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2023 Presidency: Economics and politics of presidential nominating conventions

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The APC had reportedly previously zoned the 2023 presidency to the South-West. But the near-certainty of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar clinching the PDP ticket – for reasons that should be very obvious – has forced the APC into reversing itself.

By Tiko Okoye

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The atmosphere surrounding nominating conventions in any part of the world – be it in a democratic or authoritarian setting – has always been accompanied by razzmatazz, intrigues, betrayals and power play; and that of Nigeria is no different.

Still, the 2023 election cycle in Nigeria is unfolding with distinct peculiarities that are making the rest of the world to watch with conspiratorial looks of surprise and incredulity interlaced with rueful shaking of heads accompanied by low anguished and desperate moaning and groaning of just when Africa’s most populous democracy can get its act together and serve as a beacon of light and hope to the rest of Africa and the Black race. And why not, considering the incongruous contrasts that make the so-called ‘sleeping giant of Africa’ a poster child for a rich-poor country ravished by a failure of government induced by a recycling unconscionable class of dishonest and incompetent politicians.

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And now this. The two major political parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – have set outrageously high amounts for their expression of interest and nomination forms for the presidential contest. PDP’s is N40 million and APC’s is a jaw-dropping N100 million! There are many public affairs analysts contending that economics is the major driving force behind the apparently outlandish ‘gate fees.’ This school of thought posits that the parties want to generate funds to fully cover the logistics of conducting conventions without being held over a barrel like Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike did to the PDP in the run-up to the 2018 nominating convention.

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Not being beholden to any sponsoring money bag would supposedly make the leadership of both parties operate more independently – or hand the prize to an aspirant of their choice. The latter most probably explains why the APC is forcing all its aspirants to append their signatures to as many as nine rights-waivers, although it remains to be seen how it will prevent the surfeit of post-convention lawsuits that are bound to arise, conditionalities or no conditionalities.

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There are others who contend that charging such ludicrously high fees was simply a gambit to whittle down the madding crowd and help sift the pretenders from the serious contenders. From the look of things, it has failed to deliver the expected results. By the time the deadline for submission of both forms passed last Friday, 18 PDP and 25 APC presidential aspirants had met the onerous condition.

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For crying out loud, how could this be possible in a country where many states still owe huge backlogs of entitlements of civil servants and pensioners, talk more comply with the new national minimum wage of a paltry M30,000 per month? How could this be possible in a country that has just been declared the ‘poverty capital of the world, after overtaking India? How could it be impossible in a country with an unprecedented youth and graduate unemployment? How could this be possible in a country where university students have remained at home due to a lingering strike action undertaken by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU)?

These and other questions subsequently sent tongues wagging. Many people started asking what a vast majority of those who beat the submission deadline – especially the public officials among them – are earning to be able to easily afford to part with that kind of money. Many called on both the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to respectively investigate how much the individuals have been declaring as income over the years and how much income taxes they have paid and what the sources of their ‘wealth’ are.

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Truth be told, Nigeria is one of the decadent countries in Africa and South America, where being appointed or elected into high office transforms into an ‘open sesame’ meal ticket for family members and associates. According to the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), the Nigerian President earns N1.17million per month. He also receives an allowance of up to 50% of the monthly pay for the ‘hardship’ we cause him for living in the luxury and comfort of Aso Villa to preside over our affairs. He also receives a constituency allowance of 250% of his pay, 10% of annual salary as leave allowance and 400% as vehicle ‘loan’ repayable over four years.

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But don’t be deceived because there’s a lot more than meets the eye. The Nigerian President superintends a multi-billion naira annual security vote for which he’s accountable to no one over how he chooses to spend the money. Then there are the solicited and unsolicited under-the-table financial settlements amounting to billions of naira, excluding the building and furnishing of eye-popping retirement palatial mansions on hilltop choice locations!

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There are also other mouth-watering largesse, such as the total freedom to treat and dash away the nation’s most valuable petroleum assets as private property; living rent-free in an expansive, tastefully-furnished building complex; access to free meals to a limitless number of family members and hangers-on; as many free exotic vehicles as he likes; and unquestionable access to as many as 10 jets in the Presidential Fleet for himself and his family members to use both for official and private purposes.

The Nigerian President is indisputably the most imperious, as well as the biggest free-loader, among his peers under the democratic dispensation. In the United States, for example, from where we copied the presidential system of government, the occupant of the White House pays for his own meals and those of his family members and guests. He equally foots the bills whenever he uses an official vehicle or plane for a private enterprise, and the very idea of family members using an official vehicle or plane for private purposes is abhorrently ‘haram.’

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Given the invaluable perks of the office, no price is too steep for all manner of wannabes. Besides, many are simply fronting for those most-likely to win – to ensure the numbers are in place just in case a ballot is required among the aspirants to pick a ‘consensus’ candidate, not to mention the popularity bounce that attends the stepping down by aspirants for one of their colleagues. In the end, all the withdrawing and endorsing aspirants are guaranteed refunds. That explains why a presidential primary in Nigeria is not for the frugal and pusillanimous but mainly for high rollers with very deep pockets. 

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Politics, it is generally agreed, is a game of numbers. It is also said that the Machiavellian principle of the end justifying the means has a fertile ground in politics with winning as the only thing. Little wonder many philosophers aver that there’s no morality in politics. It is therefore hardly surprising that a cat-and-mouse game is now playing out between the APC and the PDP over which zone their presidential candidates should come from. The APC had reportedly previously zoned the 2023 presidency to the South-West. But the near-certainty of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar clinching the PDP ticket – for reasons that should be very obvious – has forced the APC into reversing itself.

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By a strange quirk of fate, the same Ahmad Lawan who led his APC senator-colleagues to endorse former the party’s national leader, Bola Tinubu, has thrown his hat into the ring as part of unfolding plans to checkmate the PDP. And make no mistake about it, the more things seem to change, the more they remain the same. When push turns to shove, I can see many political heavyweights in the South-West lining up behind Lawan rather than Tinubu – reminding us all of the enduring spectacle of Awo’s betrayal.

What the PDP decides would guide the APC into pushing back with an effective counter-punch, even if it means – as is increasingly becoming very obvious – that both parties present presidential candidates of Northern extraction. I’d have loved to say otherwise, but no, the heavens won’t fall, and, given our very short memory span, most Southerners would still sheepishly play along – after first making the usual noises of course.    

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