IDEAs Episode 119 – 17th February 2023
Jide Ojo on new challenges to the Integrity of #NigeriaDecides2023
Chukwudi Ezugwu introduced the programme by referring to the expression “free and fair” as used in the context of the coming elections, and what that meant in the context of the Integrity – or the lack of Integrity – of the election process in Nigeria. He said that many people were worried about the
Ayo Obe then turned to Jide Ojo, saying that with the elections now just over a week away, she thought it would be useful to survey the pre-election landscape from an IDEAs point of view, because all the elements of IDEAs – Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability – were going to come into play in thinking about the preparations for the elections. She thought that in particular we should discuss the factors that might affect the Integrity of elections, referring to Chukwudi’s comment about the possible lack of Integrity in elections and saying that since her IDEA was to encourage people to vote, there was a danger that if we get too fixated on the idea that Integrity might be lacking in the elections, it might discourage people from voting, reminding listeners that the vote that would definitely not be counted was the one that was not cast. So with that in mind, she would want Jide to give a bit of reassurance. Ayo mentioned the ‘usual suspects’ when it comes to challenges to credible elections – security and the actual conduct of the polls – but went on to say that there were newer entrants to the list of challenges, namely the fuel crisis and the cash crisis.
Jide said that Abuja was calm (Ayo said that parts of Lagos are not calm), and that we were all praying that they should remain calm during and after the elections. He agreed that there were some unusual suspects to add to the issues of security and conduct of the elections, saying that having been involved in observing elections since 1999, he had never seen some of the things playing out in the lead up to this election. He never knew that we would have a situation where the INEC Chairman would have to go to the Group Managing Director of the NNPC to plead for fuel to be able to move men and materials about for the logistics of transportation, or to the Governor of the Central Bank to make pleas for cash to conduct them – that though INEC has N426.6 billion budgeted for the election, but that it couldn’t get access to it, and that it needed cash because many of its vendors did not have access to banking facilities.
Ayo wondered whether the reassurances given by the NNPC and the Central Bank that they will make at least what INEC needs were enough to allay fears about the impact on the conduct of the elections, or was it only INEC that we should be concerned about in this regard?
Jide said not at all, that it was simplistic and naïve to think that once INEC was well-resourced, the election would be seamless. He said that the police and other security agencies who will be on duty for the elections would also need fuel for their operational vehicles. Election observers would need fuel to move about, and journalists and others would also need fuel for their vehicles, and they would also need money in their pockets so that they could use cash in case online or digital platforms disappointed. He said that this was more of concern a week to the elections than could ever have been contemplated. He said that the Nigeria Police had stated that these problems as serious challenges facing the elections, although they had ended on the optimistic note that these issues would be resolved by Election Day. He said that the implication of these challenges was that the apathy that had plagued our elections would be worsened.
Jide also dwelt on the issue of the cost of these elections, which were the costliest that we had ever held in Nigeria’s history. It got N305 billion for these elections in the 2022 Budget, and an additional N173.6 billion in the 2023 Budget, making a total of N478.6 billion. Ayo interjected that it was important not to let the import of the sums being discussed be swallowed with the simple word ‘billion’, because what was being talked about was four hundred and seventy-eight thousand million naira. She referenced the musician Lagbaja on the need to think about how many days one would need to work to see that kind of money in one’s life.
Jide wondered whether Nigeria was going to have value for our money, when one thought about the infrastructure that could be built, or the social amenities that the money to be spent on the Elections could provide, we might wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to just share the money out among Nigerians – at least he might get some thousands.
Ayo said that Jide was being tongue in cheek, because if we divided the money, we would not have invested in our Democratic future, and IDEAs is about Democracy too.
Jide agreed that he was, but said that the issue was that INEC had had two years of preparation, there was the Electoral Act 2022, the provisions of which we had all lauded, and then out of the blue came this newly redesigned naira which can not go round and is causing protests the length and breadth of Nigeria, with the fuel scarcity that people can no longer even buy fuel because they don’t have cash, and of course, the online platforms for payment were disappointing. So people are frustrated and angry, and were just not in the right frame of mind to think about voting.
Ayo wondered whether though people might not be in the right frame of mind, didn’t Jide think that we should emphasize that these were all things done by governments and people whom we have elected into office, and that for that reason, apathy was the worst possible response to any dissatisfaction or frustration that a voter might be feeling.
Jide agreed, saying that this was why he felt that voters should not shun the ballot, but should express their anger through the ballot. They should not be indifferent or lackadaisical about the elections, or tell themselves that the outcome of the elections was pre-determined. He said that INEC had assured Nigerians that the election was not pre-determined, and that the President himself has also said that he wants to leave a legacy of free and fair elections. In his speech yesterday, the President alluded to the fact that the reason why he agreed to the redesigning of the Naira was also political, to ensure that vote buying did not take place.
Ayo said that maybe people should just take their decision to the polls, whether or not they were angry, they should go and vote – not out of anger or frustration, but because they were looking to the future. However, she said that if the President’s idea was that vote buying was motivating people, we should just look at the crowds who had been turning out at various political rallies. She suggested that if those crowds were motivated by money, then they already had the money; but that if they were not motivated by money, then this policy has amounted to burning down the house to chase out a few rats.
Jide said that the idea of impoverishing 95% of the population in order to catch 5% of the population who may want to indulge in vote buying was counter-productive. People were losing productive time because ATMs were not dispensing, POS and online platforms were not working, just to catch some politicians who might want to indulge in vote buying or vote trading.
Ayo wondered whether it wasn’t somewhat infantilizing to suggest that only the vote buyer is thinking and planning – as if the vote seller was not also a thinking sentient human being. If they want to sell their votes – it’s like trying to ban commercial sex work – there would be customers and there would be suppliers.
Jide said that under sections 121 and 127 of the Electoral Act 2022, both the seller and the buyer of votes were culpable, and if found guilty were liable to fines of N500,000 and/or 12 months’ imprisonment. He said that even those buying PVCs – one person had been successfully prosecuted in Sokoto State and sentenced to one year in jail, another case where a man was found with over 340 PVCs in Kano State. These people were being made scapegoats … Ayo cut in to say that they may have been made scapegoats but that their cases did not seem to be getting the kind of publicity needed to encourage people to think that the rats could in fact be caught without having to burn the house down.
Ayo regretted that time had not allowed Jide to say much about the security and conduct of the elections, but that maybe by next week the fuel and cash issues would have been resolved, so that we could focus on them.
Jide said that the issues were all interwoven, because the work of security agencies had been made more difficult by the fuel and naira scarcity, because there were protests going on across southern Nigeria in particular, that made it clear that the police and other security agencies were very overstretched. Ayo said this meant that they would have to divert their attention from election preparation to dealing with these crises. Jide said that the Nigeria Police had been given N64 billion naira for these 2023 elections. Ayo said that it would not be much use to them if they couldn’t get it in cash! She thanked Jide for coming on to the programme and said that the bottom line remained that voters should go out and cast their votes, whether they were angry, happy or sad, because “If you don’t cast it, it ain’t gonna be counted!”