2023: Experts, others thumb up Naira re-design, say it’ll ensure credible polls




…Policy’ll eliminate, address vote-buying – Expert

…It’ll ensure credible elections in 2023 – Dr. Ede

‘…Politicians with personal bank vaults at home’ll be disappointed’

‘…Will reduce commercialisation of politics’

… It’ll affect some presidential candidates – LP chieftain

In this piece, BENJAMIN SAMSON examines the redesigning of the Naira by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and how it could curb vote-buying in the 2023 general elections.

Since the return to civil rule in 1999, Nigeria’s electoral process has been characterised by monetisation through vote-buying. Over the years, it has steadily grown in scale.

In a chat with this reporter, a professor of Political Science at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), Chidi Elekwa, said political parties in successive elections rather than focus on their party’s manifestoes and capacities of their candidates prefer to ‘bribe’ to win elections.

 “Parties and candidates have shown by their conduct during political campaigns that good party manifestos and integrity of candidates jostling for public offices are no longer sufficient to guarantee electoral success; thus, they resort to vote- buying. On the other hand, the electorates too have obviously demonstrated cynical electoral behaviours by their readiness to sell their votes to the highest bidders,” he said.

The Naira re-design

In late October this year, the CBN announced plans to launch new designs to replace high-value Naira notes from December 15, 2022. The bank said it is doing this to have control of the currency in circulation, manage inflation, as well as tackle counterfeiting.

While addressing journalists, the governor of the CBN, Godwin Emefiele, said currency management has faced several daunting challenges that have continued to escalate in scale and sophistication with attendant and unintended consequences for the integrity of both the CBN and the country.

 He had said, “These challenges primarily include: Significant hoarding of bank notes by members of the public, with statistics showing that over 85 per cent of the currency in circulation is outside the vaults of commercial banks.

 “To be more specific, as at the end of September 2022, available data at the CBN indicate that N2.73 Trillion out of the N3.23 trillion currency in circulation, was outside the vaults of Commercial Banks across the country; and supposedly held by the public.

 “Evidently, currency in circulation has more than doubled since 2015; rising from N1.46 trillion in December 2015 to N3.23 trillion in September 2022. This is a worrisome trend that cannot be allowed to continue.”

Experts’ views

In his view, the executive director of Accord Conflict and Resilience Monitor, a civil society organisation, Dr. Dan Onuoha, dismissed the fears about the planned introduction of new currency notes by the CBN on December 15, 2022. According to him, the move will reduce the commercialisation of politics.

He said, “In reducing the amount of cash in circulation, many also hope that the move by the apex bank would also reduce the commercialisation of partisan relations between a political party or a politician and members of the electorate.  The policy will help put a stop to money laundering, vote-buying, ransom-taking and counterfeiting.

“One of the consequences of vote-buying is that it unduly raises the cost of elections thereby shutting out contestants with little finances and promoting political corruption. When victory is purchased rather than won fairly, it obviously leads to state capture.

“It equally compromises the credibility, legitimacy and integrity of elections. Vote buying undermines the integrity of elections as the winners are often the highest bidders and not necessarily the most popular or credible contestants. It therefore discourages conscientious people from participating in electoral politics and causes citizens to lose faith in state institutions.

 “Vote-trading equally has the tendency to perpetuate bad governance. It not only compromises the wellbeing of those who sold their vote for instant gratification, but also the future of those who did not sell their votes but are inevitably exposed to bad governance that results from such a fraudulent process. For every vote traded, there are many people who will suffer the unintended consequences when the traded votes make the difference between winning and losing in the election.”

Likewise, a political analyst, Dr. Emmanuel Ede, said the policy would put politicians who are not popular on their toes. According to him, this new policy from the apex bank is vital and will help to ensure credible elections in the 2023 polls.

 He said, “The re-designing of the Naira will be a major setback for illicit transactions and vote-buyers that have already stacked up cash for the forthcoming elections. The policy is a welcome one and has come to stay for the clean-up and development of our electoral processes.

“For once, those who have stashed huge cash ahead of the 2023 elections for vote buying and prosecution of their campaigns would be forced to bring those cash out and many of them would be forced to explain how they came about the monies to security operatives.

 “The strategic step will put pressure on politicians who are not popular in their constituencies. One of the most sought-after commodities in Nigeria right now is the voter card; not just any, but the permanent one which goes by the acronym PVC.

“The re-design of the Naira will eliminate and address vote-buying and purchase of permanent voter cards in the 2023 elections. Vote-buying has always played a role in Nigeria’s polls, but many have been outraged at the apparent brazenness with which party officials have sought to sway voters in recent contests. Politicians that have created personal bank vaults at home will be obviously disappointed by the CBN’s plan to redesign the naira.

 “With Nigeria in the election season, the sudden CBN policy of re-designing certain currencies is expected to create some shocks in the system, and affect politicians who have amassed huge financial war chests to prosecute the 2023 elections, as all old currencies are expected back to the vault by January 31, 2023.”

Also speaking with this reporter, a chieftain of the Labour Party in Abuja, who pleaded not to be mentioned in print, said the apex bank’s decision would affect some presidential candidates who had been accused of financial crimes.

“The CBN has rendered some Bullion Vans empty. It was the Bullion Van that they used to rig previous elections that brought these bad leaders into power.

 “If the federal government really means this Naira issue, some presidential candidates that we all know, will have to find another alternative to rig the election because they may not have enough cash to be carried in a bullion van from one polling until to another, as usual.

“Everything happening in the country right now shows that God will be involved in the 2023 elections. Who knows? Buhari may be doing these to ensure that the election is free and fair. We are taking back our country.”

Nigerians optimistic

Meanwhile, some Nigerians who spoke with our correspondent expressed optimisms that the development would have a good effect on the conduct of the 2023 general elections. According to them, the plans by some political bigwigs who may have stashed billions of the Naira in their various houses to buy votes in 2023 have been crippled.

Similarly, a bank worker, Mr. David Ajala, said some politicians who believe in manipulating elections with the use of cash may find it difficult in the next election. According to him, there is a limit to how much cash withdrawal an individual can make in a day.

He said, “If the government actually wants to do things the right way, some of those election riggers who use cash, may find it difficult in the next election.

“All withdrawals can be monitored through the BVN. There is a limit to how much can be withdrawn from both individual and corporate accounts. If the issue of stashing Naira notes must come to an end, the CBN and the EFCC have more work to do.”

 Scepticisms

However, in his view, the executive-secretary of the Institute for Democracy and Good Governance, Mr. Abbas Abdulrazaq, said the policy will not stop vote-buying due to the ‘dollarisation’ of politics in Nigeria.

He said, “It is unlikely that the decision by the CBN to effect changes to the aesthetics and façade of the country’s currency notes would significantly reduce the exposure of Nigeria’s electioneering process to vote-buying.

“Nigeria’s politicians are ever keen to grab power at any costs in order to capture the resources of the state. The use of state power to accumulate resources has been the defining characteristic of the Nigerian state since independence. In order to accumulate resources, they need to win elections and to win elections, Nigeria’s political elite need money – lots of money.

“The dollarisation of the economy as a result of the extremely distasteful management of the nation’s foreign exchange system by the Godwin Emefiele-led CBN means that the bulk of bribery and inducement of key election officials are undertaken in foreign currencies rather than in the local currency.

“The 2022 primary and gubernatorial elections in Nigeria brought to the fore the reality of dollarisation of vote-buying in Nigeria. According to media reports, delegates to the primary elections of the two major parties were paid thousands of Dollars to induce them to vote for certain candidates.

“It is Nigeria’s poor voters, the country’s poor, tired, huddled and wretched mass who are forced to sell their votes for symbolic amounts in Naira.

“The Central Bank’s decision to effect changes to the country’s Naira notes did not envisage its effect on Nigeria’s dominant vote-buying culture. While it might minimise the use of the local currency to buy votes, the policy is unlikely to make a dent in the unwieldy culture of money politics in the country.”

 In his contribution, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who pleaded anonymity countered the argument that politicians are hiding large amounts of money in their homes.

“I have seen no evidence that this vast amount of money is in the hands of corrupt politicians. What this situation tells me is that Nigeria is still a substantial cash economy and the majority of Nigerians, we all know, have no bank accounts. Most people engaged in subsistence farming and petty commerce and services keep their small amounts of money in cash. We are over 200 million; so small amounts of cash can be a considerable amount of money.  When you order all Nigerians to place all their cash in their bank accounts knowing full well most don’t have, I say it is financial and economic vandalism by the state against innocent citizens. The masses will suffer. They will lose money as they seek ways to bribe and get access to the new currency.

“Those saying criminals and corrupt persons are keeping their cash in their houses do not have evidence to back it. We know they have access to ways of changing their Naira into forex or crypto-currencies and those with a lot of cash will continue to do that. This will further depress the value of the Naira. This group might not be large as the bulk of the Naira in circulation would be in the hands of ordinary Nigerians who do all their transactions in cash. I repeat that it’s the masses that will suffer,” he said.

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