By Toun Okewale Sonaiya
On 8 February 2015, exactly 6 days to the 2015 general presidential elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced a postponement. Attahiru Jega said the postponement was necessary due to security reasons. On 16 February 2019, barely 24 hours to the general presidential elections, there was a repeat of 2015 when Professor Mahmood Yakubu announced postponement due to logistics. In a few days, the 2023 general presidential elections are expected to hold and I ask if 25 February is a “GO/NO-GO” due to the shortage of Nigerian naira. I feel a Déjà vu with uncertainties created and I pray that what I feel is false.
The hope of ninety-three million, four hundred and sixty-nine thousand and eight registered Nigerian voters must not be shattered because of an economic miscalculation by Nigeria’s Apex Bank CBN. How do we expect INEC to service one hundred and seventy-six thousand, eight hundred and forty-six Polling Units in Nigeria with no physical cash and still conduct a free and fair election? If INEC is not assured that its cash requirement on election day will be fulfilled how will it be able to reassure providers of these services that they will get paid thereby eliminating the potential for disappointment on the day?
On Tuesday 7th February 2023, CBN says the naira re-design will not affect the 2023 general elections. According to Premium Times, CBN made a commitment to provide INEC with the required cash needed to pay transporters and conduct elections on Saturday 25th February. Following a meeting with CBN, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman of INEC reaffirmed that elections will hold on 25th February because, according to him, all of INEC’s state and national bank accounts are held by CBN and he was assured that INEC will not be affected by the cash constraints.
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Contrary to CBN’s assurance to provide cash for INEC to conduct a smooth election, Nigeria’s apex bank has financially handicapped INEC with these new cash restrictions and this points to a likelihood of INEC postponing the 25th February election. Like every Nigerian, INEC has been hit with the dearth of naira and unable to coordinate security, logistics and deploy personnel to polling units for elections to hold. INEC has listed cash services it needs to pay for on election day to include motorcycle, boat, canoe operators, training allowances and water suppliers to its Registration Area Centres. INEC said if they do not pay such providers in cash, they may not be in the position to provide the critical services needed on election day. There are agitations and uncertainties around the 25th February elections coupled with economic turmoil, pockets of violence, deaths, hunger, vandalisation of properties and banks, looting of roadside stores, deteriorating mental state and market women forced to sell perishables at a loss. It is important that Nigerian women vote on Saturday 25th February. A potential logistical challenge and threat to the smooth running of the 25th February elections will further disenfranchise Nigerian Women in the electoral process. Yes, we are stranded, helpless and frustrated with the feel of a rudderless ship being controlled by the force of the waves but we must not allow any of these to be used as excuses for not holding elections on Saturday 25th February.
CBN must take every step to safeguard the 2023 elections by allowing INEC immediate access cash to conduct elections on Saturday; CBN must “not allow itself to be used or to be seen as an agent that frustrated positive outcome of the election”; CBN must not aggravate the current state of agitation and do all in its powers not to be the reason for postponing 2023 elections; CBN must not be the reason to destroy our journey to a sustainable democracy; CBN must not be used as agents of doom to truncate 2023 elections. Therefore, 25th February 2023 must not be a “GO/NO-GO” but a positive date in history.
I understand that Mahmood Yakubu is a man of integrity and highly principled. This is why he must critically analyse the situation of the country and be decisive enough to reassure Nigerians by re-affirming INEC’s readiness to conduct the 2023 presidential elections. Yakubu must not wait till the 11th hour to make a habit out of a bad habit in announcing a postponement. Yakubu occupies a critical position and he owes every Nigerian an ethical duty, to be honest, and declare NOW if 25th February is a “GO/NO-GO” so we can cut our losses and start preparing for new dates to elect Nigeria’s 16th president.
We must not institutionalise the bad practice of election postponements in Nigeria. I am therefore optimistic that on Saturday 25 February 2023 Nigerian Women will go out to vote in a free and fair election and Nigeria will be known as the giant of Africa for positive and not for negative omens.
• Sonaiya, Always Proudly Nigerian.