The lukewarm reception of Muhammadu Buhari’s announcement of his desire to contest next year’s presidential election posits that 2019 will not be a joyous repeat of the sweep of 2015. Buhari’s re-election is a jaded quest; three years after being elected on a populist anti-corruption campaign, the mythology of Buhari as the great anti-corruption avenger is bust. Over the course of four presidential runs, a vacuous pose was mistaken for principled substance. Aso Rock, regularly occupied by an unbroken turn of pseuds, chewed up Buhari and spat him out.
Time and again, Nigeria’s high expectations of a president whose hustings promised solutions to issues of insecurity and infrastructural development had been toned down (or completely dashed) to match the leader’s meagre capabilities. In the case of Buhari, what currently subsists is the leftover image of an ordinary man just like any other that has (mis)led Nigeria: overrated, underprepared, and overwhelmed by the complexity of the Nigerian situation. An honest and more honourable man would have given up after his first term and let someone who has not been dulled by senescence take charge.
Nigeria and Nigerians missed several instances for critical questioning of Candidate Buhari in the 2014/2015 electioneering. The zeal to push out the sitting administration obscured the vital question of who was financing the challenge. Now that Buhari has insisted that at the putative age of 75, he is throwing his “babanriga” in the ring to run for President, again, we should ask him how he also intends to fund his looming presidential election.
For those who are about to ask why election financing should be the first question to confront the man with, here is why: The oroborous cycle of corruption in Nigeria today is lubricated by the corruption inbuilt into the mechanism of electioneering. The Nigerian democratic project runs all year round on corruption: patronage, solicitation, bribery, inducement, and gross abuse of office. Yet, there is no time that the sordidness of our system is more self-evident than election time. Our system, formal and informal, is calibrated on the pacification of godfathers, traditional rulers, community organisers, and the so-called elders whose itchy palms require greasing.
Those who do not have money to carry out this part of the campaign ritual declare fealty to a godfather who foots the costs. The case of Chris Ngige, Chris Uba, AIG Raphael Ige and N3bn ransom is an example of what happens when political financing is murky and Faustian deals made. If one is lucky to get to make it to the stage of the primaries of one’s party, one is faced with the prospect of more and more spending. You keep spending to appease the electorate and the “majekobajes” who can easily spoil things. By the time the winner emerges, they are sworn to the office with a string of financial debts and (im)moral demands tied around their neck.
When they get to office, they have to steal for at least four reasons: One, to recoup their losses; two, to keep funding their constituents who see them as routes to sharing of public funds; three, to have enough in their pockets to set aside some for “retirement” (whenever that is) and, four, to have enough to keep contesting elections in future. In the light of this reality, our public offices have more or less become an ATM, and aspiring to public office is tantamount to buying a lottery ticket.
One cannot talk about corruption in Nigeria without first confronting election financing and how it facilitates corruption. Buhari’s administration has hammered on this issue the most and that is probably because for the first time since 1999, the chain of self-perpetuation by one dominant party was broken. The All Progressives Congress made it to Aso Rock and they could not stop talking about how the Peoples Democratic Party bankrupted the nation to finance their elections. The government arrested the immediate past National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (retd.), over the sum of $2bn awarded for arms contract. When the APC was confronted with a similar question of how they sponsored their own elections, they simply changed the subject and continued to rail against the PDP.
We all know that the charade of people publicly donating their “toro-kobo” to Buhari was not what got him into office; the money that went down into that election was far much more. The APC’s lack of self-introspection on the matter tells us that these people are not trying to solve a problem; they just want to score a political point against their opponents.
In recent times, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has now and again taken up that anti-PDP refrain and he has sworn he would beat us on the head with it till Jesus comes. He insists that they would not stop talking about the past because Nigerians ought to be continuously reminded of the road that brought us here. Well, nobody says they should not talk about the past. They can even hire a skywriter if they choose. What we do not want is the Presidency insulting us by acting as if corruption in Nigeria started under the Jonathan administration and that they are the ones cleaning up the murk. For one, corruption has been endemic to the founding of Nigeria. If the Buhari administration wants to be honest, they will go as far back as 1999 or even 1979 to talk about the plague of corruption! Nobody denies the devastating role corruption plays in undermining Nigeria’s democracy and other developmental initiatives. We are simply tired of somebody manipulating it to advantage and then turn around to do the same things they accused their opponents of.
These days, Osinbajo has been regaling us with tales of how the PDP withdrew bedazzling sums from the Central Bank of Nigeria shortly before the elections. If you have been a Nigerian long enough, you know that kind of money withdrawn was likely used to fund elections, simple! Some six months before the 2015 elections, when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan approved $1bn for fighting Boko Haram, the APC was the first to yell that the PDP was going to use the money to finance the elections. Just lately, Buhari approved the same amount for fighting Boko Haram and the PDP made the same point! Both of them should be believed because there is no one better suited to track the footsteps of a thief on a rock than another thief. Both of them know how the game is played and that is why they both decry the other’s looting.
Now that Buhari is going to run for president come 2019, it is imperative that he rises above the mess he claims to be cleaning by stating how he intends to fund his forthcoming election. For a man who claimed to be too broke to buy his own application form in 2015, how did he fund that election and how does he plan to fund this one? When are they retiring their election funding accounts? How much did the APC spend on that election?
In an interview he granted last year, the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, claimed that to fund elections, they solicited funds from friends and they also used personal resources too. In Nigeria where, for politicians, there is no clear demarcation between private and public pockets, which resources are ever “personal”? Odigie-Oyegun also claimed the APC instituted a method whereby every member gave at least N100 to the party monthly to maintain their membership. If they truly did that, it would be a great improvement and will go a long way to strengthen democratic institutions. Much more than mere intentions is the necessity of transparency. How much have they collected so far? Moneywise, how do they plan to stay above board in 2019? These are questions they must answer; they do not get to wish it away.