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Nigeria Delayed polls Business

Head of Nigeria's electoral commission says delay was not due to security or politics

Mahmood Yakubu, head of INEC, explains the polling delay, Abuja, February 16, 2019
Mahmood Yakubu, head of INEC, explains the polling delay, Abuja, February 16, 2019 REUTERS/Gbemileke Awodoye

Nigerians woke up to news that their general elections - which had been in the planning stages for four years - was postponed until next week. While the delay is not problematic, its abruptness meant that millions of people across the country lost money in their business as everything ground to a screeching halt in anticipation of what would have been voting day.

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Here in the busiest market of Lagos state, right on Lagos Island, people are usually elbow to elbow, without much room to pass.

A car driving through the streets is usually at a rate of less than a couple hours at times.

But today, it’s a mere five  minutes.

Instead of a bustling crowd, I hear some music blaring from a few places and a small hum of chatter.

Empty pockets

Heaven, is a 37 year old owner of a ladies’ clothing store in the market.

He puts on a smile when I take his photo, but afterwards his face gives way to worry.

Heaven owns a clothing store in the market on Lagos Island, February 16th, 2019
Heaven owns a clothing store in the market on Lagos Island, February 16th, 2019 Rfi / Anne-Marie Bissada

"The market is dry" he says, motioning to the near deadness of the commerical heart of the city.

Heaven came out to see if he could at least go home with some money. He left frustrated after no customers and empty pockets.

Saturday’s general election was cancelled officially at nearly 3 a.m. in the morning.

And with that a day of business was lost to the millions across the country who had accepted a day of no wages to accompany a day of voting.

But instead businesses remained shut. People remained indoors angered by today’s event.

And that means people lost more money.

Abruptness not postponement

People are angry not so much by the postponement, but by how it was done: a statement by the election authorities in the early hours of the morning.

Polling stations were due to open at 8 a.m.

Fadipe, is a young man who works the parking lot here. He parks and washes the cars. He hustles, and for that he needs clients.

Today there are some four cars parked.

He says just the day before on Friday, business was booming.

Today, he's got nothing.

Fadipe works the car park in the Lagos market on Lagos Island, February 16th, 2019
Fadipe works the car park in the Lagos market on Lagos Island, February 16th, 2019 Rfi / Anne-Marie Bissada

Not far from Fadipe, Yokey Mamh sits on a chair in front of his modest shop that is filled with bits of women’s clothing.

To his left, three stalls remain shut, and to his right two, with only one neighbour open like him.

Mamh is outraged that the government allowed such a thing to happen.

Everyone had expected to take a hit; but at least a vote would have been cast. Instead he came out to salvage what little he could of the day, but by just a little after one in the afternoon, he'd still had no customers.

Responses from the Independent Nationaly Electoral Commission

All day people have been demanding answers from the Independent National Electoral Commission that made the decision to delay voting until next Saturday.

In a press conference at 3:30 Saturday afternoon, the chairman of INEC, Mahmoud Yakubu, tried to address the pressing questions many had.

In short he said the decision to postpone the polls was not connected to any political or security issue, but related to two major logistical problems.

Firstly the three fires set at INEC commission offices in recent weeks had  destroyed ballot paper, result sheets, and the machines used to scan the PVC, the permanent voter cards that identify the voter’s fingerprint to that registered on the card.

He referred to this as sabotage.

And secondly, the weather.

He explains that the country has been experiencing the effects of the Harmattan wind, which have cancelled flights in recent weeks, making timely delivery of material difficult.

Taking all the logistics into consideration, Yakubu stressed the decision was painful for INEC but necessary for Nigeria’s democracy.

This way all the states will participate in the voting at the same time.

That may be so, but it doesn’t take away from the irritation of those directly impacted by a last-minute decision.

In another part of the market, Mrs. Ebere Ugonnia waves me over.

The bright and cheerful colours of her yellow dress with pink patterns masks her annoyance at Saturday’s loss of business.

Ebere Ugonnia owns a fabric store in the market, Lagos Island February 16th, 2019
Ebere Ugonnia owns a fabric store in the market, Lagos Island February 16th, 2019 Rfi / Anne-Marie Bissada

Not one person has come into her shop she cries. No one is here. She'll go home without so much as a Naira in her pocket, whereas on a good day, she's got no complaints.

Ugonnia had already taken today off as did everyone else in the market to go vote. Now she'll have to do it all over again next week, and suffer the financial losses.

Making the most

Over in Ikoyi, one woman was determined not to let the postponement bring her down.

Joyce manages the popular chain The Place, a cantine-style restaurant.

Sporting a bright coral dress and magenta head wrap, she declined to be recorded but proudly explained how she managed to salvage what she could.

At 7a.m., she heard about the postponement, told her staff to come in, despite transportation constraint.

Joyce says with most food places shut having no time to prepare, she knew people would be hungry so she decided to open.

And while it’s nearly as busy as a normal day, customers seemed to be relieved to find her.

Many businesses have no option but to accept that come next Saturday, the new date for elections, another hit to business will be had.

In the meantime, campaigning will remain closed, possibly allowing business to recoop some loss in the coming week.

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