Diversions as Political Campaigns

By Bunmi Makinwa

WRITTEN ON FEBRUARY 14, 2023

When the elections to be held soon in Nigeria would have been done andthe results announced, will itbe more of the past or some changes will be seen? Elders tell the same story again and again, and young people, who have no choice, suffer the boredom of hearing it until perhaps they can walk away from home.

National elections in Nigeria will take place on February 25, 2023, for 18 presidential candidates, 1100 senatorial candidates vying for 109 seats, and 3112 candidates competing for 360 House of Representatives seats.

On March 11, 2023, 420 governorship candidates will run for offices in 28 states and 10,231 candidates will run for the 360 seats of the House of Assembly in the states.

The drama of electioneering is entertaining, yet it is boring. For many who watch, analyze and embrace debates of electoral politics, the campaigns are attention-grabbing and can consume unlimited time. For most of the population, the campaigns, judging from previous ones, are sporting games featuring the same people acting theirparts. Only from time to time donew characters emerge, and often their garments and voices are strikingly similar.

Here are some major characteristics of the 2022/2023 campaign drama that are worthy of recall.

1. Money speaks and only the money matters. The major political parties announced that only members who could afford hefty payments for nomination forms would qualify for any consideration to vie for elective offices. Their prices for the sale of forms for candidates to contest in the party primaries effectively rigged the election in favour of only the wealthy, filthy rich and wasteful spenders. Purchase of forms is onlythe beginning and will be followed by the fact that contestants have to “finance” delegates who will vote at the primaries. The prices just to obtain the forms for the two main parties:

APC- House of Assembly – N2 million; House of Reps – N10 Million; Senate – N20 million; Governorship – N50 million; Presidential – N100 million

PDP – House of Assembly – N600,000; House of Reps – N2,5M; Senate – N3,5M; Governorship – N21M; Presidential – N40M

For parties that stood little chance of winning many seats, and for which winning the presidential election is only a dream, the prices for forms to contest the primaries as possible presidential candidates were still very high: SDP ā€“ 35M; NNPP ā€“ 30M; YPP ā€“ 20M.

2. So-called delegates or representatives of constituencies came for party primaries and returned home with huge pockets of cash. For major parties, especially APC and PDP, the reports were that cash in Naira was too heavy to carry. Payments were made in US dollars.

3. Party primaries were not limited to the topmost positions but were used to decide candidates for all positions. This ensured that the monies from prospective candidates trickled down to “active” party members at all levels. Many party members claim that this is the only time that they get to “chop” something from the elected members. The politicians do not trust even their colleagues,why would the citizenry believe their electoral promises?

4. Having won the party primaries, many candidates use the opportunity to raise money from all possible future beneficiaries and stakeholders. A lot of expenses are ahead. Those who invest money or materials, assets or efforts in the candidates can look ahead and perhaps reap the returns many folds if the candidates get elected. Like all investments, some “investors’ will gain and many will lose.

5. The process for determining contestants for the party primaries effectively warehouses transactional politics. It sets the agenda for elections showing that only those who have hugely disposable monies can become candidates for the parties that can win. Whether the funds generated by the parties are used for campaigns, official expenses or to support legitimate costs of running their organizations is immaterial. The fact remains that such a fund-raising system, whether legal or illegal, undermines democracy and robustly diverts attention to money rather than issues or serious discourse on political ideologies and directions.

6.There are a few serious and energized people who want to make change possible through politics. Theywant to have a better country, but they have no chance. The huge amounts of funds involved to get attention from the electorate and media make their goal impossible. The efforts and resources needed to mobilize people who do not believe in the genuineness of politicians and any agenda for development are daunting. The voices of the few creative, well-meaning, and aspiring politicians are drowned in the screams of the established parties and their candidates.

7. Whatbecomesof the aspiring, serious-minded politicians with their genuine enthusiasm for re-making Nigeria? Some give up their ideals and allow their hopes to die. Some drift on with feeble and ineffective political campaigns and pretend that they too can still win. And some join the establishment, hoping that the old maxim of “if you cannot beat them, join them” will enable them to recover their losses or perhaps get returns.

8. Finally, the idealistic few vocal politicians who invest little money because that is all they have, and puttheir professional careers, their solid and relevant experience and their carefully-prepared plans in the future of Nigeria gasp, for breath. There is no space as the dominant few politicians continue their perpetual hold on the country.

9. Whether it is based on ethnic nationalism, geographical delineation, age attribution, or interpersonalagreement by peers, the finality of who leads a major political party is based on “it is my/our turn” logic. As it happens at every stage of electioneering, it helps greatly if the claimant of “my turn” can back his claim up withthe money. Otherclaimants can be “wooed” into submission if they suddenly find money cascading on them like the downpourof rain. The more the “rain” the better the recipients can feel fulfilled that their long-term expectations have been met quickly. If the payment is right, many political aspirants give up their demands for offices.

10. In the noisy discourse about who rules the nation, state or any given area, the more important considerations such as quality of preparedness for office, the viability of ideas that are presented and demonstration of qualities of leadership fade away. My people, our people, our turn, and our chance are far more prominent factors that resonate with communities and the people.

11. In the ongoing political season, a group of five governors has added more flavour to the menu. They travel frequently and in super luxury to London because they cannot find a quiet house in Nigeria. They wear uniforms of many colours, eat gourmet foods and pretend that they are working for the good of their people. They provide a comic sight and confirm that personal agendascan be fashioned as public interest. Public money can be wasted wantonly by governors because accountability atthe statelevel is zero.

12. Despite efforts, it is difficult to keep track of how many new projects are launched, started or finalized droning the electoral campaign. The frenzy is high as groups of governors with or without the president crisscrossthe country to showcase which projects are the best and biggest. Elections have the magnetic power of waking up the sleeping projects in forgotten places. As usual, many of the projects that get media attention at this time will go back to sleep after the convoy of cars and loads of VIPshave returned to the state houses.

13. Competing with the number of projects launched is the number of politicians who change parties. All politicians believe that they will win theirelections, or so it appears from their demeanours. They change though when significant money comes their way. Or when they get a promise of a better position by a candidate who is a more likely winner. The politicians switch parties like they change clothes. Party and politics are married forlifebut politicians are not wedded to any programmes, policies or development objectives.

14. The political theatre would have ended as just another ordinary drama if the permanent president of Nigeria did not add a touch of history to it. He does not disappoint. He wrote yet another letter. He criticized the friends that he had loved to hate and he embraced new friends. He does not live people in doubt that his voice must be heard to affirm his importance, and especially his allegiance to some principle, no matter how temporary it lasts. OBJ will be OBJ!

15. Bigger and more impactful is the entry of the new Messiah. Even if the voice was familiar, the garb is different and his energy has been infectious. He has provided the space for unhappy citizens, politically excluded, dissenters, eager optimists,permanently discouraged, separatists, unemployed, poorly-employed, saviour-seeking, young-and-tired, and just-to-be-different groups of people. Whether it will be a definitive change of direction in the campaign trajectory will soon be known after the election.

16. There is also an enthusiastic crowd of party supporters who are a permanent feature of party politics. They appear at every rally and many of them will show up for any party provided that there is something for them. They come in buses, cars, kekes, okadas and also on foot. Many of them have PVC (Permanent Voters Card) and they brandish them to show the cash-distributing party agents at rallies. The PVC, like a credit card, is often their certificate for food, materials, cash, and gifts that are given at political rallies.

17. At the end of the voting, several millions of votes would have been cast for all the elections. INEC has a budget of 355billion Naira for the 2023 elections, which is more than a rise of 61 percent compared to the budget for the 2019 elections. The question is hardly asked if the money spent in 2019 has contributed to entrenching democracy or undermining it. The windmill of election spending by electoral bodies keep turning and the wind is not even felt by the country. Whilst the turn towards more use of technology to ensure that voting is correctly done is useful, it is not at all sufficient.

18. From 1999, the new democratic dispensation asprovided in the new Constitution is being tested during each election. It is time to ask deeper questions about the allocation of resources to deepen governance. Having such humongous investment in a system that produces only certain types of characters as determined by the party system outlined in the Constitution is wasteful. A nation that spends such a budget on an important output should seriously review the quality of the results obtained.

19. Every four years, the electoral system yields political leaders whose major focus is to get rewards from their “investment” rather than serve the electorate to improve the well-being of people and society. Is the problem the people or is it  the system that produces such leaders? Without re-visiting the question thoroughly, the election in totality is a diversion from governance.

20. The kind inputs that are made into elections appear to define the outcomes. In the 2023 elections that will take place soon, the inputs and process will generate outcomes that are not different from those that were obtained in every election cycle since 1999.

Voting is only but just a step among many towards electoral democracy. There are many more steps preceding voting. The preparations and inputs that go into voting and the entirety of the exercise show that there are many hurdles to be cleared going forward. The usual diversions take the electorate on the journey to nowhere. Beneath the surface and all around the country, there is outright disenchantment with politics and political leaders.

The diversions and so-called elections continue to douse popular anger and resentment against the perpetual exploitation of the country. People nourishthe hope of a better future and invest their hope in the diversions that only take attention awayfromseriously understanding the games that politicians play.

Even though the ploy has not changed and has been employed time and time again, voters remain caught in the election shows. The citizens and electorate waltz along to the music of political parties that are on a journey that at best goes around but only ends up at the same spot. END

February 14, 2023. New York

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