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Ready for February 25?

By Ray Ekpu
21 February 2023   |   2:20 am
It does appear that INEC is ready for the elections or so it says. It is doing anything and everything that needs to be done to make the elections successful.

Casting of vote during a Nigerian election. Photo The Guardian

It does appear that INEC is ready for the elections or so it says. It is doing anything and everything that needs to be done to make the elections successful. It has trained the ad hoc staff it needs; it has gone to the Central Bank Governor to beg for cash; it is liaising with the security agencies to ensure that everything will run swimmingly from that sector.

The presidential candidates will sign another peace accord on Wednesday, three days before the first set of elections. And we have been informed that in addition to what the Police and the Army will deploy, the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) will deploy 21, 783 personnel, 709 patrol vehicles, 139 ambulances and 33 towing trucks. All of these arrangements by INEC and the security agencies ought to give us confidence that the elections will be successfully conducted. But that confidence seems to be lacking in the public arena, especially the voters.

Things have been building up for some months now. The political rallies have been getting bigger and bigger. The television stations are inundated with all kinds of messages; there have been acres of words and pictures in the newspapers promoting one candidate or another. There are also billboards and posters in the right and wrong places, which give the impression of an election that we had been waiting for. But there is a but.

The but is that the people seem to be distracted by this currency crisis that makes lots of people hungry and angry. It seems that the election, which would have been marked like a carnival is turning to be an anti-climax. Every election offers an opportunity for the renewal of hope, for the renewal of vision, for the refurbishment of old ideas or the invention of new ones, for the inflation of hope, for the revival of positivism, for the expectation of a brighter future for the country.

Now everything seems to be consumed by the bitterness of the currency swap and its unexpectedly harsh environment. Now most people are not talking about the elections, which are only a few days away. They are talking about the hardship that has suddenly befallen them even if they have millions of naira in the bank, which they cannot touch.

The situation is compounded by President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent broadcast, which was meant to be the solution to the problem but has turned out to a non-solution, a kind of Cliffhanger Theorem. The Cliffhanger Theorem says that each problem solved always introduces a new unsolved problem. The currency changeover was intended to solve a series of problems but it has now introduced a bigger, unsolved problem.

If there is a huge voter apathy in the forthcoming elections blame the currency palaver because most people will not have access to money. The banks are not opening because they don’t want to incur the anger of unhappy customers, because they don’t want their facilities to be burnt because they don’t want to tell customers whose money they are keeping that there is no money for them.

Buhari has told the CBN in his broadcast to put back the old N200 earlier withdrawn into the system. How much of the old N200 is available to solve the staggering shortage? The other day I wanted to buy some snacks. I brought out the old N200 notes. The lady refused to take them. I reminded her that Buhari says it should be used until April 10. The lady insisted “I no go take.” Matter closed. I left with my money in my pocket and no snacks in my mouth.

Now 10 State Governors have gone to the Supreme Court asking the apex court to declare Buhari’s directive on the currency issue unconstitutional, null and void and of no effect. The states are Kaduna, Kogi, Zamfara, Ekiti, Ondo, Katsina, Ogun, Lagos, Cross River and Sokoto. All the states are APC controlled states except Sokoto, which is PDP. That action says something about the cohesion or lack of it of the ruling party. The lawyers have criticised Buhari for disobeying the order of the Supreme Court. We don’t know what the Supreme Court will do on Wednesday but it is likely to stand by its earlier decision. That will bring joy to the people but no relief on the currency front.

And more importantly Buhari who has repeatedly said he wants to leave a legacy of free and fair elections will find that his currency decision is likely to contribute negatively to having successful elections. Can any election that is likely to have a huge voter apathy be considered successful? No, it can’t. Out of sympathy for their citizens some states such as Edo, Lagos, Borno and Kebbi are offering palliatives to their people to assuage their feelings. These palliatives include free bus service, food items and medicine to the sick. That is an exhibition of fellowship on the part of these governors.

President Buhari was obviously given the wrong advice on this matter. He didn’t need to hurt his administration and his fellow countrymen on the evening of his departure from office. In the last three months of his regime he needed to do some pleasant things so that history may remember him a bit kindly. His home stretch journey ought not to be this rough considering that the last eight years or so have seen a performance that is largely underwhelming.

As he disobeys the order of the Supreme Court people are likely to remember how he disobeyed various courts including the ECOWAS Court in the Sambo Dasuki and El-Zakzaky cases. This disdain for court decisions puts our democracy at risk because it is the rule of law that drives democracy; it is the separation of powers that brings forth checks and balances that keep the executive and the legislature on their toes. Nobody in the executive or legislature or in any office at all is allowed to cherry-pick which orders of court are to be obeyed and which are to be disobeyed.

From this currency conundrum we can derive some take-aways:
One, every policy has its downside which must be taken into account in its implementation if the policy is to succeed. This policy was apparently conceived in secrecy. That is why its downside was not fully considered. The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning Ms Zainab Ahmed had complained that she was not consulted on the redesign of the new currency notes. Mr Godwin Emefiele, Governor of Central Bank simply dismissed her complaint by saying that Buhari had approved the project in writing. Many people, rightly or wrongly have wondered why a policy on currency could be conceived and executed without taking the Minister of Finance into confidence. Ms Ahmed, must be having a long and haughty session of laughter today as things have fallen apart on that front.

Two, no poor man can become the President of Nigeria except he is backed by the rich. And that is because campaigns and elections are very expensive projects. They cost quite a fortune especially at the presidential and governorship levels. In a country like Nigeria with a huge population of the poor and pauperised it is very difficult to prevent a rich man from winning an election.

Three, no single policy of government can solve all existential problems. It may solve some but may also create some new problems in the process. The naira redesign policy is a very potent example. Every problem needs a battery of solution proposals to tackle it comprehensively. That is why the currency redesign has not been able to solve any or all of the listed problems. Perhaps the authors of the idea were not in Nigeria when the primaries were conducted. If they were they would have known that the contestants in the presidential primaries were using dollars, not naira, to buy the votes that they needed. What that means is that if they nicked the ticket they could convert dollars to naira, old or new, any time they needed the money to spend.

Four, it is elementary arithmetic that if you withdraw trillions from the system and replace that with billions you are going to have a major crisis on your hands. That gap is what has caused the present wahala.

Five, if you fail to allow people to have access to their money that they deposited in banks you are creating a situation where more money will continue to be kept outside the banking system. That may be an unanticipated consequence of a policy that was not fully and roundly considered.

Six, the supreme achievement of any government has to be the welfare of the people. Any policy that ignores this is bound to fail. This currency policy falls into that category. Whatever the policy was intended to achieve has failed once it brings harm to the people. In the hierarchy of needs that any government must satisfy the welfare of the people is number one. Nothing else beats it.