This week, as the primaries heat up, the constraints placed by the newly passed Electoral Act are beginning to have a major impact on the nomination process. Two changes have had the most impact. The first is that it is not possible to contest in the primaries of a party, lose and try again in another party. The second is that the large number of statutory delegates who are not elected delegates but government appointees can no longer vote in primaries. This means that only elected delegates, most of them controlled by State Governors would determine outcomes of primaries. In the new context, it becomes easy for aspirants to know their chances by simply noting where the governors stand in terms of political support.
In this context, the former Anambra State governor and PDP presidential aspirant, Peter Obi, has resigned from the PDP to seek an alternative platform to realise his political ambition. Peter Obi was considered one of the top contenders for the party’s presidential ticket, and has ran an excellent issue-based campaign. He abruptly left the party just three days to its presidential primary election taking place this weekend. He might have been upset that the party has refused to zone the position to the South East, but maybe even more important, he does not appear to have the support of a majority of the governors. As a shrewd business man, he might also have questioned the rumoured expectation that aspirants for presidency are expected to pay at least $20,000 x 4,000 delegates, that is around $80m. If you have read the tea leaves and know you will not get the ticket, why pay a bribe of $80m that will not be refunded. Of course, nobody is going to confess to this massive bribe demand, after all, bribing for an electoral position is a criminal offence. What is known is that the recent spike in the cost of the dollar is directly linked to demand by politicians to buy dollars so we can assume the money is to be used for some political activity.
What is new about the primaries this time is that many contestants are openly beginning to challenge the nature of the transactional political activities they are engaged in. They are demanding why they should pay huge bribes to delegates who will at the end vote for the aspirant designated by the godfather, governor or governors depending on the position. The most interesting example is the son of the former vice president, Namadi Sambo. Adam Namadi’s office released a statement confirming that he has requested that PDP delegates should refund his money – 76 million naira, 2 million per delegate the Kaduna North State House of Assembly Constituency ticket. The argument is simple, to contest, all aspirants pay the party huge nominations fees that are stated up front to be non-refundable. If in addition, an aspirant is asked to pay an unauthorized inducement fee that would guarantee the nomination and the amount is paid, then the expectation is that the ticket will be guaranteed. Most candidates are however paying the inducement and not getting the position. As aspirant Namadi explained: “as a mark of respect for that agreement, some delegates in the Kaduna North constituency have started to reach out to unsuccessful State House of Assembly aspirants….. followed by my fellow contender, Shehu Usman ABG and I. Therefore, I am not acting in isolation or making any ludicrous demands.”
The reality is that they are calling for honour among crooks and this is not a reasonable expectation. An aspirant for the Kaduna State Governor’s seat, Senator Shehu Sani publicly declared he was not ready to bribe delegates and made a special plea to delegates to vote for him because of his excellent manifesto. He was the last in the primaries and got only two votes. As the vote was by secret ballot, he publicly requested to know who were the two good delegates that voted for him. To his shock, he declared on his twitter feed yesterday that 300 delegates sent him messages that they were the ones that voted for him. Clearly, the idea of honour among thieves is one that has very little traction. When certain groups are able to completely determine political outcomes, competition disappears and the very logic of transaction politics – I give you money and you give me the position I am seeking for begins to crumble. That is where we are today.
The way forward is to begin to dismantle transactional politics itself. The first step is for the political parties, next time round, to reduce the very high cost of nomination forms, a scandalous N100 million for the ruling APC for example. The next step is the reduction of the cost of campaigns. Some researchers have estimated that it costs as much as $2bn to win a presidential election in Nigeria and the amount increases significantly with each election. Ironically, the recently revised Electoral Act, which previously placed the maximum amount to be spent by a Presidential candidate should not exceed N1bn ($2.4m) has now been increased to N5bn ($12m). The law allows the candidate to spend $12 million but the candidates are spending up to $2 billion. This is madness. The underlying problem is that none of the presidents of the 4th Republic has had that money to invest in politics so political entrepreneurs pay for the process and of course have to make their money back with handsome profits. It is a process of deepening corruption in the political system.
These political entrepreneurs at all levels of the political system also make their money and that is why party primaries have become the vast arena for transactional politics we have described above. Th elections themselves become marred by irregularities because people have invested too much to accept the possibility of losing. Over the past decade, the integrity of the voting process has improved considerably with the introduction of technology and improved processes by INEC. The political class that used to bribe officials to rig elections for them have now turned on the voter. They have been massively bribing voters directly, usually three to ten thousand naira per voter, to secure their votes. This is a serious danger to Nigerian democracy because politicians that get their position following bribes to voters owe nothing to citizens.
It’s important to engage in civic education to get ordinary citizens realise that they have the numbers to take over and run political parties, fund them themselves and empower a new set of politicians devoted to the pursuit to the public good. This is the theme we need to come back to after the current madness we are witnessing in the party primaries.