By Bunmi Makinwa
It is heightened political season in Nigeria. At national level the main question is – who will win the elections in February 2023 to become Nigeria’s fifth elected civilian president since 1999 when the military government stepped aside for civilian rule.
It would have been easier to answer the question if the candidates of the political parties are known and if their weights with the electorate can be estimated. It is too early to have the information. No party candidates are known yet. There are many self-declared candidates and early starters.
Rather than spend our time on persons and personalities, the article wants to examine certain criteria that qualified or favoured the past elected presidents. It will look into the traits that endure and will determine the next president through the electioneering process. The political experience since 1999 is most relevant. A military government of President Abdulsalami Abubakar organized elections and handed over to elected civilian President Olusegun Obasanjo. The civilian rule has continued to date under Presidents Umaru Musa Yar A’Dua, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari. Each and all of the four presidents won elections based on, in the considered opinion of this writer, their fulfilment of conditions stated below.
A pre-eminent condition to have a successful run for election as president is to have access to huge funds. By an average Nigeria’s dream, it is inestimable funds. The funds come from all sources. Whilst some personal wealth gives weight to the candidate, institutional funds are very important and the primary ones are federal and state governments. Several states combine as opportuned and provide deep pockets for their national candidate.
Funds also flow in from the private sector and the large ones are linked to government. Such sources of funds can be classified under government, though indirectly.
At every stage of the electoral campaign money counts. Party nomination forms are sold at a premium. In 2019, APC (All Progressives Congress) sold each form for 45 million Naira (at the time, about $125,000) and for PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) it was 12 million Naira ($33,000). The payments are non-reimbursable.
Party nomination elections is an ‘auction” arrangement and the highest paying candidate wins. Sometimes hundreds of millions of Naira have to be disbursed and it does not matter whether direct or indirect primaries are used.
There are no reliable figures available on electioneering costs attributable to each presidential candidature but estimates range from 10 billion Naira to 22 billion Naira from past elections, about half of the annual budgets of many states of Nigeria.
Of course there are many legitimate expenses involved in electioneering and Nigeria’s population of some 200 million covering 36 states, the Federal Capital Territory and 774 local governments is not cheap, to say the least.
The unorthodox expenses are as numerous as the illegitimate ones, and political parties and candidates who will win must take them on. When poor voters do not have transportation, the candidates must provide it. When voters have needs or they request privileges, they must be made available to secure their votes.
When security officials are to deploy to polling units, hot spots, and carry out nasty operations against opponents, the campaigners provide whatever is needed to facilitate such deployment – directly and indirectly. When generators or equipment and materials or additional security are needed at voting venues, counting offices and other places, the campaign offices and officials do oblige, willingly.
It is well known that constituents and party members see electioneering time as their own time to “chop’, and they do it plentifully. The large parties are well endowed and use money to edge out competitors.
The second criterion is that the candidate that wins is one who is nominated by a leading national party –APC or PDP, or by a new alliance of political parties of leading politicians with enormous pockets similar to how APC was birthed.
For reasons of huge expenses involved, logistics and spread across the country, and active “mobilisation” of media of communications, only major political parties have the financial muscle to carry out a meaningful campaign. Their candidates have always won and will continue.
It is important, as a third criterion, to have obvious or contrived support across at least two large ethnic groups. The constitutional criteria that a winner must have “not less than one-quarter of the votes cast at the election in each of at least two-thirds of all the states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory”, has to be met. The candidate who wins must have offices and/or representations across that many states and more. The visible presence of the political parties is a strong factor during future legal challenges that arise following INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) declaration of results.
A fourth criterion is the support from federal government and or state governments, and their institutions, especially the police and security forces.
The APC’s then candidate Buhari in 2015 defeated incumbent President Jonathan. Did it show the limitation and irrelevance of the specific criterion? No, it does not. For various reasons, Jonathan’s government did not apply the might of federal security forces in the usual overwhelming manner during elections and declaration of the results.
Did the presidency lose control of the leadership of the security institutions? Did the great number of state authorities supporting the opposition APC and Buhari weaken the presidency’s potential to use institutional security forces? Or was it Jonathan’s self-declared peace-maker role famously captured in his declaration that “my political ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian” that set a different path for Nigeria? If he had not accepted the decision, would federal might have prevailed and kept him in office for a second term? There are many unanswered questions and they further affirm the strong role of federal security authorities, especially the police.
On the positive side, security forces play a vital role. There is no election without violence and maintenance and order by the police and other security forces is important. Whilst some candidates may aspire to provide private security services, it does not go near enough and cannot cover any reasonable size of geographical space. The already established forces with local intelligence and weapons are the ultimate decision makers.
The fifth criterion for this analysis is modern communication and media technology uses and manipulation, including fake news. The combined professional use of old and new media can affect how people perceive issues and candidates. The candidate who wins is often seen to have won even before election day, thanks to the packaging and positive momentum created and sustained through communication.
There may be surprises in this analysis. Why is it not important that the next president has a top notch agenda for development of the country? Should the candidate offer credible solutions for problems facing the country especially the obvious ones – poor security, weak and declining economy, huge unemployment, massive corruption? Should the candidate proffer ideas and directions for using the huge potentials of the citizenry, including rebuilding education and health sectors?
But, no. These issues can be mouthed and spoken about, they will not help to win presidential elections.
The system and process are laid out for access to big money, large political parties with extensive national presence, resources to deploy for applying technology in good and bad ways, ability to use federal might maximally in all ways, and selective use of security forces to take decisive actions in favour of desirable persons. These are fundamental and systemic issues that bring about the same end in Nigeria’s presidential elections.
During the presidential electoral cycle which is repeated every four years, an avalanche of political parties emerges. There are many persons who claim that they want to be president. Only a few of the claims may be taken seriously.
Among the serious ones, there may appear some groundbreaking ideas for policies and plans to make the country better. Unfortunately, there is very little or zero attention to the ideas and persons who champion them. Most of the parties and persons do not meet the criteria explained above, hence they cannot go far or win.