2023, Buhari and the battle for succession

Back page with Eni B, Eniola Bello Email: eniola.bello@thisdaylive.com

ENI-B BY ENIOLA BELLO

To adapt parliamentary leader Alhassan Doguwa’s method of announcing the result of his immediate family census, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) counts, at the time of this writing, 25 aspirants who have procured the party presidential nomination forms at the princely price of N100. million. Some purchased the forms personally, others had the forms purchased from friends or political associates, and still others obtained the forms purchased by groups and coalitions of groups. On this (un)enviable list of presidential hopefuls are the party’s co-founder, vice president, five governors, five senators, five cabinet ministers, a former speaker of the Senate, a former speaker of the House of Representatives, a former national chairman of the party, a popular pastor who had long prophesied himself as No. 16 in the presidential historical order, and two or three others whose name recognition sucks.

How lucky is the APC! When the party set the fee for its presidential nomination forms at 100 million naira, there was widespread condemnation, especially in the media. Some APC officials vigorously defended the party’s decision, saying the high nomination fee was intended to discourage unserious aspirants from wasting the party’s time and resources. The party may as well not have bothered to explain its decision. The high presidential nomination fee does not appear to have spared the party from having a deluge of aspirants looking for its ticket to the 2023 elections. At no time in Nigeria’s electoral history have so many aspirants sought the one-party presidential ticket. What’s the catch? Why would so many people aspire to preside over the affairs of a country so burdened by general insecurity, huge debts, high unemployment, crippling inflation and an unstable currency crisis? and on the platform of a party whose administration over the past seven years has brought the country down, to borrow a popular presidential phrase, “top down”?

Has the Nigerian presidential office become an all-comers affair? Is it because President Muhammadu Buhari’s performance was so pathetic that every Rochas and Ben and Yahaya and Sani are now betting to do a better job; something like “If Buhari could be president, why can’t I?” Could this be why a couple of wannabes who are barely known beyond their streets, and who have no hope of securing the vote of a single delegate outside of themselves, have also bought the presidential nomination forms? Or is it nothing more than an investment for profit in the run up to the party primaries; a game of political visibility; a bet on being the beneficiary of a likely stalemate between the top contenders; an expectation of a possible endorsement from Buhari; a contest of supremacy and positioning in different areas; a mercenary to undermine the prospects of one or two serious suitors; or simple tools to continue to dominate a region?

In December 2014, only five aspirants contested the APC presidential primary in which Buhari chose the party ticket. From his victory in the 2015 general elections, until his re-election in 2019, Buhari has shown himself in his words, actions and appointments to be more regionalist than nationalist. Those he has appointed to oversee critical ministries like Justice, Defence, Energy, Finance, Humanitarian Affairs, Labor and Education are either selfish, inefficient, incompetent or overwhelmed. Strangely, the president, who likes to delegate responsibilities but avoids supervision, barely sanctions his aides and appointees for bad behavior. Buhari seems so disinterested in the actions and inactions of his ministers, so unfazed about the disconnect between his administration and the people, and so dismissive of the concerns of a critical segment of the population about the direction he has taken on the country he would be’ It is not entirely out of place to say that he is content to be president, for his own good. Yet this president, more than any of his predecessors since 1999, has had all the necessary support to be a force for the good of the country. He was given full control of the party, which, without internal opposition, had been ruled since its formation in 2014, to satisfy his every whim. The National Assembly has, since its re-election in 2019, slavishly approved every presidential request. The Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) has been very supportive, and individually almost all state governors, even in the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), have played the good boy to the president. Even the disruptive civil society protests have not been directly proportional to the administration’s general lack of leadership.

In a Channels TV interview earlier this year, Buhari had, in a blank stare, dismissively declared that the 2023 election was not his problem. Still, some ruling party governors have reportedly said the president will decide or guide the party in choosing the candidate for the top job. Indeed, there was a whisper campaign that Buhari’s endorsement would determine who would choose the APC presidential ticket ultimately. Consequently, a whirlwind of speculation followed not one or two of those who bought, or bought for them, the party’s presidential nomination forms as Buhari’s wild card. It would be interesting to see how a presidential endorsement for someone on the growing list of aspirants wouldn’t be a problem. Or wasn’t Buhari in this interview just playing political sleight of hand, having some sort of cover-up behind the blank stare?

Isn’t it curious that the APC is selling its presidential nomination forms for 100 million naira and that Buhari, who in 2014 claimed to have taken out a bank loan to procure the same forms, would find it comfortable as president and party leader? Is there a hidden hitch somewhere? Why would former Speaker of the House Dimeji Bankole, a man who did not have enough delegates to choose the ticket for Ogun State Governorship in 2014, decide to waste 100 million naira on buy the nomination forms for a ticket he knew he wouldn’t even have the vote of a single delegate from his state? Why would the APC collect nomination fees from two different coalitions that have set themselves the task of co-opting CBN (Central Bank of Nigeria) Governor Godwin Emefiele and AfDB (African Development Bank) President , Akinwumi Adesina, in the presidential race when the two are obviously not members of the party? By accepting payment for the forms on behalf of Emefiele and Adesina, isn’t the APC implying that the two are hidden party members? Or did the party simply collect payment under a false pretense? How would five administration ministers resort to a similar narrative, claiming that a group of friends, associates or sympathizers paid for the forms?

Or is this ongoing charade simply a grand scheme to, as a colleague argued, launder money into APC to fund party campaigns? Part V, Sections 75 to 97 of the Elections Act 2022 deals, among other things, with the registration, structure, management, control, financing, campaigning and election expenses of political parties. The law requires transparency about the source of funds, limits campaign donations, caps election spending and prescribes penalties for violations. Article 87.1 thus empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC):

“The Commission has the power to limit the amount of money or other assets that an individual may contribute to a political party or candidate and to require such information as to the amount donated and the source of funds.”

Regarding campaign donations from individuals and companies, Section 88.8 states that “No individual or other entity shall donate to any candidate more than N50,000,000”. Moving from general to specific on election expenses, Section 88.2 states that “the maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate in a presidential election shall not exceed N5,000,000”. With regard to a political party, Article 89.2 adds: “The election expenses incurred by a political party for the management or conduct of an election are determined by the Commission in consultation with the political parties.

With this law, it is impossible, as in previous elections, for any candidate or party to force top businessmen and their usually faceless friends to donate billions in campaign fundraisers. Was this the challenge that APC wanted to circumvent by unduly increasing the appointment fees to the various offices and encouraging the proliferation of aspirants? Isn’t it possible that some senators, ministers and former governors and other approval-seeking officials got their business fronts and government contractors under the guise of a coalition, or a group, or on the other to get their forms? Isn’t the deluge of presidential hopefuls on the ruling party platform a dubiously shrewd way to breach the provisions of the Elections Act 2022 without necessarily breaking the law; or to use footballing language, commit a technical foul on an opponent to escape the refereeing sanction?

With the APC’s game on a tightrope, why would the preponderance of those ministers claiming to be in the running for the party’s presidential ticket bother to resign? And why would Buhari force their hand? Didn’t he say that the 2023 elections weren’t his problem?