Few weeks to the conduct of party primaries in Nigeria ahead of the 2023 general election, it is expected that the financial strength of the aspirants will play a huge role in their success at the primaries.
Voting at the primaries is expected to be done by delegates, an affair that has often witnessed money-bags politicians deploy funds to bribe or secure the votes of these delegates.
Consequently, the role of money cannot be underestimated or wished away in the conduct of party primaries or emergence of party candidates, as this has become a pattern given the level of poverty and value erosion in the country.
Money is increasingly playing a dominant role in party politics in Nigeria, the situation has become a source of concern to stakeholders, but it appears there is no way out for now.
Observers say the deployment of huge amount of money by desperate politicians to buy votes, compromise electoral officers, among others has affected the credibility of the nation’s elections and negatively impact on governance.
The Nigerian political landscape features scores of political parties, most of which are only alive during elections.
It is believed that with the high level of poverty in the country, vote buying may not end soon in the nation’s electoral process.
“I saw a large crowd at the declaration ceremony of one of the governorship aspirants in Delta State a few days ago, I was disturbed. I was disturbed because I know that ordinarily, the huge crowd would not have been there just because they love the aspirant, but because something must have exchanged hands. To think that Nigerians sell their conscience for as small amount as N500, and mortgage their future, is condemnable. There is no sign that 2023 will be different,” Kingsley Oham, a budding politician, told BusinessDay.
The system has, over the years, been troubled by flagrant breaches of the laws guiding the electoral process, especially campaign finances, by politicians who deploy money with little or no restraints.
Although the political process thrives on the availability of funds for political parties to play their roles, the inability of the electoral umpire of other agencies to ensure that politicians do not go overboard has done a lot more harm than good.
Since the return to civil rule in 1999, party primaries, especially the presidential primaries, have been characterised by lavish spending of money, denying the participants a level playing ground in favour of those who control governments and state resources.
For example, in 2018 when former vice president, Atiku Abubakar defeated eleven other aspirants for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential ticket, reports had indicated that the presidential ticket was available to be won by any of the aspirants who had deep-pocket and could induce the delegates financially, not even in naira but in hard currency.
In the primary, some presidential aspirants were reported to have bribed many of the delegates with dollars.
According to reports, many of the more than 3,000 delegates were said to have received thousands of dollars as bribes from some presidential aspirants.
As early as the morning of the primary election some of the delegates were said to have confessed that they had received thousands of dollars for them to vote in favour of a particular aspirant.
Similar situation was reported in the All Progressives Congress (APC) primaries of that same year in which delegates were induced financially to vote for a particular aspirant.
Ahead of the party primaries, observers say that the trend would be the same this time, from the primaries leading up to the main election next year, because there is no conscious attempt by the electoral umpire to check election finances spending by politicians.
During the party primaries in the off-season Anambra gubernatorial election last year, an aspirant of one of the parties was quoted as saying that he had over N400million and 30million United States dollars in the boot of his vehicle in the night of the party primary.
Ahead of next year’s general election, several heavy weight politicians across Nigeria have declared their interest to contest the presidential ticket of the two leading parties, the ruling APC and the PDP.
In the APC, those who declared their ambition earlier are APC leader and former Lagos governor, Bola Tinubu; Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State; Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State; former Abia governor and serving senator, Orji Kalu and former Imo governor and senator, Rochas Okorocha and vice president Yemi Osinbajo.
While in the PDP, several prominent politicians are also vying for the party’s presidential ticket ahead of the convention slated for May 29.
The names of the presidential aspirants are: Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal; a United States-based medical doctor, Nwachukwu Anakwenze; Newspaper publisher, Dele Momodu; Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike; Investment banker and economist, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen; former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi; Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel and a Pharmacist, Sam Ohuabunwa.
Others are: former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar; former Senate President, Bukola Saraki; former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim and the Governor of Bauchi State, Bala Mohammed, as well as the only female aspirant in the race, Oliver Tareila Diana.
Although some of the aspirants may just be in the race to negotiate their political future, observers say, as the days to the primaries draw closer many of these aspirants would step down and pitch their tent with a more popular and financially buoyant colleague.
In the APC, it is expected that the rich and influential politicians; like Tinubu, and Osinbajo perhaps, may have an upper hand ahead of the primaries in the APC.
This is because due to their strong financial strength they have built structures across Nigeria and can match anyone financially.
Similar situation exists in the PDP where Atiku with his financial strength, political influence could have an upper hand. He is expected to find a competitor in Governor Wike, who also is financially formidable.
Aspirants use money to lure delegates during indirect primaries to their own advantage.
“We have seen this frequently in party primaries in Nigeria, although money is needed for sundry services and logistics such as mobilisation for political campaigns and rallies, printing of posters and manifestoes, production of party emblems and other symbols.
“My worry is that it is not checked. If you look at it critically, it is corrupting and it has not helped us to see good leaders in public positions,” an analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
Pundits say that in order to check undue monetisation of the election process, especially during the primaries, INEC must enforce the Electoral Act and check candidates’ campaign financing.
“If you look at these primaries, is INEC not there as an observer? What happens is that when all this is happening they just look the other way? They are always complicit.
“I am not saying it is new, the politicians need money, but don’t make it look like you are buying the ticket,” Gideon Ayogu, a political analyst said.
He added that the only way out is for INEC to enforce a part of the Electoral Act properly and monitor the primaries rather than allow themselves to be carried away.
“INEC is the one who can monitor the primaries and exercise the law; for now, it is like they are often carried away or colluding with the politicians,” he added.
But Sam Ohuabunwa, one of the aspirants for the PDP presidential ticket, said winning an election does not depend on how wealthy a candidate is but by certain other factors.
According to him, “The history of Nigeria has shown that those who have the war chest have not become president of Nigeria. Or if they won the election, they were not even given the opportunity to rule. The man with the greatest war chest in the private sector was Abiola, he didn’t rule Nigeria. Another person is Atiku who is yet to become the president. Obasanjo, I don’t know how much he had before he became the president of Nigeria, the same with Shagari, Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari and so on.
“So, if they didn’t have, and they became president, I, Mazi will become a president. It doesn’t have to do with money. God, Himself will provide that money or provide the people who have the money to support him. I am not a moneybag and I have not had the opportunity to amass wealth from the sufferings of people. The little I have is from my little investment.”