• Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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BusinessDay

Close race, cash shortage raise desperation among politicians

Close race, cash shortage raise desperation among politicians

As this year’s pivotal elections draw nearer, the combination of a tight race and the shortage of cash to buy support mean that politicians and their field men are getting even more desperate across the country.

The February 25 presidential poll is proving to be unlike the ones before it. It is the first time a presidential election will be this tight, it is the first time that the two major parties are truly being challenged and it is the first time that the election will be held in an environment where access to cash to buy votes has been significantly curtailed, leading to politicians willing to pay a huge premium for the cash when they can lay hands on it.

Government and security officials in Abuja said they now believe that senior bankers hoarded and sold the new Naira notes to politicians and that in some cases, a premium of up to 25 per cent was charged. This they claim led to the failure of the Central Bank to move the new notes to Nigerians, leading to the anger across the land.

“We have no record that banks were themselves involved,” one senior government official told BusinessDay. “But for bankers to have held the notes and sold them as we now believe, it means that even if they bankers acted for themselves, they were senior level people in the system.”

BusinessDay learnt that before deadline for the return of the old notes, desperate politicians who besieged Abuja and Lagos and other cities with a large concentration of bank branches were able to exchange their old notes for the new one for up to twenty-five per cent premium.

Now that the deadline has passed, the politicians are exchanging US dollars for the new notes. In one case our reporter learnt that a politician who brought in $1m left with just N450m in the new notes. That amounts to a discount of N300m which was pocketed by the banker. Security officials now believe many of such a transaction took place in the early days of the Naira exchange and that this, more than anything precipitated the chaos that is now blamed for the rioting and attacks irate Nigerian mobs on banks around the country.

Politicians unable to get the Naira are piling up lower denomination of the dollar for use to buy electoral favour. Our reporters learnt that in the border areas in the northern part of the country, politicians and their agents are acquiring loads of CFA with which to buy votes.

Many of the election polling that have been conducted so far indicate a close race and the desperate search for banknotes is fueling more desperation in the final days of campaigning for an election in which President Muhammadu Buhari would want Nigerians to believe he is indifferent or unconcerned about who will replace him.

But some including governors of his ruling APC and led by Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna state have countered the president’s messaging by claiming that the Naira redesign and its mishandling were deliberate ploys by some in and close to the presidency to blunt the chances of the party’s candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

According to a recent report by African Confidential, “so predictable was the chaos triggered by the plan and its unrealistic deadlines, its critics insist it must have been a conspiracy designed to undermine Tinubu – both to hamper the payment of electoral inducements and to paint the image of his party as incompetent and uncaring about the hardship the policy is causing to tens of millions of poor Nigerians.”

It added that “the naira crisis could disrupt all the frontline candidates in the presidential elections: Tinubu as well as Abubakar Atiku of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party and Peter Obi of the previously insignificant Labour Party.”

Farooq Kperogi writing in the Tribune on Saturday said, “the intensity of frustration and rage that APC governors have been ventilating over the policy is the surest signpost that they recognize the politically mortal danger that the (Naira redesign) policy poses for them in next week’s election. Their winning strategy was obviously anchored on the strength of their financial muscles. It had to be.”

Tinubu’s camp has also aimed its fury at the Federal Attorney General, Abubakar Malami, after he asked the Supreme Court to dismiss the governors’ case for lack of jurisdiction immediately after the justices granted an injunction allowing the old notes to remain legal tender beyond the central bank’s deadline of 10 February for their retirement. ‘Malami is a public enemy like Emefiele,’ was the view of Bayo Onanuga, the Tinubu campaign spokesman and veteran publisher.

The attorney generals of Kaduna, Kogi and Zamfara said in a joint application filed at the supreme court on February 3, 2023, that “economic activities are grinding to a halt’ under the ‘haphazard, cack-handed’ initiative that has left the states on the verge of anarchy and law-abiding citizens had been denied access to cash,” they added, lambasting the Buhari-led federal government for “embarking on the policy with an unreasonable and unworkable timeframe.”