Political appointees that paid high nomination fees should explain their sources of funds, writes Bolaji Adebiyi
Despite the public outcry against the exorbitant nomination forms of the dominant political parties, Abdullahi Adamu, a senator and national chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress, insisted earlier in the week that anyone who could not boast of N100 million in his account had no business wishing to govern Nigeria.
His arrogant response to a legitimate concern about the increasing closing of the political space to the vast majority of the people in a democratic dispensation should be the least worry of many Nigerians. The acquiescence by the political actors, many of whom are serving public officers, should unnerve the teaming electorate whose choices have been decisively circumscribed.
It is significant that the complaints have come from the media that has also yielded its platforms to the habitual social critics, calling for a substantial review of the fees. At the last count, 17 aspirants had purchased the N40 million presidential nomination forms of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, translating to an N640 million windfall for the party. The APC’s more expensive forms had attracted 15 aspirants, roughly N1 billion!
The total haul for the parties would be higher when the tally for the other positions including Senate, House of Representatives, governorship and Houses of Assembly is taken into consideration. According to THISDAY, the APC would have raised a princely N30 billion at the end of the nomination exercise. A hefty campaign war chest, the newspaper said. But this would come at a huge cost to the polity, the most important being the closure to the governance space of the otherwise sound and public-spirited people who have the concrete and relevant ideas to bail out the country from its prevailing cul-de-sac but do not have the cash to step forward.
Who are the people with the forms? The same people who have brought the nation to its knees, particularly in the last seven years; people whose performance in office put a clear question mark on their capacity and integrity. In the APC, the line-up includes five serving governors; seven former governors; three serving ministers, two of who were former governors; a serving vice-president and one person who has never held a public office.
The PDP parades four serving governors; three former governors; one former president of the Senate; one former vice-president; one former board chairman and seven persons who have not held public office before.
There are three substantive issues to be interrogated: How the aspirants, particularly those who have been in public office since 1999 came about the fees; why those of them in appointive positions have not stepped down in spite of Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act 2022; and the value of their stewardship.
In its editorial, “Monetisation of Political Aspiration,” published on May 1, 2022, THISDAY went beyond querying the exorbitant fees, raising legitimate questions about the sources of the funds for the purchase of the forms. Stating that the huge fees might offend the law on campaign financing, the newspaper raised the more important issue of the import of the law, which is to forestall public officials from being captured by shadowy interest groups.
Having regards to the official pay of these public officers aspiring for the presidency of the nation, it is obvious that they could not on their own have raised the funds for the forms. The transparency of the sources of the funds, therefore, becomes imperative.
For instance, Rotimi Amaechi, minister of Transportation, has been in public office since 1999. Elected as a member of the Rivers State House of Assembly in 1999, he served as speaker for two terms. In 2007 he became the state governor without being on the ballot, courtesy of a protest judgment of the Supreme Court that was trying to curb executive lawlessness. He won re-election in 2011 and after his second term, he became a minister in 2015, securing a second term in 2019. Now he wants to be president.
Chris Ngige, two-term Minister of Labour, has had a shorter spell than Amaechi. He came into the limelight in 2003 when his namesake, Chris Uba, sponsored his gubernatorial bid in Anambra State. He was elected on the platform of the PDP. Three years or so later, the Court of Appeal found that the votes with which he ascended to the governorship were stolen. Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance was handed the price. But in 2007, Ngige without atoning for the 2003 votes theft became a senator and in 2015 became a minister.
How much were Amaechi’s and Ngige’s salaries in those years of public service? Could they have saved up N100 million? But it is fair to suggest that having been in public office for those years, they would have made friends who should be able to raise the nomination fees for them. First, applying the campaign finance law, no individual can contribute more than N1 million. So, each of them would require 100 persons to contribute a million each. This is possible. However, should those philanthropists not be proud to be publicly listed for supporting their convictions? And should all other aspirants, in the spirit of transparency, not proudly exhibit the lists of their donors?
One of the reasons for Section 66 (f) of the 1999 Constitution as altered, and Section 84 (12) of the Electoral Act 2022, which require public officers and political appointees to stand down before the general election and party primaries respectively, is to level the playing field and dissuade public officials from taking undue advantage of their office. Amaechi, Ngige, Emeka Nwajiuba, minister of state for Education; and Abubakar Malami, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, have determined to defeat the spirit and letter of the law by refusing to stand down without explaining their obstinacy to the protesting public.
What public interest would have informed their decision to stay put while vying for higher political office? Nothing really. Meanwhile, their records of performance do not stand out. One could not secure a multi-billion US dollar commuter train; the other has not been able to resolve several labour disputes for seven years; yet another has been a disaster in terms of the quality of legal advice to the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Adebiyi, the managing editor of THISDAY Newspapers, writes from email@example.com