Three months ago, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the timetable for the 2023 general election. (By the way, why do we call it general “elections”? A general election is one in which the generality of the electorate votes — as opposed to a bye-election which is for specific constituencies). The electoral umpire outlined and tabulated every detail concerning collection of nomination forms, primaries, submission of particulars of candidates and all that, to climax in the governorship, legislative and presidential elections slated for various dates in February and March. Everything was written in black and white and communicated to all the parties.
It must be a fitting summary of the way the All Progressives Congress (APC) has ruled Nigeria since 2015 that it still needed help from INEC to be able to meet the deadline for the presidential primary. If you cannot perform a task as simple as holding a two-day presidential convention — which we have been having in this country since 1979 — why should we expect you to handle the more demanding tasks of tackling insecurity and growing the GDP? The APC logjam tells us a lot about how the party works. But for INEC’s extension of the June 3 deadline by six days, APC would have been in soup. As at Friday, there was no convention planning committee for an event billed for Sunday.
After setting a world-record fee of N100 million for its presidential forms, thereby netting billions of naira all in a day’s job, the party has left its 20-something applicants high and dry. It seems N100 million cannot buy you much these days. Not even a screening. The ruling party had been amending its calendar every day until it ran out of dates and had to hold legislative and governorship primaries. But the presidential primary was definitely not going to hold on May 29 and 30 as scheduled. The screening of presidential candidates earlier slated for May 23 was postponed without a new date. The party promised to announce a new date “shortly”. It’s now a week of “shortly” and counting.
But for the APC logjam — obviously caused by the fact that the top contenders are not the preferred ones — and the subsequent amendment of the timetable by INEC, the resignation of Mr Peter Obi from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would have been the news of the week. Obi, who has enjoyed incredible support on Twitter and had been marketed as the man with 20 million votes in his breast pocket, has now moved to the Labour Party. According to Obi’s staunch supporters, he had to move because the PDP presidential ticket had been monetised and the former governor of Anambra state is too frugal, too honest and too principled to spend money on winning elections.
As someone who is keenly interested in studying democratisation and political evolution in Nigeria, I will be watching Obi’s progress keenly. It may provide a good case study for the perennial argument over the question: is it the platform or the candidate that matters? I have plenty cases to support the notion that the platform makes the candidate. There are also cases of where the candidate makes the platform. I believe factors like charisma and cash can also be vital to the overall result. If Obi is able to poll 20 million votes without spending money, he will address two things: one, that he has the charisma and doesn’t need the cash; two, that the candidate can make the platform.
Obi’s new destination is the Labour Party (LP). Although the party is relatively weak, it has boasted of big names in the past. Dr Olusegun Mimiko used the platform to contest for Ondo state governorship in 2007 and secured judicial victory after a disputed election in which Dr Olusegun Agagu was initially declared winner. Mr Femi Pedro unsuccessfully ran for Lagos governorship on the party’s platform also in 2007. For LP to establish a nationwide presence ahead of the general election, it would need to rent and furnish offices, buy and fuel vehicles, and engage in serious publicity. This will cost billions. It is a party for workers so it is not awash with cash like PDP and APC.
With Obi’s stand on financial prudency, delegates to the LP presidential convention will hopefully foot their own transport, accommodation and feeding bills. This will be a novel political experiment where it is the voters, not candidates, that will do the spending. This is the sort of experiment that gets me excited about the prospects of “new politics” in Nigeria. If the 20 million voters promised by Obi’s supporters on Twitter indeed come through, that would be a turning point for our democracy. With 20 million votes, Obi would almost certainly be elected president. President Muhammadu Buhari was elected with just 15.4 million in 2015 and re-elected with 15.1 million in 2019.
Obi is not alone in this Charisma vs Cash argument. Senator Shehu Sani contested for the governorship ticket of PDP in Kaduna state. He got only two votes while the winner, Hon Isah Ashiru, got 414. Uba complained that it was money that did the trick, that he did not spend one kobo but still got two votes. It even got more comical: according to him, over 300 delegates later called him claiming they were the ones that cast the two precious votes. Maybe they wanted compensation. That is wicked. How can you be making financial demands from somebody who just lost, someone who has not been in the senate since 2019 and must have exhausted his savings? This is cruel.
If we go by Sani’s experience, that means money is still very critical to winning votes in Nigeria, either in the primaries or general election. If people did not vote for you because you did not give them money, that means cash matters. We still have to spare a thought for Mr Abbas Masanawa, the MD of the Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC) which prints the naira. After resigning as MD to pursue the APC governorship ticket in Katsina state — apparently with the endorsement of Rt Hon Aminu Masari, the state governor — Masanawa was defeated. That means he has now lost both the job and the ticket. This is double whammy. Didn’t he share enough mint?
We also need to observe one-minute silence for the political career of Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, a retired assistant inspector general of police and former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). After initially contesting to be president in 2011 without anything to write home about, he has been trying to be governor of Adamawa state since then, moving from party to party. He was imposed as PDP candidate in 2015 but lost. He joined APC but failed to get the ticket in 2019. And now, he has lost again. Maybe he can try again in 2027 — but he will hopefully get a political appointment along the way since he does not seem to have a winning touch.
I am nevertheless sending my heart-felt congratulations to Senator Aishatu Binani who beat Ribadu and Senator Bindow Jibrilla, former governor, to the ticket. Catch the drift? A woman is the APC governorship candidate in Adamawa state. I should think that is the first time a major party will be fielding a woman in the state and the second time in the north. The late Mrs Aisha Alhassan was the APC candidate in Taraba state in 2015 but she lost to PDP’s Chief Darius Ishaku. Mind you, Binani did not get the ticket by affirmation or concession: she squared off with and defeated her male opponents. With the state of play, she may be the only one in the entire 36 states! Shame!
One complaint you will not miss across the federation is that delegate votes were bought by the highest bidders. These things are so commonplace during elections in Nigeria that it is no longer considered newsworthy. It has to be something really special for people to pay attention to it. Maybe if you distribute dollars. Has anybody noticed that dollar has become very scarce? You cannot even withdraw from your dorm account. The banks will tell you point-blank that they don’t have. Go and report them to police and the CBN if you like. I have it on good authority that the dollar scarcity is not unrelated to the primaries. Why carry naira in bags when you can package dollars in envelops?
The major development in Kogi west senatorial district is not about naira or dollar but the end of the Dino Melaye/Smart Adeyemi rivalry — at least for now. Adeyemi (then PDP) was the senator from 2007-2015 when the world-famous Melaye (then APC) took over from him. Both swapped parties in 2019 and Adeyemi defeated Melaye. Neither of them will be in the senate for the first time in 16 years. Hon Tajudeen Yusuf beat Melaye to the PDP ticket and we are hearing Hon Sunday Karimi is the one getting the APC ticket. With Melaye and Adeyemi not exchanging blows again, the drama will come to an end. Neither Yusuf nor Karimi appears capable of providing premium drama. So sad.
But if you are having a bad Sunday, please take a deep breath and remember Chief James Ibori, the godfather of Delta politics, in your prayers. Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, the man he reportedly made governor while serving in a UK prison, has now effectively caged him. Okowa’s candidate, Hon Sheriff Oborevwori, decimated Ibori’s choice, Mr David Edevbie, by a less-than-honourable margin which I will not mention here for the sake of national peace. To think that Okowa’s predecessor, Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan, wanted the late Chief Tony Obuh as his own successor in 2015 and Obuh was stopped by Ibori in favour of Okowa. Such is life. Empires rise and empires fall. I am for the drama.
Ladies and gentlemen, what a week it was!
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
The murder of Mrs Harira Jibril, a pregnant woman, and her four daughters at Isulo, Anambra state, last weekend has introduced another dimension to the gory killings going on in the south-east. We were still trying to recover from the shocking news of the beheading of Hon Okechukwu Okoye, a state lawmaker, when the family from Adamawa state was wiped out. Killing a defenceless woman and her children, the oldest being nine, must rank as one of the meanest and worst crimes against women and children anywhere in the world. The Frankenstein monsters, called “unknown gunmen”, will continue to ruin the south-east if they are not urgently reined in by their enablers. Cowardly.
SHAME AND PRIDE
Senator Rochas Okorocha, former Imo governor, was involved in an embarrassing and absolutely unnecessary confrontation with the EFCC on Wednesday. EFCC officials broke through the roof to gain access to his house, according to reports backed with video evidence. He had reportedly jumped bail and refused to make himself available for court proceedings in his trial over charges of corruption. EFCC was rather draconian and dramatic — they could simply have blockaded the house and asked him to surrender. They could have broken the door. I am equally worried by Okorocha’s behaviour. For someone who says he wants to be president, that was too low. Irresponsible.
While our eyes are on the politics of 2023, the little matter of our economic woes will not leave us alone. Mrs Zainab Ahmed, minister of finance, revealed on Thursday at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, that our current oil revenue is too low to cover the cost of importing petrol. Are you with me? What we are making from oil exports is not enough to pay for petrol imports. In other news, the NNPC has remitted zero kobo to the federation account for the third month in a row as we spent a handsome, or ugly, N271.13bn on petrol subsidy in April 2022. That is a total of N947.53bn so far this year, and we are only in May. This will surely continue. Damned.
Mike Okiro, former inspector-general police, has recounted how politicians lured him into parting with his savings when they tried to draft him into running for the senate. “I was on my own when they called me to come and contest… they would come to me and say we want to go here, bring money, we want to do this, bring money, we want to do that, bring money. I gave all my savings and nothing again to give,” he said. I found it very funny when I read the story but that is truly how political wheels are oiled in Nigeria and if your war chest is thin, you won’t last the distance. Someone said the politicians erected a check point to extort the nation’s former No. 1 cop. Ironic.