It is difficult to have logical discussions in Nigeria during “partisan” seasons. I wrote in this column last week (“The contest for Abuja ”) that “there remain some contingencies, however – could the polls be shifted…?” It was a point I had made in several presentations over the previous weeks. It was clearly evident that there was a distinct possibility (or indeed a definite probability!) that the elections could be postponed, but in the current season of partisan distemper, objective analysis is difficult to communicate!
The national security adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, had gone to Chatham House in London to suggest a shift due to the low distribution of permanent voters’ cards; US Secretary of State John Kerry had visited Nigeria in an attempt to dissuade government from postponement, but President Jonathan had rebuffed him insisting that while the final handover date, May 29, 2015 was sacrosanct, the polling days were not; there were some weighty arguments in favour of shifting the elections forward – there was enough constitutional latitude so-to-do given that the laws stated they could be conducted between 30 and 150 days of the handover date; 35 percent of PVCs were yet to be distributed; INEC was evidently ill-prepared for the elections, even though it continued to posture as though it was while needing an extension (reports were that no training had been done, the card readers were yet to be tested, poll officials were yet to be hired, etc!); most dangerous was the lop-sided collection of the PVCs in a situation that saw 80 percent average collection up North and 60 percent or less down south!
Of course, there were also reasons to be worried about a shift of the date, essentially the uncertainty it would introduce into the transition and possible negative effect on markets, but it was clear that at the very least, a significant probability existed that the elections would be moved forward. Yet what was the typical response I got when I raised that possibility? “Impossible”, “They can’t try it”, “He wouldn’t dare shift the elections”, “He can’t try it”! If this was a pattern of response in casual conversations with passionate partisans, it may perhaps be forgivable, but when you get such from business audiences whose core function should be building scenarios, considering options and alternatives, and evolving contingencies, then everyone should be worried!
I see a similar absence of rigour concerning the business community’s projections (or lack of it) around the likely policy outcomes of the presidential contest. Everyone is by now familiar with my “four Cs” – continuity, change, coalition and crisis – the scenarios that I posit may result from the elections now slated for March 28, 2015. It is not easy to predict which of the four “Cs” will emerge, but surely every serious business should be carrying out a careful and dispassionate analysis of the policy and business implications of the two central scenarios (continuity and change) and the two contingent scenarios (coalition and crisis). My firm RTC Advisory Services has, for instance, developed scenarios around likely policy outcomes in the continuity and change contexts in relation to security, economic policy, energy, monetary and fiscal policy, infrastructure, financial sector and foreign policy. These are relatively straight-forward projections because none of the two candidates involved in the presidential contest are unknowns. It seems to me that many people in the business community, rather than embark on the discipline of analyses and scenario planning, simply embrace the same slogans and conventional wisdoms on the streets!
The election postponement sends everyone involved in the presidential and other contests back to the drawing board! For Abuja, the contestants now have six weeks where some thought they were on the home stretch; for the various state houses, the election is a full two months away – in politics, six weeks or two months is an eternity! The financial implications of the adjournment are huge for the candidates – new budgets will have to be drawn up; new campaigns will have to be prepared; and voters who were previously won over may have to be re-engaged. On INEC’s side, it has an opportunity to improve its state of preparedness for the polls. I am fairly certain that if the presidential elections had proceeded on February 14th, it would have been a complete fiasco and a grave danger to national peace and stability. I hope March 28th sees a better-prepared INEC rather than one pretending to be ready for elections when it was fully aware of its own significant state of unpreparedness.
Who will win on March 28, 2015? I do not know! I have discarded all the numbers my colleagues and I had put together as those may now be completely moot. I will spend the next four weeks analyzing PVC distribution, voter enthusiasm, likely political trends and indicators across the states and regions and will update my projections on March 18, 2015.