In 2015, when presidential elections were delayed by 6 weeks, from February 14 to March 28, the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) provided notification a week in advance of postponement. Unfortunately, in 2019, it was only on the morning of the presidential elections on February 16, that most of the world heard that elections would not hold until February 23. The experience from the last two election cycles mean that cautious optimism is advised until polling units across the country start accrediting voters on 25 February 2023. And even then…there are no guarantees.
A last-minute postponement of the presidential elections – 3 days to the elections, will be a shame considering how confident Prof Yakubu, INEC Chair, has been about INEC’s preparations. However, the current naira and fuel scarcity complicate INEC’s plans in at least two ways: logistics and opportunity. On logistics, polling materials will be distributed to over 176,000 polling units, through 138,000 vehicles, 4000 boats and 88,000 motorcycles according to INEC. Considering how many Nigerians remain unbanked and how distrustful we are of working in advance of payment, some of the payments are going to be in cash. The best-case scenario includes severe delays in deployment as contractors, polling unit officers etc. wait for transaction notifications or cash payments before they start work and worst case, hundreds, maybe thousands of polling units where people do not get a chance to vote. Already, the underground rumor highway – our version of the dark net – is buzzing with innovative ways to neutralize the impact of BVAS on credible elections by simply ensuring polling material is diverted where voters cannot be trusted or compromised to vote a certain way.
The naira confiscation program as some have termed it, provides some politicians with the opportunity to scuttle an election they are uncertain of winning. The governors’ lawsuit against the Federal Government coinciding with attacks on banks across the country, give credence to a theory that there is an orchestrated attempt to ensure elections do not hold and the kite released by a governor about plans for an interim government only buttresses suspicions. The response of the presidency, including interim acceptance of the old N200 note has not exactly calmed tensions. Preliminary reports indicate that the recent meeting between the national chairman of APC and APC governors came to the conclusion that CBN (who is not party to the suit) will adhere to the Supreme Court order. One hopes, that a Supreme Court that seems to be working hard to erode public faith in the judiciary, will not be irresponsible on February 22.
There are millions of Nigerians who will be unable to vote and it will have nothing to do with not getting their Permanent Voters Card, late delivery and/or diverted polling material. In places like Zamfara, suffering terrorism for years, the insecurity is such that “606 polling centres serving 287,373 voters – nearly a fifth of the state’s total – have been identified as “not reachable” and arrangements are being made for people to vote in larger towns” – reports Reuters. There are at least two things to take into consideration with this situation – the first is that expectations for a high(er) than the usual, some say 80% might be unfulfilled. Nigeria currently has over 3 million internally displaced people and not all of them are in camps for the internally displaced where INEC has promised to make provisions for them to vote. Majority will be like the almost 300,000 voters in Zamfara have to go to ‘other voting areas’ during a fuel and naira scarcity – how many will have to choose between voting and a meal? Second, these voters will be expected to repeat the process again on March 11, for the gubernatorial and state house of assembly (SHA) elections – again, we can expect even lower voter turnout, supporting SBM’s poll that interest in gubernatorial and SHA elections are at 34% and 14% respectively. This is one more reason to end the charade of splitting our elections into two parts – the costs keep piling up.
There is a real dissatisfaction with the status quo, represented by APC and PDP, and this is a major reason we have, for the first time since 1999, three equally possible outcomes for the presidential elections – regardless of the many polls and projections which favor all three major candidates (will Kwankwaso do a secret deal?), only one person will emerge president. What is important is that we get a reform minded president, one respectful of the law, who will be able to lead the charge to improve election integrity and democratic governance.
Discounting for all the ways of rigging elections and strong primordial sentiments that have marked the campaigns for the 2023 elections, what will tip the balance in favor of the new direction millions of us want Nigeria to take, is coming out in unprecedented numbers to make this happen. This is how Chile made the difference in 2021, when an unprecedented 55.7 per cent came out to vote in a 35 year old president and it is how youth in Zambia made the difference when they came out in 2021.
Coming out to vote, defying fear and obstacles, is the most powerful way to neutralize those who want everything to stay the same, and is how Nigerians can make the difference too on February 25 2023.
By: Ayisha Osori, author, Love Does Not Win Elections, writes for Business Day for the Nigeria Decides 2023 series every fortnight on Wednesdays