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Views and Echoes: Congested Presidential Primaries and Buhari’s Legacy on Corruption

This column is focused on the weekly provision of incisive analysis, deep reflections, and holistic perspectives on topical national issues and broader international issues with significant impact on Nigeria.

President Buhari

The thrust of this week’s column will focus on 2023 politicking within the country’s two major political parties as personal consultations are heightening, leading to the presidential primaries; as well as certain moves made by President Muhammadu Buhari which could indeed be his legacy on corruption as his administration is winding up gradually.

Furor Around Cost of APC Nomination Form: Looking at the Bigger Picture

Not many were surprised when the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), at its recent National Executive Committee meeting, fixed the expression of interest and nomination forms for its presidential ticket at a whopping N100m. The announcement was met with widespread outrage from commentators and observers; who declared it as an absurd monetization of politics and a deliberate attempt to exclude young Nigerians or independent aspirants from the process. The move, they claimed, is to ensure that power remains in the hands of the usual career politicians who are the only set of individuals that can afford such a humongous fee. Indeed, the price tag paled in comparison to the N40m set by its contemporary PDP who could not resist the attempt to take a dig at the APC; accusing it of institutionalising corruption even within its party and further declaring that anyone able to buy the APC presidential form should be investigated for corruption.

The latitude that political parties in Nigeria have over price-fixing for its elective position forms is unrestricted and the party can always do as it likes based on its own analysis and convictions. A member of the APC working committee, the national Women Leader, defended the price tag, stating that anyone not able to raise N100m has no business being the President of Nigeria as such individual won’t have the needed “money experience” to efficiently control huge national funds. More realistically, there is no gainsaying that politics is expensive, especially at the highest level which is the Presidency; it is the same in USA where our democracy is modelled after and many other leading democracies in the world. The APC has claimed that the price was set to that level to garner funds which will be able to cater for the presidential campaign of the eventual winner of the primaries; indicating a move geared at self-sufficiency and not depending on any one to bankroll its campaign. Both positions are valid in their own rights. The high cost of politics in Nigeria is only bothersome because of the poor quality of governance and the fact that end results of all these processes are often money-grabbers who see this venture as a strategic investment to pool money in and get it back in multiple folds which is the crux of many people’s problem with Nigeria’s expensive political system; a topic for another day.

Apart from the much-ignored fact that the cost of form for the lowest positions in the APC, which is supposed to be the ones readily affordable to independent young Nigerians (State House of Assembly & Federal House of Reps), is set at an expensive N2m & N10m respectively, what is particularly disturbing is the historical analysis of a geometric increment in the cost of these forms. Take for example in 2014, the APC set its presidential form at a price of N27m; a price described at the time as “costly and not affordable” by leading aspirant Muhammadu Buhari who lamented that he borrowed from friends and well-wishers to raise that amount. In 2019; the price for presidential form rose to N45m (an increase of 66%); and now the price has been pegged at N100m (a staggering increase of 122%). So what will the price be in four and eight years’ time if we project along this established pattern? It is outrageous.

The justification for this astronomical surge can only be that inflation has soared and purchasing power of the Naira has dipped significantly; a damning indictment on Buhari’s economic policies and blatant manifestation of the serial failure of the Buhari-led administration to achieve one of his three cardinal campaign promises which is to improve economic prosperity. Indeed, it is a reverse situation as essentially, the position of APC can be readily interpreted as saying that the purchasing power of N27m in 2015 is now equal to the purchasing power of N100m in 2022. It is a brutal assessment of how the economy has floundered into an abyss under this administration and how all key macroeconomic indices are tottering at alarming rates. The national debt stock has surged exponentially with no commensurate gains to show for it as majority of the borrowing is being channeled to recurrent government expenditure. Unemployment is at an all time high of 33%, small and medium enterprises which are the backbone of the economy are struggling seriously with no apparent plans to cauterize their fatal hemorrhaging, academic institutions remain under lock and key with teeming youths idle and susceptible to the whims of crime and immoral proclivities, price of common staples have gone beyond the reach of most Nigerians who now live from paycheck to paycheck. With security situation also worsening in many parts of Nigeria; it is getting clearer by the day that viz-a-viz a scorecard based on his 3-point agenda; save some improvement in capital spending and infrastructural development, the Buhari administration may have no real achievements as its tenure is coming to a rapid close.

Crowded Presidential Primaries beckons as Consensus option loses steam

With preparations for the 2023 elections about to take more definite shape, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) & the leading opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are set to witness a congested Presidential Primaries.

Apparently, the APC zoned the Presidency to the South but that has not deterred some aspirants from the North from purchasing the expression of interest forms; presently the APC has about 15 individuals who have shown interest in contesting the primaries. There have been no major talks of consensus within the party as lots of aspirants are willing to test their popularity at the primaries slated for between May 30- June 1. Leading aspirants from the South West are national leader Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti state is also expected to contest. Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi so far is looking like the man to beat from the South South; meanwhile, despite the zone having the smallest number of delegates expected for the indirect primaries, leading APC figures from the South East including Chris Ngige, Dave Umahi & Rochas Okorocha appear willing to defy the odds and emerge as APC candidate for the elections

The PDP on the other hand with close to 20 aspirants who have signified interest, is yet to take a definite position on zoning amid rife insinuations that the Governor Samuel Ortom-led committee on that issue will eventually advise that the party throws the ticket open to all the zones, a position previously taken by the Governor Bala Mohammed-led committee that reviewed the 2019 elections and suggested way forward for the party.  Since the start of the year, four aspirants from the PDP, former Senate President Bukola Saraki, Governors Aminu Tambuwal & Bala Mohammed, and an investment banker Mohammed Hayatudeen have been trotting on a nationwide move to canvass for a consensus Northern candidate for the PDP, they maintained that a congested primaries will not be the best for the party and reducing number of final aspirants will make for an efficient primary elections and easier post-primaries reconciliation. However, that move has been met with resistance from certain aspirants from the North who perceive it as an ulterior agenda to achieve some pre-determined goals. More glaringly, the Northern Elders Forum has declared either Saraki or Bala Mohammed as their pick for the consensus after listing certain factors that led to their decision. Tambuwal immediately denounced the position and declared he is not part of any consensus agreement and has appointed a Chairman for his Presidential campaign. The PDP candidate in 2019 elections, Atiku Abubakar has been skeptical about any consensus talks from the start and has focused on his personal nationwide consultations to delegates. He remains confident in his ability to clinch the ticket despite the lingering North-South zoning debate raging in the polity.

The move by four aspirants from the PDP in the South East to present a single person also seems not likely to yield any fruit. Peter Obi, a leading aspirant from the zone, advised PDP to relegate consensus to the background and select candidates like himself with capacity to “set Nigeria on the path of progress within four years”. On his own part, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State who has been on a frenzied nationwide consultation to sell his candidacy to PDP delegates has repeatedly lampooned any consensus agreement; vowing to contest in the PDP primaries slated for May 28.

What all these related developments suggests is that unlike in 2014 when the main opposition APC was able to streamline its presidential primaries aspirants to only 5 individuals to produce one final candidate against an incumbent PDP president; and in 2018 when opposition PDP presented 12 individuals in primaries election to produce a final candidate against an incumbent APC president; the tussle for the apex seat is very intense this time around and the primaries of both parties this year will feature lots of aspirants, testing the resolve of many delegates who will likely be challenged with multiple clashes of interests and desires. While both political parties have jocularly adopted “the more the merrier” slogan in maintaining that it will not foist consensus option on aspiring candidates ; it is instructive to note that both parties produced their respective new national chairmen and most of their new national working members using the consensus option in their conventions. The positive result was apparent as post-convention acrimonies and usual party litigations reduced to the barest minimum.

It is a famous phrase that “two weeks is long in politics” and in our current political setting, even 2 days could be indeed very long in politics. A lot can still happen between now and the date of the primaries for both parties but the prospect of any of these major candidates stepping down for another appears very low. A cramped presidential primaries and its concomitant post-event uncertainties awaits both parties.

Fight Against Graft: One Step Forward, Two Step Backwards

Buhari’s greatest personal motto as an anti-corruption crusader and one with no tolerance at all for financial feculence in public office was a huge factor amongst others that led to his ascent to the Presidential throne in 2015. The massive sleaze going on within the Jonathan administration was an open secret; with the man further shooting himself in the foot with the infamous “stealing is not corruption” phrase which he toiled fruitlessly to explain as not a statement officially stamping corruption as a norm in his administration. It was indeed a coup-de-grace opportunity that Buhari executed with relish when he capitalized on Jonathan’s gaffe to mount the horseback of an anti-corruption Spartan with sword in hand to “kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria” and many Nigerians were enamored by that ideology. Due to public looting and diversion of funds into personal pockets on a widescale level, Nigeria’s massive petrodollars revenue over 5 decades has not been able to transform the country relative to what is obtainable in many other oil producing nations. As at 2015, many Nigerians believed that it is time to send “Mr-Stealing-is-not-Corruption” out of Aso Rock and usher in “Mr-Let-us-Kill-Corruption” into the Presidential abode. With the benefit of hindsight, it appears the public postulation on corruption by Buhari was an empty and desperate politicking tactic deployed in bamboozling and hoodwinking Nigerians into voting for him.

In the first two-three years of his administration; only marginal gains were recorded in the fight against corruption with Buhari often absolving himself on many occasions of not reneging on his anti-corruption drive with a claim that the Judiciary is responsible for the slow progress made in that regard.

However; in 2018, the Buhari administration clinched some major wins in the fight against corruption as many high-profile convictions were secured by the EFCC & ICPC particularly those of two former governors namely Jolly Nyame  and Joshua Dariye who were sentenced to 12 years & 10 years in prison respectively for diverting a combined N3.2billion from their state funds to personal pockets. It was an historic landmark in the fight against graft considering that both cases were initiated in the court almost 10 years prior to the conviction. High public office holders; especially State Governors who enjoy immunity while in office and treat themselves as sacred cows now realize that the long arm of the law is waiting to catch up on them upon exit from office. It would have forced many of them into rethinking and desisting from their atrocious acts. The anti-graft agencies also later secured the convictions of the protracted Farouk Lawan case, former major bank MDs and other Corporate leaders, Pension funds criminal Rasheed Maina among others. Within that period, the Buhari administration rekindled hopes of accountability within the public space once again.

But then the bombshell dropped out of nowhere; at the last routine Council of State meeting; an announcement was made of presidential pardons to some convicts including the former governors Jolly Nyame and Joshua Dariye who are currently serving jail terms as a timely reminder to political office holders of the importance of staying clear of corruption. Just like that; they have been pardoned, free from jail, no longer to be referred to as ex-convicts, and free to once more involve in any political activity they so desire. It was a humiliating affront on all the EFCC/ICPC staff and the judiciary members that worked painstakingly over a decade to secure the convictions. It was a tragic anti-climax of mighty proportions as many anti-corruption soldiers were crestfallen. The motivation and morale to sustain the tempo of the work of these anti-graft agencies will be substantially decreased. After all; what is the point? When a preacher of anti-corruption is the same one granting undeserved prerogative of mercy to these 2 high-level individuals who have been rightly sentenced and more importantly; made to be practical examples that no one; no matter their position should be above the law. It was a move that eroded all the gains made on that anti-corruption drive and unfortunately; a permanent blot on the white apparel of the famed anti-corruption crusader. With less than a year to the end of his administration, Buhari should be making moves to cement his status and shape his place is history of Nigerian leaders. Moves such as these are neither beneficial to him nor the country. No one else benefits from this pardon than the 2 former governors and the hydra headed corruption monster ravaging our national life. History will remember Buhari as the forgiver of public looters. That will be his legacy in that regard.

Gbenga Adeosun

Gbenga Adeosun is a budding Nigerian writer, who is desirous of sustainable growth, nationwide development and systematic progress in all facets of national life. This column will be part of his patriotic advocacy towards this national goal.