#NigeriaDecides2019: Election Postponement and its Implications for Citizens!

February 22, 2019

“Voting is a fundamental right of any citizen that enables them to choose the leaders of tomorrow. Voting not only enables the citizens to vote for political parties, but it also helps them to realize the importance of citizenship. Many people do not vote thinking one vote will not make a change, but as a matter of fact, it does.

Voting is a basic process that keeps a nation’s governmental system works. It enables the citizens to choose their own government. It also allows the people to choose their representatives in the government. It also enables the person with the right to question the government about issues and clarifications. Voting is the way to express the opinion of a citizen in a democratic nation. Voting is crucial to activating the democratic process”.

Hours before voting was due to begin, the country’s electoral commission, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), announced its decision to delay the polls by a week. Given the timing of the announcement (around 2.30 am local time), millions of eligible voters, especially those without access to the internet and social media—only found out when they woke up on February 16. There have been updates from observers of the elections of some citizens getting in line early to vote only to be told the election had been canceled. The Independent National Electoral Commission cited problems around logistics in the distribution of ballot papers and results sheets, as well as sabotage, after three fires at its offices in two weeks.

The presidential and national assembly elections will now be held a week later on Saturday February 23. State governorship and legislative elections have also been postponed to March 9 they were originally slated for March 2. For its part, INEC has not revealed the financial cost of a delay and has blamed the delay on logistical difficulties and operation planning, even though it has had four years to prepare and is backed with a $522 billion budget.

But for ordinary citizens, the impact of a one-week delay will likely be disruptive and in some cases, very costly. As Nigerians can only vote in polling units where they were initially registered, elections in Nigeria usually involve making painstaking and expensive travel plans. People who have moved homes, changed jobs or left the country have to go back to their old polling units to vote. There have already been reports of Nigerians flying in from Europe, the US and Asia, likely on tight itineraries, just to vote. Within the country, traveling to different states and regions to vote has become common.

Postponed elections are not just about the annoyance of citizens having to travel next week. It means extra hotel costs, extra transportation costs. In some cases, these transportation costs are the costs of plane tickets, but consider places like Riverine and the roads are pretty awful, so there’s the potential risk to life.

Nigerians who were surprised when the country's presidential election was postponed on Saturday might suffer a second shock when they learn the cost, some economists and business leaders say. "The cost to the economy of the postponement of the election is horrendous," said Muda Yusuf, general director of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry who advanced an estimate of $1.5 billion. “The economy was on partial shutdown the day before, and total shut down on Saturday for the elections” that did not take place, he explained.

The streets of Lagos were still empty early Sunday as the sprawling economic capital of 20 million people recovered from the disappointment and anger provoked by a last minute, one-week delay. The leading candidates, incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari and challenger Abubakar Atiku, both called for calm, but a population of 190 million people facing unemployment and extreme poverty took a real financial hit from the decision.

For many, the cost of leaving cities where they work to go home and vote in their native regions is substantial. The amount ultimately raised was unlikely to make much difference to tens of millions of people who live on less than $1.9 a day, but it did highlight solidarity not always widespread in the country.

Many businesses, including the critical port of Lagos, had shut down Friday so staff could leave cities before an election-related curfew took effect on Friday from 12:00 midnight. Airports and border crossing points had stopped operating as well. This postponement is burdensome and it implications on citizens are quite serious. School children would now face further disruptions to the school calendar.

Ordinarily, the postponement by a week of Nigeria’s 2019 general election should not have generated as much outrage as it has done, but the protest that the postponement has attracted is positive proof of the fact that the Nigerian electorate do not trust the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

In 2011, the country’s elections were postponed even after voting had started. In 2015, the elections were postponed for six weeks on security grounds. The explanation that has now been given in 2019 about “logistical problems” should have been sufficient, but Nigerians are unimpressed because they have learnt not to trust the present INEC or the ruling government, hence the default response has been a series of speculative, yet unverifiable theories about what may be the actual story behind the postponement.

On the new date of the election, voters won’t just have the capacity to choose their representatives in government for the following term, and they can also decide on measures like security issues that concede the government authority to borrow funds for development projects and different advancements. Every eligible citizen has the right to vote, irrespective of sex, class, occupation and so forth. This is representative of uniformity and congruity. It is a fundamental right in which all citizens get an opportunity to choose who represents them. It’s the responsibility and skills of citizen that decides which government is elected.

It is the right, benefit and obligation to vote as a citizen of your nation and an individual from your society. Individuals may figure out their vote does not make a difference, but rather votes can shape remote monetary and social arrangements".

As responsible citizens, we all have a duty to contribute towards peace building and sustaining the country’s nascent democracy.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should make concerted efforts in addressing the logistics and operational challenges facing the commission at this critical time, adequate information about it activities concerning elections to Nigerians and security agencies should be proactive in intelligence gathering to curb any form of security threat, maintain neutrality, and re-dedicate themselves to protect lives and property of citizens throughout the elections that could arise due to the postponement of the elections.