Nigeria counts cost of postponed presidential election

Sunday February 17 2019

Nigeria elections

People stand at a crossroad under a bridge in Lagos on February 16, 2019, after Nigeria's electoral watchdog postponed presidential and parliamentary elections for one week, just hours before polls were due to open. PHOTO | STEFAN HEUNIS | AFP 

AFP
By AFP
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LAGOS,

Nigerians who were surprised when the country's presidential election was postponed 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.

STREETSEMPTY

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 blamed on logistical issues.

The Independent Electoral Commission announced the delay just hours before polls to elect the head of Africa's most populous nation and members of parliament were to open.

The INEC cited problems in the distribution of ballot papers and results sheets, as well as sabotage, after three fires at its offices in two weeks.

CALM

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.

Social media was used meanwhile to organise collections for street vendors who had bought perishable items to sell to voters that often wait in long lines.

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.

BUSINESSES SHUT

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 Saturday from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm.

Airports and border crossing points had stopped operating as well.

For economist Bismark Rewane however, "the most important cost ... is the reputational cost.

"Investors' confidence will be eroded" and in the long term, when indirect costs were taken into account, the delay might cost the equivalent of two percentage points of national output, he said.

In currency terms, Rewane estimated the possible cost at "nine to 10 billion dollars."