It is a complete shame that money has become everything far from democracy in Nigerian politics. Increasing and unabashed use of money has been elevated to a manifesto and has become the sole determinant of demonstrating competence for political performance. And among many others, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has just raised an “alarm over increasing money politics in Nigeria“(Sundiata Post, May 25, 2022).
Just a few days ago, one aspirant was demanding the refund of his money back from party delegates. Yet another top presidential aspirant withdrew and also resigned from his party because money (and not just money in naira) but in foreign currencies dominated the consultation process leading to the primaries for ‘electing’ (or imposing) the party flag bearer. Yet again, many of these politicians sharing money in foreign currencies are not manufacturers of goods, but only sharing what they looted from public treasury. And worst still, they have been contributing to the increasing weakening of the Naira. What a shame again?
At a one-day Colloquium on Emerging Issues that will shape the 2023 General Elections in Nigeria organised by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in collaboration with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahood Yakubu, decried the increasing dominance of money politics. He feared that if the trend was not checked, our democracy would become plutocracy – government by the rich and for the rich alone. The former INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, at the same occasion raised similar concerns and also cited the case where the National Assembly “altered the Electoral Act to increase the threshold of how much a candidate can spend for the election.”
Looking very closely at what has been going on during the consultation process leading to the primaries, it has become obvious that money has replaced an aspirant’s manifesto that should be the basis for canvassing delegates’ votes. Issues of great concern to many Nigerians have been relegated to the background. As we watched closely the presidential aspirants go round, you could clearly see that those being consulted were not interested in listening to issues. Their faces betrayed them completely, as many of them appeared to be absent-minded when a presidential aspirant was talking about how to move Nigeria away from consumption to production in the case of Mr. Peter Obi for instance. It was clear that they were not interested in issues but in what the aspirant came to distribute (if any) and if there is none should not waste their time. For many of them therefore, money has indeed become the aspirant’s manifesto.
The deep-pocket competitive politics of the dominant political parties has foisted a political culture that is fast destroying what is left of Nigeria after military rule. This destructive political culture is foisted in a way that is driven by a spirit of competition to outdo the other. The ruling party’s decision to charge one N100m for nomination forms was indeed ‘a haram without boko’ (an outrageous and condemnable act). How on earth could anybody contemplate such in a country with so much poverty, and where students in federal universities have been at home for about three months due to strike by their lecturers over issues that could easily be resolved with serious political will?
The one hundred million naira (N100m) for the purchase of nomination form has unfortunately become a major criterion for one to be the president of Nigeria, as well as the needed manifesto for rescuing Nigeria from the multifarious threats to its existence. Nigeria’s present existential threats are not attracting and occupying their serious attention other than just mentioning them in passing. For example, as far as one presidential aspirant was concerned, his major qualification in addition to purchasing the form with N40m from his party (the main opposition) is that ‘this is a pay-back time’ since he invested a lot in the party by making sacrifices no other person made when the party was in crisis. And by virtue of this, he called himself the candidate while the others are aspirants.
Again, in the ruling party, one candidate’s view of his qualification (in addition to paying the N100m for nomination form) is that he has what it takes to succeed the president. Yet in any serious country with a non-performing ruling party, the mention of its leader during campaign, should have been a very cautious step to take. This is because no one would gain political mileage with mentioning a leader of a non-performing political party. But in Nigeria they do so with impunity because issues or manifesto and performance do not matter. Their confidence lies in the use of the huge amount of money they have legally and corruptly acquired in office, to buy votes thereby corrupting the political process the more. Expectedly, this explains why they could not deliver good governance to Nigerians.
The concerns raised above by present and past INEC chairmen that our democracy is turning into a plutocracy is quite genuine, but the greater concern should be how the trend is further institutionalising the pervasive corruption in our governance system thereby impoverishing the nation more. This is because the politicians who are spending huge sums of money now in their campaign, would use lucrative state parastatals to recover their money when they get to power. Here lies the danger of continuing with the present political culture which the two dominant political parties have foisted in our political system. For sure, Nigeria needs a new political culture completely different from the present corrupt, retrogressive and under-development-oriented one.
•Prof. Obasi, a public policy expert is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: [email protected]