…says polls to hold as scheduled

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has for the umpteenth time reassured Nigerians that the 2023 general elections would take place as scheduled despite prevailing challenges.

This new reassurance is coming amid apprehension in several quarters that the ongoing cash crunch occasioned by the Central Bank of Nigeria’s naira redesign policy as well as a biting petrol scarcity could scuttle the elections billed for February 25 and March 11, 2023.

The country’s apex bank’s naira redesign policy has seen the mopping up of about N1.9 trillion worth of the old N200, N500 and N1,000 banknotes from circulation without a commensurate injection of the new notes into the economy. This has limited citizens’ access to cash, with banks and their Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) grudgingly rationing the meagre cash made available to them by the CBN.

Similarly, despite assurances by Nigerian National Petroleum Company Ltd (NNPC) that the biting petrol scarcity that began since November would soon vanish, Nigerians are going through excruciating pain to purchase the product used to fuel automobiles and power generating sets in a country where electricity supply is a scarce commodity, and they are paying a premium for it, with the product selling as high as N500 per litre in parts of the country as against the NNPC rate of N184.

These challenges, many Nigerians fear, could affect INEC’s ability to conduct the 2023 polls.

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But chairman of the electoral body, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, thinks otherwise. He told journalists in Abuja on Wednesday that the election “will hold as scheduled on the 25th of February for national and on the 11th of March for the state election”.

Yakubu, who spoke to journalists after briefing the Federal Executive Council (FEC) at the State House, Abuja about the preparations for the polls, said the electoral body had taken measures to address the twin challenges of fuel scarcity and naira crunch.
“I can tell you two of these challenges quickly. The first one is availability of petroleum products. We had a meeting with the National Union of Road Transport Workers and they raised that as an issue of concern. Immediately after that meeting, we interfaced with the leadership of the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited and right now, there is a technical committee working,” Yakubu said.

“The idea is for them to avail us the use of their over 900 land mega stations, as well as floating mega stations nationwide for the purpose of stocking products to ensure that the commission doesn’t suffer any encumbrances in movement of personnel and materials for the election,” he said.

On the currency issue, Yakubu said INEC had an engagement on Tuesday with the CBN governor who assured that the commission would not suffer any encumbrances on that score.
“Fortunately for us, all our accounts, national and state, are held by the apex bank. So we raised those challenges, but we have found a solution to those challenges,” he said.

The INEC boss further explained that his meeting with FEC was a routine briefing on the general election and that he was expected to also brief the Council of States during its meeting on Friday.
“It is a general briefing, it’s in keeping with the tradition that on the eve of major elections, general election in particular, the commission is invited to brief council. It is also invited to brief the Council of State,” Yakubu said.
“The briefing for the Council of State is going to take place on Friday the 10th. So basically, it’s about the readiness of the commission to conduct the elections,” he said.

On the briefing with FEC, the INEC boss said the commission took members of the council through all the preparations it had put in place for the election, the challenges it was facing, and the steps it had taken to address those challenges.