The cost of postponing the elections

20Feb 2019
Editor
DAR ES SALAAM
The Guardian
 The cost of postponing the elections

I woke this morning and my wife told me the elections had been postponed. I replied her by saying that must be another piece of fake news because we have too many misleading and false stories in circulation these days. After I checked several news outlets, it turned out my wife was right.

And I asked myself a very simple question: what's going on here? Clearly, the postponement looked like a joke taken too far; the kind of stunt you pull on April Fool's Day. To start with, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has put our lives on hold even if the electoral umpire had good grounds to postpone the elections - the same announcement at the eleventh hour could have been made last week; at least one week before the elections. It is now evident that INEC was not prepared to conduct these elections or they were just deceiving Nigerians and other stakeholders.

Unfortunately, what INEC has done has become a familiar pattern; an egregious culture of impunity at all levels and we are supposed to just accept what has happened as normal and move on with our lives. But it is not that simple. The economy has been practically shut down because of the elections - movements are usually restricted. This is actually strange in the age of information technology and social media opportunities; so many degree programmes are now run online without students seeing the four walls of a classroom. We can now also run virtual meetings without the participants physically coming together.

February 23 is a special day in the Rotary calendar because that was the day in 1905 that Rotary, a global humanitarian service organisation, was founded by Paul Harris, a Chicago attorney. The Rotary family worldwide marks the day with different activities. Here in District 9110 Nigeria, a public lecture had been planned for February 23 - venue booked; chairman, guest speaker, discussants confirmed and invitation cards printed.

When we received news of the postponement, the planning committee of the event immediately reached out to all our guests to confirm a new date that was not agreeable to some of them for obvious reasons. In fact, our guest speaker and chair of the occasion have scheduled trips outside Nigeria but we had to appeal to them to accommodate the new date.

Please begin to count the cost of the postponement - economic activities that are grounded at a time the economy is coming out of recession; lost time, anger, frustration, disappointment and so on. Next Saturday, we are required to just vote and sit at home; no economic activity will take place. Each time the economy is shut down, commercial activities cannot take place and the country bleeds.

I have friends who travelled so they could vote where they registered and you can imagine their sense of frustration and negative reactions to the postponement. The same thing can be said of election monitors/observers and journalists on assignment around the country and wedding ceremonies and other events shifted from February 16 to February 23 because of the elections. I have checked with family and friends in different places, it is the same story of woes and disappointment everywhere. What will be the impact of the postponement on the elections now scheduled for February 23? Your guess is as good as mine.

I watched Prof Mahmood Yakubu, INEC chair, on television announcing the postponement of the elections and I was not impressed. I could tell from his body language that he was not sure whether he was doing the right thing - he did not appear convinced; he looked disengaged, distracted and worried. The INEC chair said the postponement was a very difficult but inevitable decision for them to take but the last minute decision is very suspicious. Prof Yakubu, the postponement at the time is was announced damages the credibility of the entire electoral process and makes us look very bad on the world stage.

How do you plan for an election that has a cycle of four years and issues of postponement would arise in this day and age? I thought it would be different this time because Prof Yakubu and his colleagues ought to know the implications of the postponement in a country where we are highly suspicious of each other. This is the same man who said many times over that there would be no postponement because INEC was fully ready to conduct the elections. So, what do we believe? As a friend noted, this is Nigeria and anything can happen.

This is precisely why we should begin to ask ourselves very hard questions about building strong institutions that can stand the test of time and protect the integrity of our democracy as well as the future of our children. The good news is that Nigerians - both at home and abroad - are becoming more aware of the roles we all have to play in the task of building a better country. The stakes in this election and in every subsequent election would be high because of the increased awareness - we need redemption to change the culture of engagement that would lead to progress and a better society.

It has never happened before in the history of this country that you will find several young presidential aspirants seeking to make a difference in the way the affairs of this country is run; it's a new culture taking root and I can predict that in the foreseeable future, the scale will tilt in favour of these 'angry young men and women' with winning mind-sets who are determined to chart a new course for Nigeria.

More of their tribe would change the narrative that 'politics is a dirty game'; instead of staying away from politics, this new generation who live on ideas day and night would go into politics and take control of the destiny of our country because the world runs on ideas. Their mandate would be to tackle key issues such as unemployment, poverty and a stagnating economy.

Their number one goal, in my view, would be to dismantle the so- called 'vested interests' holding the rest of us captive and this characteristic was demonstrated by some of the young presidential aspirants during their campaigns and media interviews - you could feel their energy, sense of purpose and vision for a better Nigeria. The answer to Nigeria's numerous problems will come from Nigerians - and that would be very soon. It might take some time to build a critical mass required but it will surely happen. May God bless Nigeria.

The director-general of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Muda Yusuf, estimated financial losses from the election delay at some $1.5 billion. "The cost to the economy of the postponement of the election is horrendous," he was quoted as saying in the Sunday Vanguard newspaper.

 

In the vein, Nigerians on Sunday counted the cost of the last-minute postponement of presidential elections, with predictions the delay could lose the country billions of dollars.

The streets of Lagos, the country's sprawling commercial hub of more than 20 million people, were empty following disappointment and anger at the last-minute decision.

Some 84 million people were registered to vote for a new president and parliament on Saturday until the Independent National Electoral Commission announced a one-week delay.

The two main candidates - President Muhammadu Buhari and Atiku Abubakar - both called for calm, as INEC prepared to address logistical issues that hampered their preparations.Despite the billions of dollars earned in oil revenue, most Nigerians live in poverty and travelling to their home towns and villages to vote is a financial sacrifice for many.

Most businesses shut down on Friday to allow employees to leave before movement restrictions were imposed throughout Saturday. Airports and land borders were also closed.

Analysts predicted that fewer people would make the trip again next week, which would make turn-out low.The director-general of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Muda Yusuf, estimated financial losses from the election delay at some $1.5 billion.

"The cost to the economy of the postponement of the election is horrendous," he was quoted as saying in the Sunday Vanguard newspaper. "The economy was on partial shutdown the day before (Friday), and total shut-down on Saturday for the elections." he added.

Economist Bismark Rewane, however, said the most important cost was to Nigeria's reputation."Investors' confidence will be eroded," he said.

In the long term, when indirect costs were taken into account, the delay might cost the equivalent of 2.0 to 2.5 percent of gross domestic product.

In currency terms, he assessed the possible cost of the delay at "about $9 billion to $10 billion".Social media was used meanwhile to organise collections for street vendors who had bought perishable items to sell to voters that often wait in long lines.

The amount ultimately raised was unlikely to make much difference to tens of millions of people who live on less than $1.90 a day.

INEC announced the delay at 2:45 am on Saturday, just over five hours before the nearly 120,000 polling units were due open across the country.

Yakubu said a combination of factors, including last-minute legal challenges to candidacies, bad weather and sabotage hampered the distribution of election materials.

Ballot boxes and other items, including voter card readers, were destroyed in three fires at three separate INEC offices in central and southeastern states in the last two weeks.

He explained that organising elections in Africa's most populous nation of some 190 million people was an "enormous undertaking" and "operational challenges" were expected.

The election body took "full responsiblity", he said but denied there had been any political interference.The election is the sixth to be held in the 20 years since Nigeria returned to civilian rule after decades of military government.

But the delay is also not a first: in 2011, the date of general elections was pushed back twice, and notably even after voting had started.

Yakubu's predecessor as INEC chairman made the "emergency" decision after it emerged that many polling units had no election materials.

Violence that erupted after the election, which was won by Goodluck Jonathan, of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), killed more than 1,000 across the country.

In 2015, a six-week delay was announced one week before the scheduled vote. INEC said it acted on military advice because of fighting against Boko Haram in the northeast.

A leading Nigerian civil society group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, on Sunday blamed successive governments for the repeated election delays.

It said there was an "increasing tendency to postpone elections... over the years" and that it would look at taking legal action against those responsible.

There have been calls online for Yakubu to resign as INEC chairman but SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare said that was a "blatant attempt by politicians to scapegoat the electoral commission" rather than the root causes.

In 2011, leading human rights lawyer Femi Falana said of that year's delay: "It is frustrating and disappointing. This is evidence of the collapse of state institutions."