Following the turbulence of #NigeriaDecides2023, and with a calmer state of mind after the emotionally charged aftermath of the election, now may be an appropriate time to reflect and evaluate. The opinions expressed here are solely my own and do not represent any institution to which I have direct or indirect ties. Given the highly charged and divisive nature of the overall discourse, it is essential to provide an impartial context. I feel it’s relevant to disclose that I have a mixed heritage, being part Igbo, part Yoruba, and part Ghanaian. My paternal grandfather hails from Owerri in Imo State, while my paternal grandmother is from Offa in Kwara State, and my mother is Ghanaian. With that said, we can now delve into a metaphorical analysis of the missed opportunities presented by this significant election.
I believe that the history of a nation with enormous potential but lacking significant achievement is riddled with missed opportunities. Nigeria, a country that has been blessed by nature with abundant resources, including human, material, and commodities, has had tremendous opportunities to excel on the global stage. One of the most conspicuous examples of wasted opportunities is in the Oil and Gas industry. Despite being Africa’s largest oil producer for decades, Nigeria’s output has been hindered by theft and sabotage in recent years. As a result, according to OPEC reports, the country has fallen to the fourth-largest oil producer in Africa.
Our persistent mistake is the failure to utilize the opportunities presented by oil windfalls to propel Nigeria forward as a nation, similar to contemporary countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Since joining the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1971, Nigeria has had numerous boom opportunities. For instance, oil prices increased by 400% in just six months following the Yom Kippur War, triggered by the Arab Oil Embargo. In 1981, the price of crude oil doubled from $14 to $35 per barrel after the Iran/Iraq war. Additionally, the uncertainties associated with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the ensuing Gulf War in 1990 led to a spike in crude oil prices, known as the ‘Gulf War windfall’ during the reign of Head of State Ibrahim Babangida.
The most recent windfall occurred in 2022 due to the Russia-Ukraine war, with the five largest Oil and Gas companies in the West earning over $134b in excess profits, according to Global Witness. However, this event barely caused a ripple on Nigeria’s economic landscape, as life in the country has become increasingly challenging, leading to an acute brain drain referred to as “JAPA” – the local term for emigration. This stands in stark contrast to Nigeria’s peak economic growth in 2014, when the country had a GDP of $569b, making it the largest economy in Africa. South Africa, with a GDP of $381b, was a distant second.
On a positive note, Nigeria has made major strides in the past two decades, particularly in the technology sector. The most successful GSM auction, led by Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, who was then the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, set the foundation for the dynamic and innovative growth of the telecoms and Fintech industries. This has led to the emergence of unicorns and aspiring unicorns like MTN Nigeria, Airtel, Paystack, Interswitch, Flutterwave, and FifthLab by CWG Plc. Another sector that has been greatly exploited is the creative industry, where Nigerian artists are considered one of the most remarkable inventions since sliced bread. Tems, 2Face, Burna Boy, Wizkid, Kunle Afolayan, and Stan Nze, among others, have not only won international awards but also regularly fill concert halls and stadiums worldwide.
Looking at the other side of the ledger we must examine the rued opportunities and see what we can learn from them. The most recent significant opportunities include the eNaira (a bold attempt at digitizing the currency), the Naira redesign policy which according to the Central Bank of Nigeria, will enable her to take control of the naira in circulation, manage inflation, combat counterfeiting and ransom payment. Noble as these initiatives were, sloppy implementations have robbed us of the momentum and trust in a new and better life.
The mother of all lost opportunities is the Nigerian election in 2023. Here was an opportunity to outdo ourselves against the June 12, 1992 election, which has generally been adjudged as the freest, fair and most credible election in the land. A lot of work had gone into bringing this aspiration into reality; a key electoral act had been passed that ensured that the election process would eliminate unnecessary manual steps that provide room for manipulation thereby aiding a free, fair and credible election process.
The Independent Electoral Commission had gone to great lengths to revamp the technology base for the election; the INEC Voter Enrollment Device (IVED), the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to help reduce the cases of manual manipulation of figures, and the INEC Election Result Viewing Portal (IREV) that will enable seamless transmission and display of election results in almost real-time, so that results could be verified with what was declared and signed onto by all representatives at the polling units. The system had been successfully tested in the 2022 governorship elections in three states in the South West and South Eastern Regions.
INEC had a budget of N40b annually but was able to secure an additional N305b to conduct the 2023 elections. Despite the significant amount of money allocated and spent on the process, Nigerians saw it as a valuable investment in ending electoral manipulation and allowing the electorate to choose their leaders. This led to increased youth engagement, with many advocating for voter registration and participation.
However, on election day, there were significant issues with the use of BVAS and the promised IREV portal was not utilized, leading to the announcement of results that many believed did not reflect the votes cast. This broke the trust that is necessary for an electoral process to be successful. Elder statesmen, including former President Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, called for the cancellation of elections in areas where BVAS was not used. This was a missed opportunity to take a significant step forward for Nigeria’s future and will be remembered as the most controversial election in the country’s history. Electoral hopes were supremely raised and woefully dashed. It is important to understand what went wrong and why, in order to prevent future failures.
Failure is not something to be proud of, but in Nigeria, it seems to be the norm. The INEC has stubbornly refused to offer any apologies or explanations to those who are dissatisfied with the election results, instead directing them to seek redress in court. While going to court may expose the flaws in the process and ultimately strengthen it, it is only a part of the healing and improvement process.
This election had the potential to be a turning point for Nigeria, and the country could have been celebrated as a trailblazer for modern elections in Africa, which could have put an end to the endless conflicts and losses that come with electoral disputes. However, it seems that we are choosing to ignore the truth while at the same time hoping for a just and peaceful outcome. It feels like we are in a bus careening towards a ditch.
In my opinion, any action we take now will be too little, too late. Even if INEC ultimately declares either Peter Obi of the Labour Party or Abubakar Atiku of the Peoples Democratic Party the winner following court proceedings, the process has already been tainted, and trust has already been lost. Whoever takes office on May 29th, 2023, will lack popular legitimacy, a burden they will carry throughout their tenure.
But we are Nigerians, a people of unparalleled resilience. We will keep pushing forward and try again in four years. May God save our country.
Austin Okere is a thought leader and business mentor. Currently, an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Columbia Business School, New York, Austin has also facilitated at the United States International University in Kenya and has been appointed to the Advisory Board of the Global Business School Network in Washington in recognition of his contribution to the development of business education and knowledge transfer in Africa. CWG Plc, the company which he founded has been recognised as a ‘Global Growth Company’ by the World Economic Forum and is the largest security listed in the Technology Sector of the Nigerian Stock Exchange.