A CONVERSATION ON NIGERIA’S 2023 ELECTIONS, PART 2
Touching Base with Chido Onumah’s Perspectives on Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
*** This is the second report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:
The past few weeks’ events have made the forthcoming 2023 elections more of a reality to the average Nigerian than they were some six months ago. As typical of every election period in Nigeria, there have been party defections; party primaries were rife with irregularities, reckless spending to win delegates over, and unbelievable sums of money doled out in a country touted to be the world’s poverty capital, where universities are currently shut because the academic staff union is at salary-and-allowances-inciting loggerheads with the government. Party flagbearers are emerging in all nooks and crannies of the country, and the scenes replay themselves yet again, as they always do during every election period in Nigeria.
On Sunday, May 22, 2022, we had one of the not-so-common editions of the Toyin Falola Interview Series. It was a discourse that featured veteran journalist and social commentator Dr. Chido Onumah alongside Dr. Jibrin Hussaini, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, and Ms. Miriam Oke. It was an intellectually engaging evening that saw our guests extrapolate on some of the major issues that bedevil the Nigerian nation-state during election periods. Let us touch base with some of the points and perspectives Dr. Onumah shared.
The Role of Money in the 2023 Nigerian Elections
Money is the convenient and effective wheel on which many human endeavours run. Thus, we cannot rule out the need for money during elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) budgeted N305 billion for the 2023 General Elections, which is N70.5 billion more than the commission approved for the 2019 elections. Elections cost money — registering voters, acquiring electioneering materials and equipment, setting up registration centres and polling booths, and hiring temporary INEC workers. Spending before, during, and after the elections is necessary. Therefore, it must be a concern for a country like Nigeria if so much is spent on elections when there is little to nothing to show at the end.
Nevertheless, the nation’s election expenditure is not so much a concern compared to aspirants’ and parties’ spending on the electioneering process. As the government spend billions of naira trying to conduct “free, fair, and credible” elections, so do political aspirants and their parties spend billions of naira on winning party blocs, lobbying delegates, buying the electorate’s conscience and consciousness, among other election-winning and money-costing tactics. The recent primaries conducted within Nigeria’s two largest parties — the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) — brought news on how aspirants spent money in reckless abandon, whether or not they were guaranteed their party’s ticket.
What preceded that: the cost of nomination and expression of interest forms across all parties, the highest being the APC’s N100 million demand from all presidential ticket hopefuls? This move raised questions that would ultimately lead to the conclusion that either the contestants have so deeply eaten into the public treasury — given how long many of them have been in the corridors of power — or they are hoping that buying the form would be an investment for which they would receive massive returns if they win the election or get appointed as a minister or for some other political seats.
Yet, purchasing the grossly expensive forms is a baby step the average Nigerian politician needs to take for the 2023 elections. As per calculations, the average presidential aspirant would need over N1 billion to monitor election proceedings and ensure ballots are cast on election day. Additionally, my team and I have calculated the financial costs of properly setting up an independent political party in Nigeria, with all the structures that can help a party gain grounds and win elections. Our calculations resulted in a whopping N200 billion. This shows the high amount of money that goes to electioneering in Nigeria, even when there is hardly any buzz or signs of life in these parties, especially the non-ruling ones, within the three years between every ante-election an election year in Nigeria.
The role of money in Nigerian politics is an all-important one, and Onumah had interesting points to share about the 2023 elections. He touched on how politics has become Nigeria’s major and most lucrative business, making the aftermath of the reckless spending during electioneering periods of much more concern than the actual spending. For Onumah, several Nigerian politicians are in the “business” of politics as a form of investment, knowing that political power offers them the proverbial Midas’ touch to get everything and anything they want. And that point cannot be lost on us, seeing that a position as that of an appointed Accountant-General of the country could conveniently divert billions of naira of public funds to private coffers.
Onumah related the issues of this fast-growing and widespread Nigerian political business to the anomalies of the Nigerian state structure. If the reward for holding political offices in Nigeria were not as huge as it currently is — in terms of salary, sitting allowances, security votes, and constituency allowance, among other huge chunks of unwarranted bonuses that Nigerian elected and appointed public office holders to enjoy — and if there were systems in place that rightly and equitably punish corrupt officials, politicians would not invest so much to get into political offices.
Another valid case that Onumah made for the huge financial resources that go into electioneering in Nigeria is that the financially popular and “open-handed” political aspirant is more likely to win elections in Nigeria. Simply put, the more you can give, your chances of winning are higher. This is not unrelated to how practically impossible it is for the citizens to benefit from the dividends of democracy, such as job-creating and economy-stabilizing policies. The people know that politicians only mingle with the masses and come around to gauge the citizens’ plights during electioneering periods; thus, citizens are willing to take whatever they can from the politicians during campaigns and elections, even if it means suffering the consequences for four years or more.
The need to satisfy citizens by reinforcing their stomach infrastructure during the electioneering process is another reason money plays an important role in elections in Nigeria. Videos and news stories from the party primaries have shown the huge amount of money politicians have spent to convince a few hundred delegates in their parties to vote for them. One can then begin to mentally project how much more they would need to convince millions of people to get them to their political destination come 2023.
Will 2023 Bring True Change, Or Will It Be a Waste of Time and Resources?
Undeniably, Nigerians have been scarred. After the huge failure of the Goodluck Jonathan government in several aspects, including security and the national economy, the APC ran one of the most successful PR campaigns in Nigeria, selling the citizens on the status, integrity, and identity of Muhammadu Buhari, who would bring change to the country. Seven years later, the citizens have experienced nothing short of a disturbing and devastating change. This charring, caused by the Buhari administration, led to a poor voter turnout in the 2019 presidential election compared to the 2015 election.
This time, the 2023 presidential election will be similar to the 2015 presidential election. The citizens are tired of the Buhari-led government’s baggage and are yearning for a more refreshing leadership. This would, in turn, lead to a surge in the number of voters, as there has been an increase in the clamour for voters’ registration among frustrated citizens. However, would the citizens have wasted their time and resources at the polls when they turn out for the 2023 presidential election, with hopes in hand and ballot papers inked for whom they think fit the task?
According to Dr. Onumah, to consider things in general terms, the 2023 elections would be a waste of the electorate’s time because the issues bedevilling the country are foundational, so much so that no matter how qualified the next president is, he or she would not be able to do a good job of getting the nation back on track within the constitutionally stipulated timeframe. The problems Nigeria is currently facing, including the immolation of Deborah Samuel in the North and the cold-blooded murder of a military couple in the East, indicate Nigeria is bitterly divisive. It is akin to a couple who, although not divorced, have a troubled home where they fight bitterly and hurt each other dangerously. Separated, yet not legally divorced, and still living under the same roof. Of course, this analogy only briefly compares to what is currently plaguing the Nigerian nation-state.
Despite these divisive issues in Nigeria, there has been no pin drop in the camps of the Nigerians contesting to be the nation’s president in 2023. They are far more buried in their aspirations and the repercussion of commenting on ethnically and religiously motivated actions like Deborah’s gruesome murder and the killing of the army couple. Nigeria is faced with so many internal issues, so much so that in Onumah’s opinion, the best that could happen to Nigeria now is for its next president to serve as a transitional president who would raise discussions and make moves about the structure and nature of the country and on the amendment of the constitution, to mention a few. For Onumah, the Buhari government has worsened matters bordering on national unity and cohesion; thus, the 2023 president has to be able to act as a transition president to help us touch on those painful, deep-seated, and foundational issues that the country is seriously avoiding but which need to be resurfaced and resolved, without which we cannot progress.
But then, what is the possibility of the 2023 president acting as a transition president? History shows us that Nigerian political officeholders are too selfish. As a result, it would be practically impossible to have any of the 2023 presidential aspirants consider themselves as the forerunner of another government that will benefit from and ride on the glory of the fruits that the expected turbulence of the next four years would bring. Nigeria is in disarray, and it is more than disheartening to see that the citizens and the political class seemingly live in different worlds within the same country.
While the people writhe and languish in pains brought by ethnoreligious and socio-political divisions, the political class, which is only one small class — regardless of the façade represented by political parties, religions, or ethnic groups — continues to make beneficial alignments and arrangements to further steal from the nation’s treasury and render the citizens lonely and miserable. They spend recklessly, to the point that it is difficult to believe that within the same country touted as the world’s poverty capital are political office holders who command several billions of naira and can easily afford to dole out tens of thousands of dollars per delegate to hundreds of delegates. As the 2023 elections approach, Nigerian citizens need to know that there are several issues. Despite how the political class disguised as stupid and clueless in their deeds and public appearances or bloopers, they are wise and calculating. They are the new crop of oppressors who took over from the colonisers, and if anything, history tells us that oppressors do all in their power to keep the oppressed on a leash.
Though democracy gives power to the people, what is practised in Nigeria is far from being a democratic system. Thus, as the people increasingly become politically conscious, strategize, and plan for a better tomorrow, the political class is also assiduously making moves to throw clogs in the wheel and bring the nation to a grounding halt or a non-stop retrogressive movement. May they not succeed in their mission! Amen.