2023: Is Nigeria for sale?
... ‘Most of those who have picked forms are not really aspirants but political investors or jobbers’
As Nigeria groans under a heavy debt burden of about N40 trillion, many citizens watch with mouth agape as top government officials in President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration rush to pick N100million Presidential nomination forms of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The latest national debt profile of Nigeria as seen on the website of the Debt Management Office (DMO) shows that Nigeria’s total public debt has risen to N39.55 trillion as at December 2021.
This represents a N1.55 trillion or 4.1percent increase in three months when compared to the N38 trillion total public debt that was recorded as at September 2021.
That politicians could afford to pick a form at N40million and N100million amid the excruciating suffering in society has continued to generate conversation in the polity.
Observers say it is a paradox- “A poor nation with stupendously rich individuals.”
As at the time of filing this report, about twenty five (25) aspirants had picked the APC forms, while seventeen (17) picked the forms on the PDP platform.
The PDP is said to have raked in about N640 million (over half a billion naira) from the sales of form to the 17 aspirants that were screened for the presidential ticket primaries. Two however, were disqualified without promise of refund.
If you sum the amount from both parties, money realised from the sales of nomination forms for Senate, House of representatives, governorship and state Houses of assembly, and for forms by aspirants in other lesser known parties, the Nigerian political space is richer with over N4 billion realised from sale of nomination forms alone.
The over N4billion is the reason many concerned citizens are forced to ask, “Is Nigeria on sale?”
Key Ministers in Buhari’s cabinet, including Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi; Labour and Employment Minister, Chris Ngige, and Science, Technology and Innovation Minister, Ogbonnaya Onu, were among those that picked the Presidential nomination forms.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari and other contestants had paid N27million for the same forms in 2015 when the APC was seeking power.
As at the weekend, about 25 aspirants had purchased the APC forms, with Vice President Yemi Osibanjo; the party’s national leader, Bola Tinubu, Godswill Akpabio, Rochas Okorocha, Ibikunle Amosu, Tunde Bakare, Adams Oshiomhole, Ben Ayade, governor of Cross River State, and Dave Umahi, governor of Ebonyi State, making the list.
Others include Kayode Fayemi, Emeka Nwajiuba, Ken Nnamani, Yahaya Bello, Abubakar Badaru, Ahmed Lawan, Sani Yerima, a former governor of Zamfara State, and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole.
Yet others include, Aishat Alubankudi, Uju Ohanenye, Nicholas Nwagbo, Ajayi Borrofice, and Orji Kalu.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) on the other hand, cleared 15 out of the 17 aspirants who picked the party’s nomination forms, including former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar; former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim; Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel; former Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, and Mohammed Hayatu-Deen.
Others are Chikwendu Kalu; Governors Bala Mohammed, and Nyesom Wike; Dele Momodu, Peter Obi, Sam Ohuabunwa, Tariela Oliver and Bukola Saraki.
The party however, could not clear Nwachukwu Anakweze, and Cosmos Ndukwe.
No official reasons had been given for dropping them, it is however, speculated that while Anakweze, a medical practitioner who had spent all his life in the United States, may have run short of some of the requirements, Cosmos Ndukwe may have been dropped for taking the party to court.
Ndukwe, a proponent of zoning, had asked the Court to compel the PDP to zone the party’s ticket to the South East; he also requested the Court to stop the party from holding its forthcoming convention, unless the ticket is zoned to the South East.
While the male contestants paid a total of N41 million each for the nomination forms, the only female aspirants paid only N6m, as fixed by the party.
Modibo Bakari, a legal practitioner, described the large number of aspirants as necessary under a democracy.
“Well, I believe that is what democracy is about. More people should be encouraged to participate. But my real worry is the high cost of the forms. Again, I also feel that it is meant to ensure that only the really serious aspirants join the race,” Bakari said.
Reacting to the crave for power and the mammoth crowd jostling to succeed Buhari, Osita Nwanjo, a lawyer, described the cost of nomination forms by the APC, as “outrageous.”
“I never really believed that President Buhari was fighting corruption, otherwise, many of his Ministers will not do what they are doing now,” he said.
Speaking further on why the Ministers did not resign before picking the forms, he blamed the confusion on attempt by the government to manipulate the 2022 Electoral Law.
According to him, “The amendment to Section 84(12) has remained in contention following President Muhammadu Buhari’s protests over the statutory provision which had prohibited political appointees from voting as either delegates in party conventions or congresses for the election or nomination of candidates.”
He recalled that a Federal High Court in Umuahia, Abia State, in a ruling set aside the provisions in section 84(12), as the presiding Judge, Evelyn Anyadike, declared the provisions as “unconstitutional, invalid, illegal, null, void and of no effect whatsoever.”
The Judge stated that the provision is in conflict with the Nigerian constitution, adding that it “ought to be struck down as it cannot stand when it is in violation of the clear provisions of the Constitution.”
Chijoke Umelahi, a former Abia lawmaker and an aspirant in the Arochukwu/Ohaofia Federal Constituency, lamented that Nigeria was indeed on sale and to the highest bidder.
“I am a commercial lawyer who earns legitimate income. By the way things are going now, I may not be able to contest for the Arochukwu/Ohaofia Federal Constituency because of the hike in the price of the nomination form. The truth is that if I muster the courage to buy the form and later win the election, I will have to recoup my money before looking at my constituents, which I think is wickedness and I will not forgive myself if I do that,” he said.
Speaking further, Umelahi said that with the current and deadly trend set by the APC and copied by the PDP, Nigerian politics is now sadly for the highest bidders and the moneybags are in the game for their selfish interest, while the masses will continue to surfer after the 2023 elections.
Venting his anger on the masses, who are taking anything from the politicians, Sam Onikoyi, a Nigerian environment and human rights researcher, disclosed that the unimaginable prices of the forms are enough reasons to protest, lobby INEC to checkmate party excesses, including the unnecessary hike in the nomination forms.
“I live abroad and I have seen citizens here protest for just one hour power outage, they have parked their cars and empty themselves on the roads because of a meager increase on gasoline price; they have recalled many nonperforming representatives, so why are the Nigerian masses who suffer the most not interested in getting 2023 right by insisting on the right thing from now? I don’t see change in 2023 because the masses are not ready to take on politicians,” he said.
On the large number of aspirants, Umelahi said that the parties are culprits and that they intentionally allowed everyone who can pay to pick the form, which he said “complicates issues.”
“If PDP or APC had zoned the tickets, all the barrage of aspirants would not have emerged. In 1999, the two major parties zoned the ticket to South West to compensate them for the death of Moshood Abiola, the acclaimed winner of the presidential election earlier.
Read also: NESG releases action plan to manage Nigeria’s ‘rising debt’ burden
“So, why can’t the parties say this time it is going to the South East, South-South or even South West to reduce the numbers. It is not all about making money because the wrong candidates who can buy party delegates’ votes will emerge at the end and lead the country further into deep disaster, economic turmoil and unrests,” he lamented.
But Olumide Akinola, a former banker, who is an APC aspirant for a seat in the Ogun State House of Assembly, noted that ordinarily, the EFCC should have arrested anybody who have paid the N100 million or N40 million for the APC and PDP nomination forms to question their source and also investigate the parties for hiking the prices.
“With the forms in the hundreds of millions, Nigeria is truly on sale and it is only moneybags that can bid the highest and will carry the day. Sadly, the government is no longer fighting corruption, the EFCC is doing nothing, and criminals are bidding for stakes in Nigeria,” he said.
In 2015 APC fielded five presidential aspirants in its primaries, while Goodluck Jonathan ran unopposed in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) primaries in 2015
In 2019 PDP fielded 12 presidential aspirants at the primaries, while President Muhammadu Buhari was the only aspirant for APC in 2019.
It is surprising to many observers that despite the high fees charged by the parties, a lot more people are picking the forms. They also question the source of such funds.
Some political watchers presumed that some of the aspirants are not serious about their ambition and are only in the race to negotiate their political future.
It is believed that most of them would not even go into the contest and would eventually bow out of the race at the last minute.
Some experts have also said the large number of aspirants would help to deepen democracy and was also a test for Nigeria’s democracy.
Others have said the high number of aspirants ahead 2023 was not new, noting that usually when a sitting president, governor or local government chairman is completing the second term there is always an avalanche of aspirants.
“Usually when a sitting president, governor or local government chairman is completing the second term we have an avalanche of aspirants. Look back at 2007 and 2015.A greater number of them can’t win their ward election not to talk about local government area,” Tade Ademola, public affairs analyst and politician, said.
Tade added that most of the aspirants were in the race to fight for their political future.
“This is what is known as buying relevance. They will be recognised as aspirants in the presidential or governorship cadre and could be lobbied to drop their ambition and agreements will be reached for compensation.
“It clouds the polity and puts serious contenders on their toes or drives them off, leaving charlatans in the field. It is not good for our democracy because it usually doesn’t allow electors to vet the better candidate of the lot,” Tade added.
Anayo Ezegwu, a political pundit, equally dismissed some of the presidential aspirants, saying that several of them were in the race to seek political relevance and know they could not win even if they are given the party ticket.
“Most of them know that on their capacity and achievements, they can never win the ticket but the support would guarantee them ministerial appointment. Politics is a game and Nigerian politicians are currently playing it to the fullest,” Ezegwu said.
Tony Abolo, a Benin-based communication expert, told BusinessDay Sunday that there are several interpretations for the increasing numbers of presidential aspirants currently seen ahead of the primaries for both the PDP and APC.
“These aspirants are not looking at the electorate or what is going on in the country. What is their pedigree? What have they done in their states as governors, senators or ministers? They couldn’t run a state or make a difference, and they want to run Nigeria. In this election, there are contenders, more pretenders, and jokers among those seeking for the number one office as against the previous election year.
“The possibilities why there are more candidates wanting the job of the presidency this time around is clear. First, it is the typical Nigerian vindictiveness; they look at it as a North, South desire for the presidency.
“The other reason could be the hope that by the time they all come out, some may bargain their way to the Vice Presidency or bargain to step down to collect money. It all looks like a joke, but we Nigerians are creative and crafty.
“Lastly, it could also be indicative of Buhari’s incompetence over the years, and many more people are angry and want the job. They want to make themselves available to run this country effectively,” he added.
Bright Oniovokukor, project director, Indomitable Youths Organisation (IYO), a non-governmental organisation, said: “We are having too many aspirants because the southerners want to take the job this time around. The same thing also played out like this few years ago, with a lot of people coming out from the south to contest.
“For me, it is a greedy approach on the part of the southerners because if you look at this numbers of persons jostling for the presidency, most of them are from the south. Is it that they cannot support themselves to rule the country? I see it as an element of greed on their part, indecision and lack of trust for themselves,” he said.
According to Oniovokukor, “All of them jostling for the position are one and the same group of persons. They are from the same clique. It is necessary to ask if the presidency is a joke?”
A deviation from the past
While only Abduljhalil Tafawa-Balewa, son of Nigeria’s first Prime Minister and Akasuba Abiola, wife of the late business mogul, Moshood Abiola contested the PDP presidential ticket with former President Goodluck Jonathan prior to the 2015 general election, this time around, the party has screened 17 aspirants.
Similarly, only five aspirants contested for the APC ticket in the build up to the 2015 election which included the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Kwankwaso, former Kano governor, Rochas Okorocha, former Imo State governor and the late Sam Nda-Isaiah, publisher of Leadership newspaper.
The number of aspirants for the APC presidential ticket keeps swelling by the day with about 25 persons who have already picked the forms.
The volcanic-like eruption in the number of presidential aspirants is a source of worry to concerned Nigerians who wonder the motive behind their ambitions as only one person is eventually going to emerge as candidate of his or her party.
Christian Okeke, political science lecturer at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka said he suspected that many of those who have picked forms are not really aspirants but political investors or jobbers.
Okeke told BusinessDay that: “Except they know what others don’t, otherwise I’m convinced that most of them are aware that they will never make it to becoming candidates.
“However, you know that political elite in Africa and perhaps, other third world countries including Nigeria are opportunists. In times like this, they use their wealth to position themselves for potential dividends in the coming political dispensation.
“Ask them what they understand by loyalty and patriotism, they don’t know. Ask them about viable solution to the challenges of their society; you will be amazed how blank they are. That is the sad tale of Africa that has kept us where we are today.”
He argued that it is the same political elite, national bourgeoisie and veteran politicians that are responsible for the underdevelopment of their geo-political space and people that are aspiring to the highest office of the land.
“For instance, while they keep the education sector here in comatose, their children are fast graduating from schools abroad. I am strongly persuaded that the army of presidential aspirants that we see today is for various reasons.
“Some are coming as tools for parties’ and national destabilisation. But majority is purely driven by quest for self-preservation. Permit me to say that if care is not taken, the country will be for sale again in the years ahead.”
According to him, “I suspect that these jostlers or their cronies will get juicy appointments in gross advancement of the cycle of chronic cronyism where they will be positioned for the business of milking the country dry for the purpose of recouping their investment.
“Ordinarily, the number of persons coming out to contest the presidential tickets should be a statement as per the degree of political participation and inclusiveness in Nigeria. One should have seen is a positive development coming out of our democratisation process. But here, we hardly trust politicians.”
“Honestly, I am particularly suspicious about what is going on in the ruling party. However, the members there know better. For now, let the rest of us pretend that it is for all good and that all is well,” Okeke argued further.