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Poll shift may cost Nigeria more than $2.23b suffered in 2019

By Tope Templer Olaiya (News Editor), Terhemba Daka, Adamu Abuh and Sodiq Omolaoye (Abuja)
10 March 2023   |   5:05 am
Many Nigerians are having a hard time coming to terms with reality; that the 2023 general elections won’t be concluded tomorrow after raised hopes of returning to pre-election fuel and cash crises after this weekend. On Wednesday night, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced shift of the governorship and state Houses of Assembly polls by a week.

INEC Chairman, Prof.-Yakubu-Mahmood

• Postponement compounds naira, fuel scarcity woes – SBM
• Presidency: Why Buhari is quiet over allegations of irregularities against INEC
• March 18 polls: Excuses no longer acceptable, IPAC cautions INEC
• Abure: INEC has eroded our confidence
• Protect integrity of data from BVAS, APC tells INEC
• INEC kicks as court orders Commission to allow two Nigerians vote without PVCs

Many Nigerians are having a hard time coming to terms with reality; that the 2023 general elections won’t be concluded tomorrow after raised hopes of returning to pre-election fuel and cash crises after this weekend. On Wednesday night, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced shift of the governorship and state Houses of Assembly polls by a week.

Indeed, the late postponement when men and materials for the election were being deployed, will lead to huge economic and financial losses to Africa’s biggest economy.

As revealed by socioeconomic research firm, SBM Intelligence, INEC budgeted N355 billion for the 2023 elections and putting off any aspect of the election means a staggering loss arising from the suspension of economic activities and movement restrictions.

The firm recalled that the cost of election postponement in 2019 was $2.23 billion. This is because its primary and secondary effects cost Nigeria two per cent of its $420 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

According to SBM, given the effects of inflation and the variance in the value of the naira in 2019 and 2023, it can safely be said that Wednesday’s announcement, coupled with a possible rerun of the presidential contest on the unlikely chance the Labour Party (LP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) prove their claims of rigging in court, would come at a greater economic and social cost.

“Moreover, the postponement could have the immediate effect of harming voter enthusiasm and turnout rates, as some voters might be too drained by a long drawn out political process and the aftereffects of a flawed presidential exercise to carry on with the process on the newly chosen date,” it added.

This was also echoed by LP, which said, yesterday, that INEC has done incalculable damage to the trust Nigerians once had in the Commission’s promise to let the people’s vote count.

National Chairman of the party, Comrade Julius Abure, while speaking with newsmen in Abuja, said he was one of those, who, at various forums, expressed implicit confidence in the ability of the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC to deliver based on his repeated assurances that the Commission would adhere strictly to its rules and the tamper proof Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) technology.

According to Abure, INEC not only failed to deliver, but had through its subsequent actions shown it cannot be trusted.

The LP Chairman expressed misgivings over INEC’s various applications in court, reliefs sought and postponement of the governorship election earlier scheduled for tomorrow.

Abure said: “INEC will make a promise from one side of the mouth and then swallow their vomit from the other. Recall that in 2019, INEC promised that it had a Server, only for the Server not to be available when litigants wanted to inspect the Server that they claimed they had.

“INEC had gone out of their way to assure and reassure Nigerians that election results will be uploaded from polling units to their Server and that people are going to view these results from their Server, but you could see that when it was time for people to start uploading the results, INEC said it had a technical glitch even when they had explained to Nigerians that they had backup that will roll off into work immediately when the main server had a technical issue.

“All of these brings us to the point that though INEC had assured us and the court, in their counter affidavits that the records in the BVAS will be saved in their backend Server, we have our doubts because this is not the first time INEC will be telling us that they have a Server, they will upload to their Server and so on.

“But the court in their wisdom has given them privilege and you can see, immediately they got that judgment, they shifted the elections.

“If they knew they were going to postpone the governorship election for a week, why did they go to court to go and vary the order given to us to inspect materials?

“There was absolutely no need for it, because one of the reasons they gave to the court was that if they allowed us to inspect the BVAS, it would affect the timeline for the election, but surprisingly, after getting the court to grant them the request to reconfigure the BVAS, they immediately shifted the election.

“One had a lot of doubts about the patriotism, commitment, truthfulness and integrity of INEC to do what is right. The way and manner they conducted the last election has completely destroyed the confidence, which I had in INEC.”

SBM further said INEC’s efforts at ensuring the elections took place were not helped by the crippling cash shortage and fuel scarcity that resulted in protests and riots in parts of the country, with some state governments openly declaring their refusal to align with the Federal Government’s currency redesign policies.

“Needless to say, the time chosen to implement this demonetisation programme harmed trade and the economy at large. The controversy around BVAS following the February 25 presidential election did not help either,” it said.

Since the fourth quarter of last year, Nigeria has been roiled by internal crises as households and businesses were burdened by a severe petrol scarcity and a chronic shortage of cash occasioned by the naira redesign policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Reacting to the postponement, Director-General of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Segun Ajayi-Kadir, said Nigeria has gone through a lot recently and a rescheduled election is the last thing an already volatile polity and distressed economy needs, but it has happened.

Also, 18 registered political parties under the aegis of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) have warned that the electorate would no longer accept excuses that suggest that their quest for INEC to deliver credible, inclusive and acceptable polls to Nigerians is not possible.

IPAC’s National Chairman, Yabagi Sani, gave the warning while briefing journalists after an emergency General Assembly meeting held at the Council’s Secretariat in Abuja.

He, nevertheless, disclosed that the political parties were in support of INEC’s rescheduling of the governorship and state Assembly elections from March 11 to 18.

Meanwhile, the Presidency, yesterday, gave an hint to why President Muhammadu Buhari kept silent when there were allegations of irregularities and compromise against INEC on the conduct of the February 25 presidential and National Assembly elections.

The Presidency also ruled out the possibility of taking any decision that would lead to the annulment of the presidential election as was the case of June 12, 1993.

It advised any candidate or political party that is not satisfied with the conduct and outcome of the election to approach the court for redress.

These were contained in a report by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, titled, “At the 5th United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs), President Buhari drums up support for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s Presidency.”

He said: “Before the elections, President Buhari had, at different fora, both local and international, assured that he would ensure that the elections heralding his exit from office would be credible, free, fair and transparent and that the outcome would reflect the wishes of the people in choosing who would lead them.

“The signing into the law the Electoral Act, 2022 and the use of technology for the elections were indications that President Buhari was ready to bequeath to Nigeria, a transparent electoral process, devoid of manipulations.”

However, controversies trailed the conduct and outcome of the February 25 election as INEC was accused to have failed to follow strictly the Electoral Act as regards transmission of results from BVAS to the IReV immediately after collation at the Polling Units.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was the first to raise the alarm that INEC had compromised the conduct of the election by not keeping to the electoral laws and had, in a statement, called on President Buhari to call the electoral umpire to order so that the country would not be thrown into political crisis.

But the presidential spokesman in what could be said to be the takeaways he listed from the President’s participation at the conference in Doha, Qatar, said that President Buhari, while speaking to Nigerians in the Diaspora about the ongoing political transition, called for support for the incoming government of Tinubu, “so that Nigeria will continue to be the beacon of hope and prosperity in our continent and an example for other African countries to emulate.”

The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has called on INEC to preserve and protect the integrity of the extracted data from BVAS. APC, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, enjoined INEC to use the opportunity presented by the election postponement to address any gaps identified in the presidential election to avoid a reoccurrence in the March 18 election.

Expressing support for the shift of the governorship and states Assembly elections, the party insisted that its presidential candidate, Tinubu, won the poll in a free and fair manner.

Yesterday, the Federal High Court, Abuja, ordered INEC to allow two voters to use Temporary Voter Cards (TVCs) in the March 18 elections. Justice Obiora Egwuatu made the order while delivering judgment in a suit filed by two aggrieved Nigerians seeking the use of TVCs in the general elections in the absence of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).

Justice Egwuatu said the order was made on the grounds that the plaintiffs were duly registered and captured in INEC’s database.

“An order is made compelling the defendant (INEC) to allow the plaintiffs to vote using their Temporary Voter Cards issued by the defendant, the plaintiffs having been duly captured in the National Register of Voter’s database.

“A declaration is made by this court that the plaintiffs, having fulfilled all necessary legal requirements to register and having consequently been captured in the defendant’s (INEC’s) central database and manual, printed paper-based record or hard copy format of the defendant’s maintained Register of Voters, the plaintiffs are entitled to vote using their Temporary Voter Cards in the forthcoming 2023 General Election,” the judge said.

The judge, however, said that he was unable to grant prayer three, which was to allow every eligible voter with a TVC to vote because the suit was not filed in a representative capacity.

The court held that there was no portion of the law, both the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act that states that it is only PVCs that could be used, but that the law under Section 47 provided for a voter card.

But INEC said it would appeal the judgment. Reacting, Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Rotimi Oyekanmi, said the Commission is taking immediate steps to appeal against the judgment.

“INEC has been served a copy of the judgment delivered today by the Federal High Court, Abuja Division, which ordered it to allow two plaintiffs to vote with their TVC. The Commission is taking immediate steps to appeal against the judgment,” he stated.

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