ENI-B BY ENIOLA BELLO
To adapt House Leader Alhassan Doguwa’s method of announcing the census result of his immediate family, the ruling everything Progressives Congress (APC) has, in the time of writing this, 25 aspirants that have procured the party’s presidential nomination forms in the princely fee of N100 million. Some personally bought the forms, some had the forms bought for them by friends or political associates, and yet some others had the forms procured by groups and coalition of groups. On this (un)enviable list of presidential aspirants are the party’s co-founder, the vice president, five governors, five senators, five ministers, a former Senate president, a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, a former national chairman of the party, a popular pastor who had long self-prophesied himself as No.16 in presidential historical order, and two or three others whose name recognition is nil.
How lucky the APC is! When the party fixed the fees for its presidential nomination forms in N100m, there was a general condemnation, particularly in the media. Some APC officials made spirited defence of the party’s decision, saying the high nomination fees was meant to discourage unserious aspirants from wasting the party’s time and resources. The party may as well not have bothered explaining away its decision. The expensive presidential nomination fees didn’t seem to have spared the party from having a deluge of aspirants seeking its ticket for the 2023 elections. In no time in the electoral history of Federal Republic of Nigeria have so many aspirants sought the presidential ticket of one party. What is the catch? Why would so many people be aspiring to preside over the affairs of a country so weighed down by general insecurity, huge debts, high unemployment, crippling inflation, and unstable foreign exchange crisis; and on the platform of a party whose administration in the last seven years has collapsed the country, to borrow a popular presidential expression, “from top to bottom”?
Has the Nigerian presidential office now become an all-comer affair? Is it because the performance of President Muhammadu Buhari has been so pathetic that every Rochas and Ben and Yahaya and Sani now bets in doing a better job; something like, “If Buhari could be president, why can’t I?” Could that be the reason why a couple of the aspirants who are barely known beyond their streets, and who have no hope in hell of getting the vote of a single delegate outside of themselves, also bought the presidential nomination forms? Or is it no more than an investment with profit motif in mind as the party primaries draw close; a game for political visibility; a gamble on being the beneficiary of a likely stalemate between the top aspirants; an expectation of possible Buhari endorsement; a contest for supremacy and positioning in different zones; a hired gun to undermine the prospects of one or two serious contenders; or mere tools for continued domination of one region?
In December 2014, only five aspirants contested the APC presidential primary in which Buhari picked the party ticket. Since his victory in the 2015 general election, through his re-election in 2019, Buhari has in his utterances, actions and appointments shown himself to be more a regionalist than a nationalist. Those he appointed to oversee some critical ministries like Justice, Defence, Power, Finance, Humanitarian Affairs, Labour and Education are either self-serving or ineffectual or incompetent or overwhelmed. Strangely, the president, who enjoys delegating responsibility but shuns supervision, hardly sanctions his aides and appointees for bad behaviour. Buhari appears so disinterested in the actions and inactions of his ministers, so unperturbed about the disconnect between his administration and the people, and so scornful of the concerns of a critical segment of the populace on the direction he has taken the country that it wouldn’t be totally out of place to say he’s content in being the president, for its own sake. Yet this president, more than any of his predecessors since 1999, has had every support to be a force for the good of the country. He has had total control of the party, which, without internal opposition, had been run since its formation in 2014, to satisfy his every whim. The National Assembly has, since his re-election in 2019, servilely approved every presidential request. The Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) has been very supportive, and individually, almost every state governor, even in the opposition People’s democratic Party (PDP), has been playing the good boy to the president. Not even disruptive protests by civil society have been directly proportional to the administration’s general lack of direction.
In a Channels TV interview earlier in the year, Buhari had, in a blank stare, dismissively said that the 2023 election was not his problem. Yet some governors of the ruling party have been quoted as saying the president would decide or guide the party in deciding the candidate for the top job. Indeed, there has been a whispering campaign that Buhari’s endorsement would determine who picks the APC presidential ticket in the end of the day. Consequently, a swirl of speculation has followed not one or two among those who have bought, or have had bought for them, the party’s presidential nomination forms as Buhari’s joker. It would be interesting to see how a presidential endorsement for one person on the growing list of aspirants would not end up a problem. Or wasn’t Buhari in that interview simply waving a political sleight of hand, having a dissimulation of sorts behind the blank stare?
Isn’t it curious that the APC would sell its presidential nomination forms in N100 million and Buhari, who in 2014 claimed to have taken a bank loan to procure the same forms, would as president and party supremo find this comfortable? Is there a hidden catch somewhere? Why would former House Speaker Dimeji Bankole, a man who didn’t have enough delegates to pick the governorship ticket of Ogun State in 2014, decide to waste N100 million to buy the nomination forms for a ticket he knew he may not even have the vote of a single delegate from his state? Why would the APC collect the nomination fees from two different coalitions who have made it their self-assigned duties to co-opt CBN (Central bank of Federal Republic of Nigeria) Governor Godwin Emefiele and ADB (Africa Development Bank) President Akinwumi Adesina into the presidential contest when both are evidently not party members? In accepting payment for forms in the name of Emefiele and Adesina, isn’t the APC implying that both are closet members of the party? Or did the party simply collect the payment on false pretence? How would five ministers in the administration resort to similar narrative, claiming that a group of friends or associates or supporters paid for the forms?
Or is this ongoing charade simply a grand scheme to, like a colleague argued, launder money into APC to fund the party’s campaigns? Part V, Sections 75-97 of the Electoral Act 2022 focuses, among others, on the registration, structure, management, monitoring, funding, campaigns and election expenses of political parties. The Act demands transparency on source of funds, limits campaign donations, puts a cap on election expenses, and prescribes sanctions for infractions. Section 87.1 empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) thus:
“The Commission shall have power to place limitation on the amount of money or other assets which an individual can contribute to a political party or candidate and to demand such information on the amount donated and source of the funds.”
On campaign donations from individuals and corporates, Section 88.8 states that, “No individual or other entity shall donate to a candidate more than N50,000,000.” Moving from the general to the specific on election expenses, Section 88.2 states, “The maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate in a presidential election shall not exceed N5,000,000.” In respect of a political party, Section 89.2 adds, “Election expenses incurred by a political party for the management, or the conduct of an election shall be determined by the Commission in consultation with the political parties.”
With this Act, it is impossible as it was in previous elections for a candidate or party to arm-twist top businessmen and their usually faceless friends to donate billions in campaign fundraisers. Was that the challenge APC wanted to side-track by unduly jacking up the nomination fees to different offices and encouraging the mushrooming of aspirants? Isn’t it possible that some senators and ministers and former governors and some other endorsement-seeking public officials got their business fronts and government contractors in the guise of one coalition, or one group, or the other to procure their forms? Isn’t the deluge of presidential aspirants on the ruling party’s platform not some dubiously clever way of infringing on the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 without necessarily breaking the law; or to use a football language, committing a technical foul on an opponent to escape referee sanction?
With the APC game of brinkmanship, why would the preponderance of those ministers pretending to be in the race for the party’s presidential ticket care to resign? And why would Buhari force their hands to so do? Didn’t he say the 2023 election was not his problem?