Despite insisting that it would not shift any aspect of the 2023 elections, INEC shifted the gubernatorial elections by a week last night, following the Court of Appeal’s approval of a request by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS). This is not good because election postponements cost Nigeria in several ways. For starters, the financial costs for the electoral body and the Nigerian economy are quite significant. Perhaps crucially, it makes the process of transitioning from one administration to another dicey by providing an opening for actors to question the legitimacy of the contest.
INEC had a ₦355 billion budget for the 2023 elections, and putting off any aspect of the election until a later time means a staggering loss arising from the suspension of economic activities and movement restrictions. In 2019, SBM Intelligence estimated the cost of the election postponement to be $2.23 billion because its primary and secondary effects cost Nigeria 2% of its $420 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Given the effects of inflation and the variance in the value of the Nigerian naira in 2019 and 2023, we can safely say that yesterday’s announcement, coupled with a possible rerun of the presidential contest on the unlikely chance the Labour Party and the Peoples Democratic Party 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 (the party primaries ended 8 months ago) and the aftereffects of a flawed presidential exercise to carry on with the process on the newly chosen date.
Election postponements were commonplace in 2020 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted economies and societies worldwide. Roughly 70 countries and territories, including Botswana, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon, Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil to name a few, had their elections postponed within this period.
Sadly, INEC’s efforts at ensuring the elections were not helped by the crippling cash shortage and fuel scarcity that resulted in protests and riots in some parts of the country, with some state governments openly declaring their refusal to align with Abuja’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 25 February federal elections did not help either.
Despite the ethnic tensions that have built up towards the governorship campaign, especially in Lagos, we hope that Nigerians can cast their votes safely and securely. 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. It might be only a week, and the reasoning may be legitimate, but the costs of this postponement may be paid in a fraught and delicate democratic transition.