NSMPC of Nigeria, the officer said, “Well, as we get along and the capacity of the company to handle such assignments grow, we will patronize it. For now, there is none in the country to do such complex job for INEC,” he said.