Touching Base With Chido Onumah’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
By Toyin Falola
The past few weeks’ events have made the forthcoming 2023 elections more of a reality to the average Nigerian than they were six months ago. As typical of every election period in Nigeria, there have been party defections; party primaries were rife with irregularities, reckless spending to win delegates over, and unbelievable sums of money doled out in a country touted to be the world’s poverty capital, where universities are currently shut because the academic staff union is at salary-and-allowances-inciting loggerheads with the government. Party flagbearers are emerging in all nooks and crannies of the country, and the scenes replay themselves yet again, as they always do during every election period in Nigeria.
On Sunday, May 22, 2022, we had one of the not-so-common editions of the Toyin Falola Interview Series. It was a discourse that featured veteran journalist and social commentator Dr. Chido Onumah alongside Dr. Jibrin Hussaini, Dr. Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, and Ms. Miriam Oke. It was an intellectually engaging evening that saw our guests extrapolate on some of the major issues that bedevil the Nigerian nation-state during election periods. Let us touch base with some of the points and perspectives Dr. Onumah shared.
The Role of Money in the 2023 Nigerian Elections
Money is the convenient and effective wheel on which many human endeavours run. Thus, we cannot rule out the need for money during elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) budgeted N305 billion for the 2023 General Elections, which is N70.5 billion more than the commission approved for the 2019 elections. Elections cost money — registering voters, acquiring electioneering materials and equipment, setting up registration centres and polling booths, and hiring temporary INEC workers. Spending before, during, and after the elections is necessary. Therefore, it must be a concern for a country like Nigeria if so much is spent on elections when there is little to nothing to show at the end.
Nevertheless, the nation’s election expenditure is not so much a concern compared to aspirants’ and parties’ spending on the electioneering process. As the government spends billions of naira trying to conduct “free, fair, and credible” elections, so do political aspirants and their parties spend billions of naira on winning party blocs, lobbying delegates, buying the electorate’s conscience and consciousness, among other election-winning and money-costing tactics. The recent primaries conducted within Nigeria’s two largest parties — the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) — brought news on how aspirants spent money in reckless abandon, whether or not they were guaranteed their party’s ticket.
What preceded that: the cost of nomination and expression of interest forms across all parties, the highest being the APC’s N100 million demands from all presidential ticket hopefuls? This move raised questions that would ultimately lead to the conclusion that either the contestants have so deeply eaten into the public treasury — given how long many of them have been in the corridors of power — or they are hoping that buying the form would be an investment for which they would receive massive returns if they win the election or get appointed as a minister or for some other political seats.
Yet, purchasing the grossly expensive forms is a baby step the average Nigerian politician needs to take for the 2023 elections. As per calculations, the average presidential aspirant would need over N1 billion to monitor election proceedings and ensure ballots are cast on election day. Additionally, my team and I have calculated the financial costs of properly setting up an independent political party in Nigeria, with all the structures that can help a party gain grounds and win elections. Our calculations resulted in a whopping N200 billion. This shows the high amount of money that goes to electioneering in Nigeria, even when there is hardly any buzz or signs of life in these parties, especially the non-ruling ones, within the three years between every ante-election an election year in Nigeria.
The role of money in Nigerian politics is an all-important one, and Onumah had interesting points to share about the 2023 elections. He touched on how politics has become Nigeria’s major and most lucrative business, making the aftermath of the reckless spending during electioneering periods of much more concern than the actual spending. For Onumah, several Nigerian politicians are in the “business” of politics as a form of investment, knowing that political power offers them the proverbial Midas’ touch to get everything and anything they want. And that point cannot be lost on us, seeing that a position as that of an appointed Accountant-General of the country could conveniently divert billions of naira of public funds to private coffers.
Onumah related the issues of this fast-growing and widespread Nigerian political business to the anomalies of the Nigerian state structure. If the reward for holding political offices in Nigeria were not as huge as it currently is — in terms of salary, sitting allowances, security votes, and constituency allowance, among other huge chunks of unwarranted bonuses that Nigerian elected and appointed public office holders to enjoy — and if there were systems in place that rightly and equitably punish corrupt officials, politicians would not invest so much to get into political offices.
Another valid case that Onumah made for the huge financial resources that go into electioneering in Nigeria is that the financially popular and “open-handed” political aspirant is more likely to win elections in Nigeria. Simply put, the more you can give, your chances of winning are higher. This is not unrelated to how practically impossible it is for the citizens to benefit from the dividends of democracy, such as job-creating and economy-stabilizing policies. The people know that politicians only mingle with the masses and come around to gauge the citizens’ plights during electioneering periods; thus, citizens are willing to take whatever they can from the politicians during campaigns and elections, even if it means suffering the consequences for four years or more.
The need to satisfy citizens by reinforcing their stomach infrastructure during the electioneering process is another reason money plays an important role in elections in Nigeria. Videos and news stories from the party primaries have shown the huge amount of money politicians have spent to convince a few hundred delegates in their parties to vote for them. One can then begin to mentally project how much more they would need to convince millions of people to get them to their political destination come 2023.
Will 2023 Bring True Change, Or Will It Be a Waste of Time and Resources?
Undeniably, Nigerians have been scarred. After the huge failure of the Goodluck Jonathan government in several aspects, including security and the national economy, the APC ran one of the most successful PR campaigns in Nigeria, selling the citizens on the status, integrity, and identity of Muhammadu Buhari, who would bring change to the country. Seven years later, the citizens have experienced nothing short of a disturbing and devastating change. This charring, caused by the Buhari administration, led to a poor voter turnout in the 2019 presidential election compared to the 2015 election.
This time, the 2023 presidential election will be similar to the 2015 presidential election. The citizens are tired of the Buhari-led government’s baggage and are yearning for a more refreshing leadership. This would, in turn, lead to a surge in the number of voters, as there has been an increase in the clamour for voters’ registration among frustrated citizens. However, would the citizens have wasted their time and resources at the polls when they turn out for the 2023 presidential election, with hopes in hand and ballot papers inked for whom they think fit the task?
According to Dr. Onumah, to consider things in general terms, the 2023 elections would be a waste of the electorate’s time because the issues bedevilling the country are foundational, so much so that no matter how qualified the next president is, he or she would not be able to do a good job of getting the nation back on track within the constitutionally stipulated timeframe. The problems Nigeria is currently facing, including the immolation of Deborah Samuel in the North and the cold-blooded murder of a military couple in the East, indicate Nigeria is bitterly divisive. It is akin to a couple who, although not divorced, have a troubled home where they fight bitterly and hurt each other dangerously. Separated, yet not legally divorced, and still living under the same roof. Of course, this analogy only briefly compares to what is currently plaguing the Nigerian nation-state.
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Despite these divisive issues in Nigeria, there has been no pin drop in the camps of the Nigerians contesting to be the nation’s president in 2023. They are far more buried in their aspirations and the repercussion of commenting on ethnically and religiously motivated actions like Deborah’s gruesome murder and the killing of the army couple. Nigeria is faced with so many internal issues, so much so that in Onumah’s opinion, the best that could happen to Nigeria now is for its next president to serve as a transitional president who would raise discussions and make moves about the structure and nature of the country and on the amendment of the constitution, to mention a few. For Onumah, the Buhari government has worsened matters bordering on national unity and cohesion; thus, the 2023 president has to be able to act as a transition president to help us touch on those painful, deep-seated, and foundational issues that the country is seriously avoiding but which need to be resurfaced and resolved, without which we cannot progress.
But then, what is the possibility of the 2023 president acting as a transition president? History shows us that Nigerian political officeholders are too selfish. As a result, it would be practically impossible to have any of the 2023 presidential aspirants consider themselves as the forerunner of another government that will benefit from and ride on the glory of the fruits that the expected turbulence of the next four years would bring. Nigeria is in disarray, and it is more than disheartening to see that the citizens and the political class seemingly live in different worlds within the same country.
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While the people writhe and languish in pains brought by ethnoreligious and socio-political divisions, the political class, which is only one small class — regardless of the façade represented by political parties, religions, or ethnic groups — continues to make beneficial alignments and arrangements to further steal from the nation’s treasury and render the citizens lonely and miserable. They spend recklessly, to the point that it is difficult to believe that within the same country touted as the world’s poverty capital are political office holders who command several billions of naira and can easily afford to dole out tens of thousands of dollars per delegate to hundreds of delegates. As the 2023 elections approach, Nigerian citizens need to know that there are several issues. Despite how the political class disguised as stupid and clueless in their deeds and public appearances or bloopers, they are wise and calculating. They are the new crop of oppressors who took over from the colonisers, and if anything, history tells us that oppressors do all in their power to keep the oppressed on a leash.
Though democracy gives power to the people, what is practised in Nigeria is far from being a democratic system. Thus, as the people increasingly become politically conscious, strategize, and plan for a better tomorrow, the political class is also assiduously making moves to throw clogs in the wheel and bring the nation to a grounding halt or a non-stop retrogressive movement. May they not succeed in their mission! Amen.
. This is the second report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:
Falola is a Nigerian historian and professor of African Studies. He is currently the Jacob and Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin.
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Touching Base With Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi’s Perspectives On Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
By Toyin Falola
Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi is a well-versed law professor, international relations activist, and commentator. It was delightful to have her join us, alongside Miriam Oke, Chido Onumah, and Jibrin Hussaini, at the last edition of the Toyin Falola Interviews, where we discussed Nigeria’s 2023 elections.
If anything, the primaries being organised in the nation’s two most influential parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress, are pointers to what should be expected of the 2023 Nigerian elections. As is customary, the primaries have been rife with electoral malpractices, vote-buying, and unscrupulous voting figures, and there is a shocking video posted on Twitter by Bashir Ahmad, former Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on New Media, who lost his bid to secure the ticket of the APC to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives primaries in his home state of Kano. The video shows how supposed delegates are handed pre-ticked ballot boxes and are asked to put them in the ballot box without even batting an eyelid at the malpractice.
The ball is being set in motion. Atiku Abubakar is the People’s Democratic Party flag bearer for the presidential seat. The All Progressives Congress has recently screened its presidential hopefuls and will soon appoint its flagbearer. Peter Obi, who defected from the People’s Democratic Party to the Labour Party and has since been elected as the party’s flagbearer for the presidential seat, is a seeming third wheel in the routine two-dominant-party multi-party system practised in the country. The stage is set. Or is it?
This piece is not much of a sequel to the one on Chido Onumah’s perspectives on the 2023 elections because Dr Akiyode-Afolabi had her unique views on the questions asked. Nonetheless, it will follow a similar pattern, where we will examine points touched on by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi during the interview.
Electoral Violence and Nigeria’s 2023 Elections
Sad as it may seem, electoral violence is an immemorial issue rocking the Nigerian state. Throughout all its republics, Nigeria has witnessed killings and maiming during election periods — whether at the polling booths on election day or among political rivals setting targets on each other’s backs. Nigeria’s electoral process is peculiar, involving the recruitment of violent electoral mercenaries, often branded as party thugs. These thugs sign off their loyalty to a political party and wreak havoc on the party’s behalf — from ballot snatching to intimidating voters to bow to their party’s will.
In the Nigerian political scene, these party thugs sit with political kings. They are deemed crucial to the electoral process and candidates’ success. The recruitment and payment of these party thugs consume huge financial resources. However, political leaders and public officeholders fail to consider the expected uselessness of the party thugs within the governance period of three to four years that separate pre-election and election years. Having tasted ill-gotten wealth that far surpasses what they could have earned honestly, and without any honest and paying job, these party thugs resort to all sorts of vice to pay their bills and keep themselves in shape. Thus, it is not uncommon to find that party thugs become robbers, kidnappers, bandits, and street-terrorising thugs who incessantly cut holes through the state’s peace, security, and quiet.
In most cases, we would rather relate the incessant kidnappings and unrest to unknown gunmen or herdsmen-bandits rather than the true perpetrators of the evil — anarchical party thugs with weapons they were equipped with during the election period. Thus, the rivalry for power and politicians’ insatiable desire for control, regardless of the extent they go to get it, could be strongly linked to the violent crises that have rocked the country for a while now.
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For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, violent political mercenaries in Nigeria and the political aspirants and parties who are their enablers act out of an abundant enjoyment of sheer impunity — the knowledge that they can do and undo, wreak whatever havoc they want to, without bearing the consequences. Although several of the perpetrators of this electoral violence are known, nothing is done to bring them to justice, further reinforcing the need to carry out their vice during the next election. Over the years, electoral violence has become a norm in Nigeria, and nothing is being done to curb the menace, especially in punishing the perpetrators. Thus, the electorate have joined the camp of political aspirants and political thugs who see electoral violence as part of the electioneering process in Nigeria. For members of the electorate who have difficulty processing electoral violence as a part of the electioneering process, the option of apathy kicks to the surface — especially among women and the youth who earnestly believe politics in Nigeria is a dirty game, and electoral violence is inevitable. Thus, it is not surprising that Nigeria has had a low voter turnout over the years.
The case of electoral violence and the state’s reaction to it is like several other policies in Nigeria. While the Electoral Act was proactively drafted to cover electoral violence and how to punish offenders and culprits, there has not been any action to make that part of the Act functional. It is akin to the numerous nation-improving policies whose existence has never gone beyond the paper. If we were to dig to the roots of why the aspect of the Nigerian Electoral Act that punishes electoral violence has not been enforced, we would be quick to find out that the average Nigerian politician is either directly or indirectly complicit. Thus, those at the helm and those willing to take over from them are all involved, making them reluctant to enforce the punishment for electoral violence, that is, if they consider punishing the crime at all.
Nigeria’s Three-faced Need and the Importance of a Long-term Agenda
The need for a long-term agenda should not be misconstrued as supporting the cabalistic unending Northern presidency agenda or any other agenda that does not mean well for Nigeria as a nation. Rather, it represents Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s thoughts on what is truly needed to get Nigeria out of its current quagmire. The international relations activist considers the 2023 elections in Nigeria a big issue for the country, particularly because there are more people interested in the presidential position than we have had in quite a while. Nonetheless, most of these aspirants are people who have either held a political position or currently hold one. They are people we know so well. Given their deeds while in office, it will be difficult to convince any right-thinking Nigerian that there is hope for the country if any of the candidates being paraded were elected as president.
The double tragedy that is Buhari’s eight years in office has seen the country go from bad to worse. The country’s debts keep piling up, with no way of repaying them year after year. The people are impoverished, and the currency continually suffers a blow of worthlessness and devaluation, inflation, and the unemployment rate keeps rising. To make matters worse are the rife killings, banditry, and the near state of anarchy that the country has been thrown into. Has any of the numerous candidates aspiring for the presidential seat shown they are the visionary yet pragmatic leaders that can help Nigeria realise a remarkable positive change?
Careful consideration of the likeliest players at the 2023 polls, vis-à-vis the criterion above, would show that Nigeria is not prepared for an election. Dr Akiyode-Afolabi proposed a three-aspect strategy to help us discover a new Nigeria. These are aspects that cannot be fully realised within a four-year term. Thus, there is the need for Nigerian politicians, regardless of their differences—although there are no marked differences in Nigerian politics—to consider government as a continuum and treat it as such. This will help ensure that even if power falls to the opposition camp, the remarkable and change-focused plans that have been kicked into action by the previous government will continue to be nurtured by the new government. This is the only way we can fully realise the three-dimensional solution proposed by Dr Akiyode-Afolabi.
Dr Akiyode-Afolabi’s first proposed dimension is the need for an empowered political class. The Nigerian political field is riddled with whimsical people who are of the anything-goes breed as long as they get elected to office. That is why serial defection is nothing to them, and they can shamelessly befriend a foe today and betray a friend tomorrow. They are overly selfish lot who constantly put personal needs and gains before national needs and expected gains. The Nigerian political class needs to be empowered enough to engage the electorate in an ideological and issue-based manner. A look at the pre-campaign clamouring in the camps of the presidential aspirants will show that they think so little of Nigerians that they believe not much is needed in the way of plans and strategies to convince the people. It is also why Nyensom Wike, who lost his party’s presidential ticket, deemed it fit to incessantly chant, “give me power… power!” To him, that was enough to get him the ticket to become Nigeria’s next president.
The coming months will show us lamentable political campaigns with no depth, so shallow that every reasonable Nigerian would be too ashamed to identify with a country where such gimmicks pass as enough campaign to convince the people to vote for someone. There is a need to empower citizens and help kick structures in place to organise Nigerians and help them truly understand what they want. Nigeria has so much suffered from poor governance that asking the average electorate what they expect from the aspirants — what they look forward to hearing that could convince them to vote for an aspirant — would most likely render them stammering.
In Nigeria, constitutional reformation is of great necessity. The Nigerian Constitution has outlived its essence. What use is a constitution if it does not amply meet the state’s needs nor adequately answer its citizens’ burning questions? The systems of the constitution no longer effectively serve us as a nation, which is why there have been agitations and clamouring for secession, restructuring, regionalisation, and central policing, among other issues raised. In the end, until Nigeria intentionally kicks these three dimensions into action, and until there are successive tenures that consider the government as a continuum and reach a knowing agreement to nurture and not impede the realisation of the three-dimensional issue, a new and positive Nigeria will be anything but reality.
- *** This is the third and final report on the interview held on May 22, 2022, on the 2023 elections in Nigeria. The views of our distinguished panelists have traveled wide and have been reported in several newspapers.
For the transcript, see:
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