We are in the second week of 2023 and it is important to keep track of some of the issues that will make or break Nigeria this year. Many are quick to conclude that the upcoming seventh general elections in this Fourth Republic are perhaps the main issue that will define the country this year. That is partially true. However, others that are not being taken into account at the moment include the National Population and Housing Census scheduled for April, the ongoing constitutional reform, the economy and, indeed, persistent insecurity.

Yes, the preparations for the 2023 general elections have reached their peak 44 days after the polls. As I said in this column last week, power will change hands in approximately 1,491 federal and state constituencies where elections are being held. Except for those who may be lucky enough to keep their posts after their successful re-election, others will have to give way to new ‘bailiffs’. Presidential and gubernatorial posts where their current occupants are serving their second and final terms will definitely receive new occupants on May 29. Legislators who are re-elected along with their new counterparts will take office in June throughout the federation. However, as the saying goes, “Between the promised land and the promised land, there is a desert.”

The Independent National Electoral Commission has said that worsening insecurity, especially attacks on its facilities, constitutes a clear and present danger to the success of the elections. Arsonists have set fire to no less than 52 INEC offices in the past three years. For what purpose is this done? Perhaps it is to prevent or disrupt electoral campaigns. It will appear that some undesirable elements want force majeure leading to a state of emergency and preventing a peaceful transition of power on May 29. This must not be allowed to happen, although recent political events in the United States after the 2020 presidential election and Brazil after the October 2022 presidential election are cause for concern as supporters of incumbents who were defeated in both countries decided to attack democratic institutions. While the ugly political events in Brazil and the US were largely post-election, those in Nigeria are pre-election.

Imagine if a few weeks before the polls someone decided to drag INEC President Professor Mahmood Yakubu to court alleging false asset declaration and asking him to resign. Fortunately, last Wednesday, January 4, 2023, Judge MA Hassan of the Superior Court of the Federal Capital Territory in his ruling dismissed the lawsuit filed by Somadina Uzoabaka, questioning the legitimacy of the assets declared by Yakubu for being incompetent and lacking in merit. . For those who don’t know, former Nigerian Chief Justice Walter Onnoghen was removed from office in 2019 just weeks before the election over similar asset disclosure issues. The questions on many people’s lips are, how did Somadina gain access to Mahmood’s asset declaration form, which is confidential? Is this guy being used by some politically exposed people or groups to derail the 2023 election?

It will be recalled that in addition to the attempt to remove the president of INEC, there have also been attempts, both in and out of court, to prevent INEC from using the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, which is the much touted game changer for the 2023. elections. This is despite the legal endorsement for the use of the device by Section 47(2) of the Electoral Act 2022.

As well as midwifery to a peaceful and credible 2023 general election, the administration of Major General Muhammadu Buhari (ret.) has also promised to deliver a national census of population and acceptable housing initially scheduled for 2022, but has to be postponed until April 2023. Not many Nigerians they know that the country has more than a century of experience in conducting censuses. The first census took place in 1866 and since then it has been carried out at irregular intervals. According to United Nations recommendations, the National Population and Housing Census is supposed to be carried out every 10 years, but the funding challenge and lack of political will have meant that the country’s political leadership has not obeyed this recommendation. The last census conducted in Nigeria was in 2006, and another one was due in 2016, but is now scheduled for April 2023. The National Population Commission promised the first digital census in 2023, and Nigerians should give the commission the benefit of the I doubt that, despite the controversies of the previous census, the one being planned for this year will provide a credible result and be acceptable to all. It is good that it is planned for after the general elections of 2023.

If the NPC can carry out a credible census, it will help the incoming government in national planning. Until now, we have relied on estimates from foreign organizations such as UNICEF, the World Bank and UNDP for sectoral planning. Not many Nigerians know that the NPC is also responsible for the registration of births and deaths. This is due to the lack of sufficient public information. It is reported that, given the enormous resources being deployed in conducting the 2023 NPHC, the commission will do a better job than it has achieved in previous exercises that were embroiled in controversy over the inaccuracy of published figures. Hopefully, the digitization of the planned exercise will increase its credibility.

The constitutional reform exercise has been underway since about 2019 and the National Assembly in March 2022 sent 44 of the approved bills to the state assembly chambers for concurrence. Billions of naira have been spent on the exercise for recalls and public hearings. Unfortunately, according to Senate Vice President Ovie Omo-Agege, while speaking to House correspondents in Abuja last Thursday, January 5, local government autonomy appears to be the thorny issue stalling the SHA vote on the bills. It is hoped that if the leadership of the National Assembly and the president lobby the governors adequately, the exercise of constitutional reform can still be saved and consummated. That will cause the restructuring of Nigeria, since some of the provisions already approved by the National Assembly will affect the devolution of powers, among other things.

The economy is sick and the indicators are very depressing. Nigeria’s federal budget of 21.83 trillion naira for 2023 has a deficit component of approximately 12 trillion naira. The capital expenditure component is about N6.4 trillion, while debt service gobbles up N6.3 trillion. Despite this, the National Assembly went ahead to insert constituency project funds N770bn. With a 60 percent revenue shortfall, our revenue goes largely toward servicing debt. However, there are many leaks in the financial system with theft of oil, non-remittance of revenue by state-owned companies and outright embezzlement of public funds posing herculean challenges for Nigeria’s survival. So it will not come as a surprise if incoming administrations at the federal, state and local level after May 29 claim to have found an empty treasury after their inauguration.

At this moment, the multidimensional poverty that plagues the country puts 133 million compatriots below the poverty line, according to the National Statistics Office. The unemployment figure stands at more than 33 percent, as many micro, small, and medium-sized businesses groan under the high cost of doing business. The death rate of many businesses in Nigeria is high, largely due to the high cost of energy (electricity and petroleum products), insecurity, and lack of proper infrastructure not to mention the government’s summer hopping policy. It is as certain as death that the petrol subsidy will be removed in the second half of 2023. This is long overdue as the trillions of naira being spent on this opaque exercise can better be implemented to improve the decaying social infrastructure. When this is done, there is likely to be a rise in commodity prices, and this can lead to social unrest unless managed wisely.

Insecurity ties together all the other variables discussed here. Unless government at all levels is able to collaboratively find a lasting solution to this growing threat, there may be no elections, no census, no economic growth, and no good governance. In fairness to the outgoing Buhari regime, there has been a significant improvement in the security and defense budget, but the impact is still weak. Precisely last Saturday, January 7, in Igueben, bandits stormed the train station and took about 30 travelers. They demand N620m for their release. Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution states that “the safety and well-being of the citizens shall be the primary objective of the government.” I hope 2023 brings this to fruition.

Twitter: @jideojong