Our lives postponed

Electricity, unemployment, economy, education, security and such likes should ordinarily be at the centre stage but low levels of education across much of Nigeria, and a lack of “ideas” politics implies many voters in the postponed general elections will play along religious and ethnic lines.

Delayed voting is not a particularly new phenomenon in Nigeria but the decision to do so this time raised alarm bells because it was believed to have been impelled by the armed forces at the instance of the PDP-led government not minding the implication and costs.

Ironically, one would have thought that the challenger would be the party seeking postponement especially in the context of our environment where it is almost impossible for an incumbent to lose re-election. The general feeling has been that the elections were moved forward to allow the ruling party restrategise in the face of the momentum in former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari’s campaign to unseat president Goodluck Jonathan.

Nigerians are now left praying that elections go ahead on March 28, even if their choices are bleak.

Postponement of the polls from St. Valentine’s Day to March 28 has not been without a cost. The political uncertainty has further hurt an economy already hit by low global oil prices and led to warnings of a looming constitutional crisis. Individuals, families, businesses, the national economy all share in the burden of the shift.

Several weddings had been planned to hold on March 28. That date deliberately chosen hoping that all political tension associated with the elections would have cooled off. The band booked, invitations sent to guests and caterers hired to prepare a range of delicacies, but the all those had to be cancelled at least for now. If you ask me, I will suggest a new date should not be fixed until after the elections.

Many have also planned their travels. Some moved their families and shut down business in their places of residents returning to their country homes until after the election. For the fear of possible reprisals, there was mass movement from the northern part of the country to the South East especially. Now the travellers are stuck. Do they stay in the village or return to the north only to make the journey back to the village again in March?

For the middle class and the rich, several tickets have been booked to Dubai, USA, Canada and Europe – especially the UK. Many quickly changed their bookings.

Truth is a lot of lives and businesses are at some form of standstill. No one wants to commit his money into this economy for now. Not until the elections are over. If you doubt me, go to Apapa. The unusual free flow of traffic clearly tells the tale of low importation. The traders are not importing. They are not importing because their warehouses are still fully stocked. The warehouses are full because ‘market is not moving’. People are not buying. Consumers are not spending. The economy is practically at a standstill. The worsening fate of the naira is not helping matters either. Volume of general cargo importation has already dropped by as much as 30%. Government’s unpopular and ill-advised auto policy has compounded the woes for vehicle importation. The number of automobiles coming into the country has already dropped by half with the ports of neighbouring countries especially Cotonou Port reaping the bounties of our imprudence.

The naira hit a record low of 213 against the US dollar last week in the ‘black market’ leading to concern that an extended period of political limbo will have wider consequences. The depression of the national currency peaked with the Central Bank of Nigeria shutting the window of its six-year old Retail and Wholesale Dutch Auction Systems; selling the naira to the dollar at 198 – N30 above its N168 official rate.

CBN’s move was seen as de facto devaluation, a development Muda Yusuf of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry said would result in the escalation of production costs for firms that hitherto accessed this forex window. His argument being that production costs for such firms would rise by about 20% – a cost that would eventually be transferred to the market.

The stock market has also been badly depressed by the political environment. A day after the postponement was announced; the Nigerian Stock Exchange All Share Index dropped 0.4 per cent, extending its decline this year to 14 per cent, the worst performance in the world after Ukraine.

The cost of the postponement transcends our shores. The rippling effect in the international community is emphasized by the return of several election monitors to their base. They had expended time and money to travel to Nigeria only to be told upon arrival that the election would no longer hold.

“Soon after our arrival, we were informed of the decision taken by the Chairman of INEC to postpone the elections by six weeks in the light of the security situation facing Nigeria,” a bewildered Communications Officer of the Commonwealth Observer Group said on Wednesday.

Will Henley said the Group’s personnel including support staff from the Commonwealth Secretariat had to depart to make arrangement for a future return.

Right now our lives have been postponed. We are a nation on pause. Everything waits till after the election – the 2015 budget, addressing declining government revenue and governance generally will take the backseat for now. But in all, the principal actors must remember that the future of Nigerian children is more important than their somewhat over-bloated egos.

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