Cost of INEC’s last minute postponement

  17 February 2019   |  The Guardian

• Airlines, Agencies Lose N1.8b: Local Operators Ground Operations
• Disruption In Business Cost $1.5billion Loss – LCCI

When the obviously ruffled Professor Mahmood Yakubu faced the media on Saturday morning, there was no mistaken the fact that the message would be deflating. As he picked his way through the words of his statement, it became much more apparent that the consequences would be indeed very dire in several respects.

The announcement by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) postponing the 2019 general elections by one week got stakeholders scampering for their calculators to put together their losses.
INEC itself has incurred serious losses, but this would be the oddest time for it to do a post-mortem because it still has the big task of conducting the elections in front of it. As things stand, the Commission simply has to shrug off those losses in the interim. But not with the multitude of ad hoc staff that were contracted to administer the elections.

They would now have to be de-mobilized in a sense or asked to wait till the next announced Election Day. Either way, there are cost implications. Connected to that is the fact the postponement also means that extra human and financial resources would be required to safeguard election materials, which had already gone out based on the assumption that the polls would take place.

The most palpable fear of stakeholders in the aftermath of the postponement is the key question of what becomes of the materials that are already in the field. Asking the question becomes critical especially with the realization that many desperate political actors could go after those materials to hijack them and compromise the sanctity of the vote.

Another set of stakeholders, which have invested massively on the assumption that the polls would hold are the local organisations. Many of them are partnering with funders to set up innovative election observation projects to keep an eye on the polls, and protect the sanctity of the ballot. A plethora of Nigerian civil society organisations in one way or another leading initiatives to get out the vote, observe the elections or campaign for active citizen participation in the electoral process. Many of these groups have been forced to return to the drawing board to do some head scratching with respect to how to cover obvious funding gaps, which would be occasioned by the shift in the polls. A domestic observer group put the conservative estimate of setting up a small observer mission of about 30 to 35 observers at around N3,000,000. There are observer groups planning to deploy up to 3,000 or 4,000 observers in order to get data on the elections from across the country.

However, it is the political stakeholders who would likely cry the loudest about the issue of cost. The top political contenders would have mobilized their party agents, especially with respect to the payment of allowances. At a time where many see the elections as an opportunity to collect their share of the national cake from the politicians, the party agents are not likely to return what they have already collected, and would expect to be mobilized afresh by the political parties. This will present a massive financial burden because a presidential contender who wants to put observer in 120,000 polling units would feel the pinch if he or she has to cough out huge sums. Volunteering would have been the ideal in situations like that to reduce the cost, but the culture of volunteering has really not taken a hold in Nigeria’s political culture, meaning every service has to be paid for.

Aviation Losses Put At N1.8B
Non-restriction in flight movements notwithstanding, the postponement of yesterday’s elections was estimated to have cost airlines and agencies at least N1.8b ($5 million).

The loss was on account of cancelled local and international flights, and very low passenger turnout for airlines that showed up, due to earlier restriction of land movement.

The ever-busy Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, when The Guardian visited yesterday, was almost empty, as very few passengers turned up for their flights.

Though airlines like Virgin Atlantic, Etihad and Emirates showed up on schedule, very few passengers travelled with the carriers. It was learnt that most of the foreign carriers cancelled their flights for the day.

Compared to the international wing, the outlook of business at the local wing of the Lagos airport was entirely different as all flights were grounded and all aviation-related service providers absent.

President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), the downstream sector of the aviation industry, Bernard Bankole, said the loss for airlines, travel agencies and government agencies cannot be less than $5 million.

Bankole observed that no fewer than 10 foreign airlines were cancelled as at 3pm yesterday, coupled with the entire shutdown of local operations due to the postponed elections.

“At least $5 million has gone to waste because plans would have been made before and had to be canceled. If they had been told earlier that the elections had been shifted, the opportunities of today (yesterday) would not have been missed by any airlines.

“Now the elections of this Saturday will hold next week, what assurance is there that the election will hold? It is a dilemma, which is not good for aviation business at all,” Bankole said.

Communication Manager of Dana Air, Kingsley Ezenwa, confirmed that the airlines cancelled 10 local flights due to the earlier plan to have presidential elections yesterday.

Ezenwa said there is no quantifying the losses, citing that the cost of logistics and planning of reschedule passengers for future flights are also huge.

Aviation Security Consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd) said airlines would experience more decline in passenger traffic till mid-week because the postponement would affect government activities and other businesses as a whole.

“But, I don’t think it will affect aviation more than it would have affected other businesses. Rather, the airlines had gained more in the last few weeks on account of the electioneering campaigns, which is more than what they would have made in non-election year or what they will lose in these few days.”

No Less Than $1.5 Billion Lost To Shutdown
The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) said no less than $1.5 billion was lost owing to the disruption of activities across the states.

The Director General of the Chamber, Muda Yusuf in a chat with The Guardian noted that several activities were disrupted as a result of the postponement, adding that a slowdown should be expected in the days ahead till the elections are conducted.

Yusuf stated that many SMEs’ activities were affected; the airports and seaports were shut down preparatory to the election, while many people have had to move from one location to another.

He noted that the impact of the loss would be felt across the sectors of the economy, especially for activities scheduled for February 23rd, the new date for the elections.

When The Guardian visited some areas in Lagos State, many of the roads were deserted while major markets in Mushin, Yaba, and Lagos Island operated skeletal activities as people had assumed that there would be no movement during the day.

“This is another defining period in our democratic history. We note that the political transition and electoral process in the country has far reaching implications for the economy.

“This is because political and social stability are critical factors that drive investors’ confidence. Thus, it is important to guide against the tendencies that may undermine the credibility of the electoral process.

The risks associated with this period include security risks, governance and policy risks and risk to existing contractual obligations. We urge the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), security agencies and the judiciary to be independent and fair to all parties. It is important to guide against the tendencies that distract state institutions from governance,” LCCI President, Babatunde Ruwase had told journalists at a recent forum.