After a long voyage, all the political parties have concluded their special conventions and primaries, and they now have presidential flag bearers representing the parties at the polls next year. The past two weeks have been an endless season of tension, permutations, and intrigues. The drama that brought the two presidential candidates to victory is captivating and pulsating. There were no apparent upsets as the two presidential candidates from APC and PDP are political heavyweights and represent the culmination of what Nigerian politics have been in the past two decades.
The symbolism of their candidature is not lost on us – the triumph of the political godfathers, the super-rich and high-powered stakeholders in our political firmament. Whether their candidacy is what Nigerians expected or not, whether the process of choosing them is “dollarised” or not, whether their age is a factor in their efficiency in the presidential job or not, one of them would likely become the president come May 2023, barring any miracles.
The theatre of presidential politics offers us the rare opportunity to reflect on our politics, our stunted development, and the future of our country. Like most Nigerians, I have conducted a post-mortem on the presidential primaries of the two major political parties in Nigeria borne out of my critical and sober reflection on all the political theatricals, actions and inactions of significant actors and institutions involved in the primaries. I want to share my five takeaways from the special convention of the two major political parties.
First, I believe that Nigerians were interested in the primaries because they wanted the parties to choose a candidate who deeply understood the myriads of Nigerian problems and could articulate solutions to them whilst galvanising all Nigerians to realise our collective aspiration as a people. Most people were disappointed because the primaries did not adequately showcase any candidate so that Nigerians could start making sense of who he is and what he represents. The profiles, service records, programmes and manifesto speeches of the aspirants did not count for much for the delegates who decided the presidential nomination.
These attributes mattered to the public but not to delegates in their world. It was all about schemes, scams, and personal interest. A negligible number of delegates voted based on conviction of the competence and service record of the aspirants. Throughout the consultation and nomination process, except for an insignificant number of aspirants, nobody talked about how to solve our most pressing socio-economic problems.
Second, the primaries were auctions of some sort. What was at stake was who would be the highest bidder of an estate worth more than 411 billion US Dollars – the size of the Nigerian economy in 2019-2020. The leading aspirants going by what transpired at both conventions were ready to offer a paltry 100m USD for this piece of estate, making it the cheapest auction ever anywhere in the world. If we go by stories of some delegates that alleged that some aspirants offered between 5,000 and 20,000 USD each, a quick calculation will give you a vivid idea of the bid by leading aspirants in both political parties. Similar things happened on a smaller scale in the fringe parties.
A lot has been said and written about the “dollarisation “of the presidential nomination process. It beggars belief that the presidency is for sale to the highest bidder at this stage of our political development. We discuss in and outside the venue of the primaries (social media, traditional media, and public sphere) about offering Dollars as an inducement to delegates to vote for a candidate as if it is a normal behaviour.
This action is a crime and, if proven, should have severe consequences on both the givers and the receivers. But not in Nigeria, where anything goes. Where is our collective conscience and morality? How do we want to be taken seriously as a country by other nations when the most important political office in the country is bought or sold to the highest bidder? How do we expect good leadership from a foundation of corruption and crass hedonism? Why must we be mercantile about our national leadership and development?
Third, these primaries showcased elitism and elite dominance of the political system and structures. Major stakeholders, including the delegates, are of the elite class or their cronies, and were there to do the bidding of the privileged class. It was a gathering of the political elite to struggle to control state power. We noticed different factions jostling for control. The gang of the governors was prominent in both PDP and APC primaries. Governors who controlled fiefdoms were directly or indirectly in control of delegates from their states, barring a few renegades who refused to be directed by the governors and must vote either based on personal conviction or dictates of the candidates that had paid Dollars.
In these primaries, we saw the political elite’s insensitivity, manipulation and greed displayed in gargantuan proportion, and even state governors were not exempted . The level of personal greed was embarrassing, and there was no room for principles or conviction. Only a handful of the elite political class could restrain their greed even for money they do not need.
Fourth, loyalty, morality and friendship are meaningless in Nigerian politics. The only thing that mattered was shifting interest. We saw politicians who have been long-time allies work at cross purposes and those who have been at each other’s throats for ages collaborate for personal gain and unfounded promises. Alliances and counter alliances were formed and broken. Politicians slaughtered personal relationships at the altar of political expediencies. Primordial sentiments and attachments led to friends and counterparts betraying each other.
At long last, we saw ethnic feelings dictating choices made by some without considering what is best for Nigeria and the public the delegates are representing. Advocates of zoning felt hard done and cried wolf in both primaries, though Northern Governors Forum of APC in a heroic act displayed unusual patriotism when the group insisted on the presidential ticket of the party going south. It may take time for the wounds created during these primaries to heal, and it may take time to rebuild trust and harmony among party members who felt betrayed and used by the system.
Fifth, delegates did not vote for aspirants based on the issues of interest to the people they were supposed to represent. The welfare, interest and progress of the ordinary persons did not matter. Everything was purely transactional enterprise. Most Nigerians watching the primaries from home felt betrayed by the lack of sincerity of some aspirants who, at the last minute, when it mattered the most for them to sell their presidential aspirations to Nigerians, jettisoned the aspiration altogether and “en mass”, in some instances engage in the endorsement of other aspirants thereby changing the equation of the selection process.
These primaries illustrate the dire state of our politics and the need for a review of the whole democratic process. The monetisation and dollarization of our politics leave a sour taste in the mouth of every democratic person. Although we have faulted the process, only time will tell whether the products of these processes will deliver Nigeria from this quagmire state and raise the hopes and aspirations of many hopeless Nigerians who have given up on Nigeria. The candidates of the two major political parties, who are wealthy political juggernauts, have been part of the orthodoxy, have planned for the presidency for many years, and have fought hard to clinch the ticket of their parties. We sincerely hope they have the elixir to Nigeria’s problems.
At the end of my review, these conventions or presidential nomination processes revealed everything wrong with our politics – weak ideological foundation of the parties, the attitude of our people to democratic culture, the influence of poverty or lack of economic empowerment on political choices, the absence of citizenship rights and responsibilities in our politics, vanishing moral values and the desperation of the elite to hang on to power as the only means of survival and wealth in an economy that is very hard to create wealth privately.
The whole charade and shenanigans of the political class and their desperation to grab power at all costs are linked to poverty and hopelessness in the land – poor people pay little or no attention to issues. Most ordinary Nigerians suffer from physical and material deprivation, whilst our political elites suffer from moral and mental poverty, as seen in their attitude and behaviours in the presidential nominations of two major parties.
We cannot continue this way as a nation, and I hope subsequent primaries will see significant improvements in the identified areas. It is time to rethink our politics, party nomination process, the basis of our choices as individuals and the future of our country. I congratulate the presidential candidates of all the parties for winning the slots of their parties.
I look forward to an issue-based campaign devoid of sleaze, mudslinging, ethnic and religious chauvinism, and campaign monetisation. We must get it right this time because we cannot afford to gamble with our collective destiny.