Nigeria’s democracy is stuck in deeply corrupt politics. Terribly sad! – Businessday

Businessday Ng –
Truth is, in countries where the sources of politicians’ wealth matter and are scrupulously examined, where the political system is protected against corruption, few of the aspirants would have dared to run for president It was incongruous that this year’s “Democracy Day”, marked on June 12, came immediately after the utterly flawed presidential primaries that […]
Truth is, in countries where the sources of politicians’ wealth matter and are scrupulously examined, where the political system is protected against corruption, few of the aspirants would have dared to run for president
It was incongruous that this year’s “Democracy Day”, marked on June 12, came immediately after the utterly flawed presidential primaries that threw up depressingly unsavoury candidates for the two major parties – Bola Tinubu for the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Atiku Abubakar for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
How could anyone talk of “Democracy Day” after such discreditable primaries. There’s truly nothing to celebrate in a democracy built on a corrupt and broken politics.
Well, if you ask me, Obasanjo was absolutely right.
The phrase “garbage in, garbage out” is used in computing to convey the idea that poor-quality input will produce poor-quality output. The same is true of democracy: its integrity hinges on the quality of the underlying process that produces candidates for elections. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, that process – party primaries – has been bastardised by politicians and political parties.
From a “garbage in, garbage out” point of view, the starting point for our analysis must be the quality of the politicians “inputted” into the presidential primary process. How high or how low is their integrity? Let’s be honest, for most of them, it’s very low indeed!
A few months before the primaries, former President Olusegun Obasanjo made the point that if the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), had done their jobs properly, many of the politicians jostling for political offices “should have been in jail.” Well, if you ask me, Obasanjo was absolutely right.
Truth is, in countries where the sources of politicians’ wealth matter and are scrupulously examined, where the political system is protected against corruption, few of the aspirants would have dared to run for president. But such scrutiny is acutely lacking in Nigeria, and the consequence was the conspicuous display of unexplainable wealth during the highly monetised primaries, which inevitably favoured those with the deepest pockets, the largest war chests. Yet, when a democracy favours the stupendously wealthy, with dubious provenance, when it favours the highest bidder, it’s no longer true democracy.
In an ideal world, political parties would mediate the process; they would serve as bastions of democratic values and honest politics; they would give citizens credible choices in elections. But in Nigeria, the main parties are enablers of practices that erode political integrity and democratic legitimacy; practices that privilege the rich in the parties’ internal “democratic” processes.
Take the ruling APC. In a country dubbed the “poverty capital of the world”, the APC exposed itself as an out-of-touch party “by the rich for the rich” when it sold its presidential forms for a whopping N100 million; the main opposition PDP settled for a relatively ‘modest’ N40 million! But why did APC sell its presidential forms for N100 million? Well, it gave two reasons, namely: 1) it needed money to conduct its presidential primary and 2) the amount would deter unserious aspirants.
But the first reason wasn’t true because, despite raking in about N3billion from the sale of the presidential forms, the APC was still patently unprepared to hold its presidential primary by INEC’s original deadline of June 3. It had to shift it to June 6 to 8, taking advantage of INEC’s extension of the deadline by six days to June 9. Even so, the primary was amateurish, beset with technical hitches and organisational hiccups that led to several suspensions of voting, and the prolongation of the event by several hours! So, where did the money go?
And what about the APC’s second reason? Did the N100 million price tag deter frivolous aspirants? Far from it. A motley crowd of 28 people bought the forms. Of these, three didn’t submit them, two withdrew before the primary and eight stepped down at the primary; nevertheless, each forfeited the N100 million they paid for the forms.
Here’s the puzzle. Why would anyone pay N100 million to buy a nomination form, and perhaps spend additional N50m to run a campaign, for a presidential primary, knowing he had absolutely no chance of winning and would eventually step down? Some say it’s a bargaining ploy. But it defies rationality to “invest” such an enormous sum of money in a political gamble based on some pie-in-the-sky calculation of putative returns. Well, you might say that Nigerian politicians aren’t the most rational people in the world, and I would concur!
Yet, from a political integrity standpoint, there’s a far more important question: Where did the aspirants, especially those who have all along been public officers, get the money from? Well, most of them said their supporters bought the forms for them. Fair enough, political donations are part of the democratic process. But can they publish details of the donors? Or is that too much to ask? Of course not!
That’s the standard practice in civilised nations. For instance, in the US, under the stringent rules of the Federal Election Campaign Act, all contributions, both monetary and in-kind, to presidential campaigns, including presidential primary elections, must be documented and, above certain thresholds, published. Similarly, in the UK, campaign donations must be recorded and reported to the Electoral Commission.
To be sure, true democracy and honest politics are impossible without stringent transparency and accountability rules on campaign donations. But Nigeria’s electoral law is silent on the transparency and accountability of election financing, thus stripping the political and democratic processes of critical safeguards against corruption.
Well, corruption was in full force in the presidential primaries, with the blatant bribing of delegates. The popular phrase during the PDP’s presidential primary was “dollar rain”, a term coined to depict how presidential aspirants were showering delegates with dollars – not naira – to secure their votes. Delegates at APC’s presidential primary were equally corruptly induced; they were “bought” and sequestrated by the rich aspirants, with the highest bidder pocketing and carting away the largest number of delegates.
Read also: Democracy Day: Memories of Enahoro, Kaltho and others
Indeed, the dollarisation of the primaries was so widespread that the value of the naira in the foreign exchange market dropped precipitously. A front-page story in the Guardian read: “Politicians crowd out private businesses from the FX market.” The newspaper added that “private sector operators cannot match the ‘war chests’ of politicians who are now major competitors in the currency market.”
Of course, the delegates made a killing with hard currencies, but they did so by selling their votes!
In a recent TV interview, Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State said that President Muhammadu Buhari told him he wanted the delegates to “vote their conscience”. Buhari himself later hailed his party’s presidential primary as “the most competitive in the history of Nigeria’s democracy.” But these are patently false claims. There’s absolutely no grain of truth in them.
Take the claim about delegates voting their conscience. How could they when they were “owned” by their paymasters and told what do? Every governor “owned” the delegates from his state and traded their votes with the presidential aspirant that offered the biggest incentives. In fact, the governors were so powerful that they got delegates to vote against the re-nominations of sitting federal legislators – about 70% are not returning to the National Assembly. The mass defenestration prompted the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gabajabiamila, to complain that “the delegate system is not working as a delegate system ought to work.” The delegates simply couldn’t vote their conscience!
What about Buhari’s claim that the APC’s presidential primary was “competitive”? Of course, it wasn’t. There wasn’t a level-playing field in a situation where a stupendously wealthy aspirant could buy over other aspirants and “settle” governors and their delegates.
So, here’s the truth: the process for producing candidates for elections in Nigeria is utterly corrupt, fuelled by massive unexplained wealth and skewed in favour of the highest bidder. But, garbage in, garbage out: Nigeria can’t have true democracy with a corrupt politics!
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Business Day, established in 2001, is a daily business newspaper based in Lagos. It is the only Nigerian newspaper with a bureau in Accra, Ghana. It has both daily and Sunday titles. It circulates in Nigeria and Ghana
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