The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has postponed the governorship and state assembly elections, previously slated for 11 March, till 18 March 2023. Earlier in the day, the Presidential Election Petition Court (PEPC) permitted the commission to reconfigure the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) used for the presidential election since refusing that would adversely affect the state elections. The commission has admitted that logistics, election technology, and the behaviour of some election personnel, party agents and supporters augmented the challenges of the presidential elections and warned that Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) would be held responsible.

Throughout this election period, when INEC takes a good step, it takes one or two additional steps wrongly, which increasingly appears to sabotage its credibility. The introduction of technology was supposed to aid the election process and make the 2023 polls the most credible in the country’s history, especially the real-time upload of results directly from the polling units. The reality turned out differently—INEC announced election winners by reading from handwritten result sheets, stubbornly rebuffing calls to use its results viewing portal as it initially promised. This action led to widespread dissatisfaction and avoidable litigation. Before the polls, the commission announced that its servers had come under an “unsuccessful” cyber attack, whose details were never released publicly. A few days after the polls, INEC announced that it suffered about 200 hack attempts, which looks like a scrambling attempt to deflect blame for its poor performance. In the present circumstances, it has perhaps rightly suspended the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Sokoto, where allegations of irregularities have been ringing loudly, even by Nigeria’s low standards. Why INEC chose Sokoto out of the 36 states makes little sense. What makes sense is scapegoating. In the same vein, the commission is taking more steps backwards by trying to reconfigure the BVAS—a move many have interpreted as an attempt to tamper with evidence of foul play. Essentially, their decision to be the main character in an affair that is supposed to be between the electorate and their representatives fundamentally undermined the credibility of the electoral process and brought more instability into the system than necessary. And from its recent moves, it seems INEC does not consider repairing its waning credibility and battered image a matter of priority. In other words, voter turnout will remain depressed.

Osun has officially cancelled right-of-way fees, allowing telecom companies and internet providers to lay fibre optic cables for free. Governor Ademola Adeleke said the cancellation is part of a digital economy policy that will improve broadband penetration. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, there were 3.5 million active internet subscriptions in the state in Q1 2021. Osun will sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Oodua Infraco to immediately deploy fibre optics across the state, with the first phase covering 64 kilometres. It is also poised to be the first state to domesticate the Nigerian Startup Act.

Osun is betting on the digital economy as an outlet and opportunity for its youthful population, which boasts 3.5 million active internet subscriptions. While removing right-of-way costs might not translate to cheaper data fees for locals, it should amount to increased coverage that public and private sectors in Osun would hopefully use to build up the state’s digital economy. Back in 2020, in response to some states increasing right-of-way fees to between ₦3,000 and ₦6,000 per linear metre, the National Economic Council, chaired by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, resolved that telecom operators were to pay ₦145 per linear metre to lay fibre cable anywhere in the country. Unfortunately, the National Economic Council does not have powers of enforcement, so the charges are at the discretion of each state government. Ultimately, this move is crucial, not because of the state involved but because of the signal it provides. In a 2021 SBM Intelligence study, stakeholders identified the right-of-way issue as one of the limiting factors for broadband penetration in states. While some states have stubbornly insisted on this upfront revenue, others are beginning to see the wisdom in the long-term revenue that the broadband improvements can bring. Osun’s initiative is, therefore, commendable in this regard. However, in Osun’s case, it is unlikely that investors will move in until the court resolves the legal uncertainty around the occupant of the governor’s office. Nonetheless, it is a good step in the right direction.

Nigeria’s liquefied natural gas export fell by 15 percent last year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). They noted that the biggest export declines occurred in Nigeria, Algeria, and Angola. Algeria and Angola’s supply dropped by 13 percent and nine percent, respectively. The IEA said that Africa is the only exporting region where production decreased in 2022 by six percent. Globally, LNG supply growth was relatively modest in 2022 at 5.5 percent, despite an unprecedented rise in LNG demand in Europe following the gradual decline in Russian pipeline gas deliveries throughout the year.

In a year when the market was booming and Europe was hungry for new gas suppliers, Africa was the only continent that supplied less gas in 2022 than in 2021. This reality painted by the IEA stands in stark contrast to African leaders demanding at COP 27 in Egypt that they be unhindered from developing and using their gas resources to power industrialisation, economic diversification and growth. Nigeria’s gas export share loss of 15% is 1% more than its average annual export to Europe. The country’s steady gas export industry could not have picked the worst time to battle headwinds. Around July last year, Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas Limited (NLNG) said between 32 and 40 percent of its refining capacity was offline. In October, it declared force majeure due to flooding in key production sites. NLNG depends on gas supply agreements with oil-producing companies that have seen their pipelines compromised by oil theft, including in Bonny, where the gas refiner is located. The cherry has slowly been chipped at for some time now. In 2021, NLNG exported 23.3 billion tons of LNG, compared to 28.7 billion in 2020, according to S&P. The company’s total capacity is 31 BCM. Besides low-hanging fruits in the retinue of issues that explain Nigeria’s export decline, the most pressing remains instability and volatility in resource-producing areas. The Niger Delta has been home to violent militant agitation going back at least three decades since the amnesty deal between the government and the agitators in 2009 was partially solved. Since then, the federal government has utilised such strategies as deploying the military and paying militants to guard the same pipelines they destroy in their demonstrations. Last year’s multi-billion naira pipeline surveillance contract awarded to former warlord Government Ekpemopulo (aka Tompolo) further buttresses the notion that the state’s capacity to manage its resources is no longer adequate, and the government does not trust it in the face of mounting oil theft allegations implicating senior security and defence officials. Beyond the primary locations in the Niger Delta, another reason for this decline is hinged on the siege the country faces: it is struggling to optimise production, and the gas produced cannot take an alternative land route to ready European markets because the Trans-Saharan gas pipeline, which connects Nigeria through Niger to Algeria’s terminals in the Mediterranean, passes through a retinue of security challenged routes filled with armed groups. With the other major gas producers on the continent, Algeria and Egypt, being closer to Europe and showing more seriousness with their gas intentions, they would be at the front of the gas investment queue and the heart of gas geopolitics. Algeria, for example, decreased supply to Spain due to a spat over Western Sahara while compensating by increasing supply to Italy. Egypt produces less than Algeria at the moment, but its consumption and production dwarf Nigeria’s. In 2022, the country’s petroleum ministry said it boosted gas supply to Europe by 14%. Although Egypt does not have Nigeria’s LNG capacity, it produced 71 BCM of gas in 2021 and domestically consumed 87% of that. To make more money from Europe’s needs, the country had to ration electricity supply. While these two countries, now Africa’s first and second largest gas producers, respectively, have less proven reserves than their West African competitors, they are firing their economies and making haste before sunset. Nigeria has seen flat to negative growth, and key investment decisions have been halted by souring economic fundamentals. Worse, the domestic market is not large enough to incentivise continued investment. Algeria’s domestic consumption of 45.8 BCM in 2022 is roughly equal to Nigeria’s total gas production of 49-52 BCM in 2020 and 2021. The general issues afflicting the oil industry have caught up with the LNG sector. It was assumed that the gas sector was insulated from these issues for years. Systemic issues, however, are difficult to insulate against, and Nigeria’s gas troubles are only another expression of this fact. The country is in a race against time to boost gas production and domestic consumption before its valued treasure trove becomes a global also-ran.

Former Ghanaian President, John Mahama, launched a campaign to run again as the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) candidate in the 2024 elections, saying his experience could help salvage the economy. Despite being defeated in the 2016 and 2020 elections by incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo, he said he decided to run again after making consultations. “Ghana needs a leader who will hit the ground running on 7 January 2025,” he said. The NDC will hold primaries on 13 May to elect its presidential candidate. Mahama is being challenged by three others, including a former finance minister, Kwabena Duffuor.

John Dramani Mahama’s entry into the 2024 electoral fray throws up some interesting dynamics. In 2016, he became the first sitting president in Ghana’s fourth republic to lose an election. An overwhelming majority (53.9%) voted him out in the 2016 general elections, which gave the current government its first term. Since 1992 when the fourth republic began, political power has alternated between the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC), with eight years (or two terms) being the longest-serving period for each party. In a twist, developments three border crossings away may prove to be an inspiration for Accra. The victory of the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in Nigeria’s just-concluded presidential election has boosted the NPP’s confidence that it can ride out the wave of growing economic and political discontent to win. The party’s Director of Communications, Richard Ahiagbah, has indicated that the APC “breaking the eight-year jinx” in Nigeria is good news for them. In 2024, Ghana will be at a crossroads; it will either make history by giving the ruling government an unprecedented third term or re-elect a former president who was shown the exit door after four years of being in charge. Inflation, power rationing, high living costs and reckless borrowing were among other reasons Ghanaians turned to the NPP in 2016. Inflation had almost doubled from 10% in 2013 to north of 19% by the first quarter of 2015; the public debt stock increased by twofold from 53 billion cedis to a little over 122 billion cedis by 2016; the cedi had depreciated by 17% against the dollar by April 2015, and gross international reserves could only cover three months of imports. These forced the Mahama government to seek an IMF bailout in 2015 which came with austere conditions. For many voters, a sense of deja vu might be setting in: the same reasons that compelled them to vote massively against Mahama in 2016 are panning out under Akufo-Addo. Although the power supply is relatively stable compared to 2015, all other economic indicators are heading south — inflation is now 53.6%, and the debt stock has more than quadrupled to 576 billion cedis in less than seven years. The country’s debt-to-GDP ratio is now more than 93%; the Black Star’s international reserves, with less than three months of import cover, have all but dried up, while the cedi is one of the world’s worst-performing currencies. Just like in the leadup to the 2016 elections, the government is at the IMF’s doorstep looking for a bailout. And for a serial political operator like Mahama, there are a few reasons to be confident. A significant increase in voter turnout in the 2020 election (which he lost to Akufo-Addo) relative to the 2016 election and an equal split in the number of seats in parliament for both the ruling and opposition parties are clear omens that Ghanaians want to have him back. The NPP, however, believe their track record of managing the economy, which only got derailed by the pandemic and invasion of Ukraine by Russia, will be enough to seek a third term with a fresh candidate come 2024. The current president emphasised that point in his State of the Nation speech but got furious pushback from opposition MPs and the ruling party MPs in marginal seats. Accra might seek inspiration abroad or in a long-forgotten track record, but the NDC will ensure that it is only a wet dream. If the opposition gets to December—led by Mahama, it could become a nightmare for the government.