Thursday, March 5, 2015

The costs of the 2015 elections postponement

All seems set for the conduct of the 2015 polls on February 14 and 28 before the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman Prof. Attahiru Jega announced a six weeks postponement on Saturday, February 7, 2015. INEC chairman cited the fact that the military had written to him through the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (Retd.) that they will not be able to provide adequate security for the elections should the elections go on as earlier scheduled. The military wanted more time to rout the insurgency in North-East Nigeria which has 14 local governments under its control. It would be recalled that the National Security Adviser had earlier advised INEC to shift the polls to enable about 30 million Nigerians who are yet to collect their Permanent Voters Card to do so. He said this on January 22 while speaking at Chatam House in London.

It’s been some three weeks into the postponement. Was Jega right to postpone the polls? Was INEC actually ready for the February 14 and 28 elections? What are the cost implications for the polls shift? With the benefit of hindsight, INEC chairman has no choice but to do as suggested by the NSA. He couldn’t have pressed on with the elections when the Nigerian military had patently informed him in writing that they would not be able to provide security for the polls. It would be recalled that Nigerian military and some other paramilitary organizations numbering about 16 altogether are members of the INEC Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security. ICCES provides both logistic support and security for poll workers, election materials and the electorates. It’s practically impossible to conduct elections in Nigeria today without the support of the security agencies.

On the second poser, INEC was not fully ready for the elections in February.  However, it must be noted that lack of readiness by INEC was not entirely its making. Funding was not made available to the commission as and when due. As at first week in January this year, an election fund of N75billion has not been released to INEC. The Punch newspaper of January 3, 2015 stated thus “Six weeks to this year’s general elections, the Federal Government has yet to appropriate the remaining N75bn out of the N120bn budgeted for the conduct of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission.”

Indeed, there are several costs to the election postponement. They are social, political, legal and economic costs. The social cost to the poll shift lies in the doubt it had created in the minds of the electorate about the proficiency of our governance institutions. The situation has created a confidence deficit and cast a pall of distrust on our key democratic institutions such as the electoral management body, political parties, National Assembly (Electoral Act and constitutional amendments yet to be concluded since 2012) and the security agencies.

In terms of political cost, the postponement has given more time for the political contestants to malign, discredit, abuse, and destroy their political opponents.  As at February 25, there are 10 court cases filed at various high courts seeking the disqualification of APC presidential candidate, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (Retd.)  from contesting the March 28 presidential polls. (See The Punch of February 26, 2015). Should this happen to a strong contender like Buhari  at this point in time, the backlash among his supporters is better imagined. Also, it was reported that the some persons and organizations had filed suits in the court seeking the stoppage of INEC from the use of Card Readers for the forthcoming elections. This is because it is viewed as infringing section 52 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) which bars the use of electronic voting.  This suit is coming after INEC had procured 182,000 units of the Card Readers. Should the court bar INEC from its use, that will be millions of Naira down the drain. All these would possibly not have happened were the election to hold as scheduled in February.

The economic cost is also very huge. According to The Punch newspaper in its February 10 edition, “The postponement of the elections has cast a shadow on the naira’s outlook, pushing the forex (foreign exchange) market into a panic mood…” A dollar now officially exchange for over N200 at the official market.  Therefore, the polls shift is hurting the economy.

At private level, candidates and their parties have to re-plan and re-strategise. They have to pay more for the services of their campaign teams. If they had gone to lease or hire campaign vehicles and aircraft, they have to pay for additional six weeks which was probably not budgeted for ab initio. They have to produce and air new jingles and advertorials; pay more for their private and public security, etc.

Even when the elections were fixed for February, many politicians were reported to have sold off their property in order to raise money for their campaigns while those who did not have much to sell had to go a-borrowing by taking bank loans or borrowing from money lenders as well as friends and families. The greater implication of extended campaign finance is that political corruption will become an attractive option when these politicians assume power after their elections.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja.