APC, PDP in primary season of sleaze
The goings-on in the two major political parties as the country prepares for next year’s poll makes Christy Essien-Igbokwe’s song, Let’s Change the System, very apposite.
In her 1986 album titled, Taking My Time, the award-winning songstress had urged Nigerians: “Let’s change the system and get things working right. A country without a good system cannot survive. A country without a good system cannot be organised.
“A country without a good system cannot be disciplined. A country without a good system cannot be respected outside the whole world. You and I can make it work out.”
Checks by The Guardian on the ongoing political parties’ primary elections reveal a contest between deep pockets and pickpockets. Being a winner-takes-it-all and zero-sum game, politicians from the two leading political parties decided to chase various elective positions with every ferocity, throwing money and muscle into the bargain.
How does the mind of an average Nigerian politician work? You cannot fathom it. It is not an easy riddle to crack. Those who say that Nigerian politics is transactional may be speaking grammar, yet they are right in a way. But that does not tell the entire story.
To understand Nigerian politics is to understand the difference between real commercial business and political horse-trading: In business, the bottom line is profit. In political transactions, the bottom line is goodwill. And how one politician achieves goodwill depends on his attitude to money. If you are penny-pinching, God helps you. If you hanker after exactitude, woe betides you. Conversely, if you are flamboyant and extravagant, the minstrels will flock after you: if so then, popularity follows you.
It is the party primary season. And only those who know how to source the Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) in times of scarcity could find their way through the headquarters of the major political parties. The hangers-on, the special assistants, messengers and so-called miscreants are in business. It is a season when these boys and girls throng the party secretariat with empty pockets and go away with bulging pockets.
Although some pickpockets may be among the people peopling the party headquarters, they live in the grace of politicians, who show up at the party for one business or another. To succeed in their venture, the politicians are to spend out of pocket. Some of the responsibilities of these hangers-on include keeping tabs on party functionaries, spying for rival candidates and monitoring the movement of vouchers for contractors and vendors.
There are also the drummers, whose business is to sing the praise of aspirants or government functionaries that are expected to show appreciation by ‘dropping something.’
It is a practice made popular by the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) when it was at the apogee of political power. However, the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) could not alter the habit, even with its promise of change.
Signs that most of the people that throng the two parties’ headquarters at Wadata Plaza, Wuse Zone 5 and Muhammadu Buhari House at No 40 Blantyre Street, Wuse 2, Abuja, are not there for entirely party business emerged on April 27. On that fateful Wednesday evening, a distraught young man cried out over the purported loss of $75,000.
Although the young man did not explain what the money was estimated to be worth N43, 000, 000.00 in domestic currency, the development gave an insight into what manner things go on at party headquarters.
And coming about the time the governing party had fixed outrageous costs for its nomination forms, insiders disclosed that such parcels usually come to influence party officials so that friendly primary election committee members could be sent to states to ‘deliver’ aspirants that have ‘performed.’
It was gathered that the crowd at the entrance gate to the APC secretariat contributed to the missing dollars, even as sources disclosed that the stealing could have been perpetrated by hangers-on who were privy to the bribe money.
Some party officials, who complained about the confused state of things at the headquarters, remarked that ordinarily, what aspirants were expected to do was to pay at designated banks and approach the party with tellers.
But, in the peculiar Nigerian political environment, aspirants who do not ‘follow up’ their aspirations are most often left in the lurch or resort to costly litigations. It is through this “clearing of way,” that staff of the various political parties earn their free income.
The Guardian gathered that in a bid to demonstrate their popularity, gladiators for various elective offices, especially National Assembly, governorship and Presidential, usually come to the party headquarters with a retinue of supporters and roughnecks.
Big Pockets Versus Delegated Corruption
WHEN the National Assembly amended the Electoral Act to make direct primaries compulsory as the mode of nominating candidates for elections by political parties, Nigerians heaved a sigh of relief. It was believed that the direct primary methodology would ensure internal democracy with political parties.
The direct primary system was also hailed as a veritable way of returning power to the people on the path to accountable and responsible democracy. However, notable political actors, including the immediate past Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and members of the APC Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF), led by Senator Atiku Bagudu, kicked against the Electoral Act stipulation.
The state governors saw the direct primary system as a ploy by the federal lawmakers to limit their powers to determine who gets the party’s tickets in their domains, even as they prevailed on President Buhari to withhold assent on the bill.
In a letter addressed to the National Assembly on December 20, 2021, the President noted, “the amendment as proposed is a violation of the underlying spirit of democracy, which is characterised by freedom of choices.”
While refusing to sign the Electoral Act amendment bill, Buhari added, “Political party membership is a voluntary exercise of the constitutional right to freedom of association.”
Coming at the very last day of the 30-days windows given to the President to sign or withhold assent, it was obvious from the President’s rejection that he was merely pandering to the whims of powerful stakeholders instead of protecting the “voluntary exercise of the constitutional right to freedom of association,” for the people.
Civil society groups recalled how the governing APC had through the then Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC) led by Yobe State governor, Mai Mala Buni, embarked on membership validation in a bid to produce authentic and reliable data for party administration.
Nonetheless, in the letter titled: “Withholding of Assent to Electoral Act (Amendment) Bill 2021,” the President cited the cost of monitoring direct primaries across the 8, 809 wards of the country.
He stated: “The conduct of direct primaries across the 8,809 wards across the length and breadth of the country will lead to a significant spike in the cost of conducting primary elections by parties as well as an increase in the cost of monitoring such elections by INEC, who has to deploy monitors across these wards each time a party is to conduct direct primaries for the presidential, gubernatorial and legislative posts.
“The addition of these costs with the already huge cost of conducting general elections will inevitably lead to the huge financial burden on both the political parties, INEC and the economy in general at a time of dwindling revenues.”
While contending that the direct primary would stifle smaller parties, the President said, “the emphasis should be on enabling qualified Nigerians to vote for the candidate of their choice during the general election as a means of participation in governance and furtherance of the concept of universal adult suffrage or universal franchise.”
Yet, in a bid to douse public apprehension over the absence of an Electoral Act barely one year before the general elections, the pliable National Assembly under the leadership of Dr. Ahmad Lawan acquiesced to the President’s observations but retained Section 84(12) of the amended Act.
As the President signed the Electoral Act 2022, there were still gaps, showing that the piece of electoral legislation was intended to serve the narrow purpose of entrenched political interests. For instance, in the bid to rein in appointees of the President through Section 84(12), which Buhari remarked as offending the Constitution, the lawmakers shot themselves in the foot by retaining Section 84 (8), which exempted them from voting during the primaries.
Before the cobwebs on the Electoral Act, 2022 could clear, the political parties rushed into the conduct of primary elections, especially given the insistence by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on June 3, as the deadline for primaries.
In the bazaar that ensued, delegates became the new overlords as contestants deployed huge amounts of cash to purchase the tickets. Worse hits were stated without incumbent governors of APC or PDP. Some observers had noted that the removal of the obnoxious compulsory direct primary option ended up to the possible benefit of two big-time political players in the two parties, namely, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
But, while the governing party continued the search for schemes to exclude Tinubu, Atiku had the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, to contend within the expected transactional primaries. It would be recalled that the Federal Government handed N78billion to Wike, being reimbursement to the Rivers State government for federal roads constructed in the past, during the administration of the former Transportation Minister, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi.
Armed with that princely amount in a pre-election year, the Rivers State governor upped his games in PDP, namely ensuring that either he or any other state governor picks the PDP Presidential ticket at the expense of Atiku.
Noticing the intending competition of cash in a blaze of political sleaze, former Anambra State governor and 2019 Vice Presidential candidate of the party, served the party his quit notice, complaining that “recent developments within our party make it practically impossible to continue participating and making (nation-building) contributions.”
AS reports of high exchange of money for delegate votes filled media spaces, including personal experiences from contestants who were short-changed at the primary, some stakeholders cried out at the soft corruption.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan lamented that the electoral process leading to the 2023 poll has failed, stressing: “These whole primaries going on across the country is a mess. This is not a standard practice. The process has failed. We cannot use the process to elect president, governors, senators and House of Representatives members and Senate.”
The immediate past Nigerian President, who spoke at a book launch in Abuja, said the development was not good for the country, even as he called for the removal of Section 84 of the Electoral Act.
Also piqued by the flagrant use of cash to induce delegates, INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and his predecessor in office, Prof. Attahiru Jega, decried the monetisation of the electoral process by desperate politicians.
In his keynote address at a one-day colloquium on Emerging Issues that will shape the 2023 General Elections in Nigeria, Yakubu said it was worrisome that politicians were using money to sway delegates.
The programme was organised by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). While assuring that INEC will partner with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to stem the tide, the INEC chairman declared: “Nigeria is moving towards plutocracy. But, there are two dimensions to it, when you have willing collectors, it becomes much more difficult to control the situation.
“We have seen cases where voters also reject money and voted their choice like what happened in Anambra, and also there are situations where on election day, voters go after the vote buyers. However, right now, it is now going beyond simply the question of buying votes at polling units. What political parties do is critical to what INEC does too.
“INEC conducts secondary elections, but it is candidates that participate in the secondary elections and the way money is exchanging hands that is a source of concern.”
Adding his voice in repudiation of monetised electoral activities, Prof. Jega noted that the use of money in Nigerian politics was a serious issue of concern, lamenting that rather than having improvements in that regard, Nigeria seemed to be sliding backwards.
Jega said, “With the way, money is spent by politicians, the country is moving in the direction of becoming a plutocracy rather than a democracy. Plutocracy is basically the government of the rich for the rich by the rich.
“Imagine, the National Assembly altered the Electoral Act to increase the threshold of how much a candidate can spend for election finance. That is something that we should all have opposed.
“Regrettably, we were too busy opposing the issue of electronic transmission and so on that, we lost focus. We didn’t pay sufficient attention to what they were trying to do because they now smuggled the issue of huge financial outlays required of candidates.”
What happens in the next 72 hours as the parties nominate their Presidential standard-bearers would determine whether Nigeria’s democracy would survive or go for a surgical procedure.