Filling Up the War Chest: The Economy and the 2015 Elections – By Idayat Hassan
As the politics of fear continues to rise in the prelude to the 2015 general elections, little attention is being paid to examining the impact that Nigeria’s recent economic crunch may have on the elections and vice versa. Just a few months after Nigeria was proclaimed as having the biggest economy in Africa, the falling price of oil, intensification of oil theft and the prolonged insurgency in the Northern parts of the country have created a serious economic slide.
The Daily Trust newspaper of 25th December 2014 noted that the crashing oil price and dwindling dollar reserves has knocked more than $40 billion off the value of the Nigerian economy. The Naira has also been devalued by nearly 10 percent. This is further reinforced by the fear of a violent post-election scenario which has persuaded many Nigerians to move their money out of the country.
The government has announced austerity measures to cushion the effects of the economic downturn, but the reality on ground does not match the policy statements as huge financial resources continue to be deployed by competing parties fighting the 2015 general elections.
Many state governors owe staff salaries for more than four months, yet they were able to pay delegates huge sums to vote in their interest during the just concluded party primaries. Furthermore, PDP governors collectively donated over 1 billion Naira to President Jonathan’s re-election campaign.
The President’s reelection bid itself has collected over N21 billion. This fundraising drive has largely been viewed through the prism of electoral law (and the impunity with which candidates break regulations on spending limits), but we should also consider what impact this “˜political’ spending will have on the economy.
The impact of this economic downturn is being felt by the country’s ordinary citizens, not only as the price of goods increased tremendously, but more importantly salaries are owed to many civil servants both by the state and federal government. The price of food remains unstable in the market with rumours circulating that the fuel price may be hiked.
The economic crunch is not only being felt by the masses, but not even Nigerian oligarchs immune to the bad news. It was reported on www.pulse.ng on December 25, 2014 that Dangote lost a whopping $7.8 billion out of his $21.6 billion fortune as a result of the devaluation of the Naira. At the state level, many governors have been selling off their investments. For instance, Zamfara state sold off his N24 billion worth of its shares in the Niger Delta Power Holding Company to enable it pay salaries and service debts.
Also of note is the face-off between the federal government and the state governments over the sharing of the excess crude oil and revenues. The Edo state governor, Adams Oshiomole, recently alleged that the FG had failed to share revenues accrued from the excess crude oil account in the last fifteen months, yet the account is empty. This claim was debunked by the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala.
Opposition governors have also alleged that the FG has been withholding their allocations for no justifiable reasons. As the economic crunch continues, only Lagos state is able to sustain the payment of salaries and continue with its infrastructure development projects. While the Federal Government at least has a plan to keep the economy afloat as revenues continue to dwindle, little is known about how individual states plan on sustaining their own.
Yet, ten incumbent governors are seeking re-election next year, while others are moving on to the senate. Even the governors who are not contesting but have personal interest in party candidates have allowed party politics to affect state affairs. All the parties are busy building an election war chest with little regard to the impact this will have on their citizens or the overall economic facade.
Dr. Sule Lamido, Governor of Jigawa State, is yet to present his 2015 Appropriations Bill to the State House of Assembly. The implication of this is that while this must be passed by the SHoA before February 14, it suggests that it will be given the required attention and as such may not adequately reflects citizens’ expectations.
A trend which has recently become evident has been the excessive borrowing engaged in by the states. The frenzied rush for bonds in an election year is very alarming. Ogun, Bauchi, Kano, Niger and Gombe have all, or are currently, issuing bonds on the capital markets.
A Nigerian newspaper, Daily Trust, recently reported that borrowing by state governments from the bond market more than doubled in the four years to 2014. Their analysis of data from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) shows that from 2011 to date alone, 10 state governments issued bonds totaling N375 billion, thereby surpassing the total bonds issued by states in the previous 32 years.
The FG has also presented a budget of over 4 trillion Naira to the National Assembly, a budget heavily criticized for making more provisions for recurrent expenditure than capital projects. As governors preoccupy themselves with raising money to service their loans or continue to borrow more and sell off state assets, the direct impact of the economic downturn and reckless financial spending must be highlighted.
In addition, we must consider whether the economic downturn will affect the electoral commission’s (INEC) administration of the election. INEC’s spokesperson, Kayode Idowu, recently stated that the commission has all the money it needs to run the election. However, the depreciation of the value of the Naira, along with other emerging issues such as whether or not to include or not to include internally displaced persons and prisoners in the polls, are likely to strain INEC’s budgets.
Also worthy of note is the impact this economic downturn may have on voter behaviour. Will the economic crunch lead to the rise of clientism particularly within the redefined concept of “˜stomach infrastructure’ witnessed during the Ekiti and Osun by-elections? Or, will spur on the people to vote solely on substantive issues?
As more money is being pumped into the election war chest, what do we make of public funds, public interest and public assets? Will anybody be willing to hold the Naira in the post-election period? What is obvious is whosoever wins the election is in for a difficult and extremely bumpy ride, as he will be faced by a citizenry mounting its demands and pressure to institute an economic reversal where the welfare of the people will be guaranteed.
Idayat Hassan is Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja.