BusinessDay

Nigerian phantom presidential candidates

On Sunday, September 22, 2019, firebrand Pentecostal preacher, Tunde Bakare, announced a prophecy he purportedly received from God concerning his future to his congregation and by extension the whole world. “Take it to the mountain top, if you have never heard it before, I am saying it to you this morning. In the scheme of things as far as politics of Nigeria is concerned, President Muhammadu Buhari is number 15 and yours sincerely I am number 16,” he declared.

As if his congregation did not get the full import of the prophecy, he declared authoritatively: “I will succeed Buhari as President of Nigeria, nothing can change it. I am number 16, Buhari is number 15. I never said it to you before. I am saying it now and nothing can change it.” Shouting his affirmation of the prophecy, Bakare declared: “In the name of Jesus, he is number 15. I am number 16. To this end was I born and for this purpose came I into the world. I have prepared you for this for more than 30 years.”

Naturally then, on May 5, 2022, Bakare, paid N100 million to pick the All Progressives Congress (APC) nomination and expression of interests forms to contest the 2023 presidential primary election in Abuja. But while other leading contenders were jostling from one state to the other meeting delegates, state, party leaders, and influencers to secure or negotiate for their votes, Bakare did not even attempt to meet any delegate in Lagos where he resides nor travel outside Lagos to meet anyone. He just sat in his cozy office and “only sent bulk SMSs to the delegates.” When asked why he did not campaign, he responded that “he did not believe in seducing them with money to secure their votes.” According to him, he carries “grace, favour, and God-factor” and only needs an opportunity to speak to the delegates at the convention venue for five minutes, and they’ll vote for him. He spoke to them alright but got zero vote.

Most of them were just political jobbers, either making investments (hoping for higher cash out when asked to drop out for more viable candidates) or were sponsored by other prominent contenders

Bakare was not alone. More than 25 so-called presidential aspirants also paid N100 million each to pick the party’s forms – including those bought by proxies for former president Goodluck Jonathan and central bank governor, Godwin Emiefele. It turned out most of them were just political jobbers, either making investments (hoping for higher cash out when asked to drop out for more viable candidates) or were sponsored by other prominent contenders to muddy the waters and derail the chances of their other stronger opponents. We saw how, during the APC primaries, those so-called pretenders stepped on the podium one after the other to withdraw their candidacy and adopt a particular candidate – Ahmed Tinubu. Of course, none of them paid for the forms with his money. They were either all sponsored to buy the forms or were handsomely rewarded for their efforts.

Then there are the other types of phantom presidential aspirants. These are the sweet talkers, urbane city dwellers and middle class professionals, activists, motivational speakers, and experts, who jump on the ship of Special Purpose Parties – obscure political parties created close to election circles and wither away almost immediately after – to contest presidential elections. Those ones have absolutely zero chance, their parties exist only in Lagos and Abuja, the aspirants themselves do not reach out and do not do any campaign save the occasional press conferences and meetings of candidates organised by either INEC or other bodies.

But like the first group, these ones too are directly sponsored by unseen hands and forces to muddy the waters and keep people distracted. That is why in every election circle from 2003, we have had dozens of candidates contesting for the presidency but only two or at most three are real contenders. One, sometime back, was even publicly celebrating the fact that he came third in the presidential election by polling close to 200, 000 votes.

Which brings me to the question of motivation. Certainly, these pretender candidates are not naïve. They know they stand no chance whatsoever, have no strategy to build political structures (read party presence in all states and local governments of the country) and mobilise citizens; they know their parties exist only on paper and that they are in the race for other reasons and not to really win the presidency.

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If we are to discount – and we are not – financial motivations, the only other motivation will be the ego of the average educated Nigerian. Most of these candidates are on an ego trip to add the title of “presidential aspirants” to their resumes and accrue all the benefits that come with it. They know elections are not conducted and won on social media. They know political structures and brand awareness are indispensable for success in national elections in a diverse country like Nigeria. They know that to successfully contest a national election, one is expected to begin the process of mobilisation and building grassroots support well in advance. But they do none of those, remain ensconced in the cities of Lagos and Abuja, and only wake up to contest for the presidency through obscure parties only at the eleventh hour, muddying the waters and distracting from focusing on real candidates.

The successful and organic candidature of Peter Obi has taken Nigeria by storm and has provided an alternative for millions of Nigerians tired of the misrule of the two dominant parties. It has shown conclusively that an outsider can give the dominant parties a run for their monies.

But as usual, many of those phantom candidates are springing up to contest the 2023 presidential elections. But Nigerians must learn to distinguish between serious and pretender candidates. It is critical that they do not get distracted by the shenanigans of these political jobbers, saving up discussion and attention spaces only for serious and credible contestants.