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Democracy: It’s not always about money

When it was just a few hours to the end of campaigning before Nigeria’s presidential election, there was an unruly crowd at the headquarters of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The crowd was not there to cheer PDP. The crowd was there to collect their money.

Amongst them was a group from Lagos which was demanding N10million, about $50,000 (U.S.) for its campaign efforts for the incumbent president. The leaders of the group reportedly said they were offered only N100,000 a small fraction of what they originally demanded, and they were shouting at the guards at the gate.

Close-by, another group, mostly women were seeking payment for attending a campaign rally. “We want our money,” they were also shouting.


In Nigeria, money is what makes politics go around. Money buys votes, buys bags of rice as gifts for voters, buys the support of local leaders, and buys the wall-to-wall campaign advertisements that have dominated Nigeria’s television channels and newspapers for several months.

Last Saturday’s presidential election where about 70 million eligible voters voted is widely believed to be the most expensive in African history.

The history of Nigerian politics is replete with money-bag politics. Although, there is hardly any country in the world where instances of bribery or political corruption are not present in their national politics, researches on Africa’s post colonial history, have however shown that, in Africa, corruption is an institutionalized and a systemic practice affecting the majority of the citizenry.

Election advertising is so massive that it squeezes out most other commercials on television. The PDP and its wealthy supporters paid for a 36-page glossy advertising supplement in major newspapers for weeks in addition to the dozens of full-page ads it bought every day for three months. The PDP also paid for lengthy documentaries which attacked the main opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.

An assault

All over the world, democracy is adjudged to be the best form of government but it is being constantly assaulted in Nigeria due to the phenomenon of money politics and vote buying.

Since May 29th, 1999, when Nigeria enthroned democratic governance in the fourth republic, the dividends of democracy have been very scanty. One main reason for this is the fact that the concept and practice of democracy appears to be at variance in Nigeria.

Money and vote buying have vitiated the good qualities of democracy in the country. The destructive power of money politics has over the years undermined good governance. Money and vote buying have earned many a dominant position in the election of officers into position of authority where they authoritatively decide who gets what, when and how.

A recent survey of 2,520 randomly selected Nigerians this year, conducted for the Washington-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems, found that 48 per cent of those interviewed said they would “take the money” if offered for their vote; 45 per cent of those surveyed said they would not sell their vote under any circumstances. Others said they would collect money and still vote for who they want to vote.

Financial inducement to voters at campaign rallies is standard practice in Nigeria. Politicians often give out money, bags of rice and other gifts to Nigerians at their events.

According to estimates by observers, politics is expensive even at lower levels. To run for a seat in Nigeria’s House of Representatives, candidates need a minimum of $500,000 to $1-million (U.S.).

To contest for the Senate is even more expensive.

It is a common belief that at the end of the day, elections are bought and this is so widespread and blatant, and it’s such a fundamental part of the problem in Nigeria.

Money played a key role in the contest between incumbent president Jonathan and General Buhari.

At a stage during the contest, the All Progressives Congress Presidential Campaign Organisation, APCPCO accused the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan campaign organisation of frittering away N1tr of tax payers money to sponsor hate campaigns to tarnish the image of leaders of the APC.

The APCPCO said the money was spent on advertorials in newspapers as well as sponsorship of damaging documentaries on the APC presidential candidate, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari(retd.), and other party leaders.

The Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, denied the allegation and accused the APC of paranoia and desperation in its futile attempt to claim power.

The Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Alhaji Abdullahi Jalo, said, “It is now clear that the APC has nothing else to tell Nigerians, who have made up their minds to return President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP. Ask them, how much is Nigeria’s budget? They should talk on issues and stop this propaganda.”

But Garba Shehu had responded, “A panoramic view of how much Nigeria’s resources Jonathan and PDP have laboriously and wantonly spent on print, broadcast and social media campaigns just to damage the unassailable credential of Gen Buhari’s integrity will confound any casual observer of the polity in recent times.

The APC campaign also accused Jonathan of criss-crossing Nigeria and giving an average of N50m each to traditional rulers, most especially in the South-West and the northern parts of Nigeria.

The race was more of a conflict of personalities and organizations. And it’s clear, from the advertising, that PDP had far greater financial resources.

The integrity question

But if indeed money answers all things, there is one thing it will always fail to buy, and that is credibility. Although both parties used financial inducement, the campaign between Buhari and Jonathan was more of campaign between money and integrity, Jonathan representing money and Buhari representing integrity. The credibility of Nigerian politics has been absolutely mired by the role money plays. Money is not evil in itself, but its use in the pursuit of power has broken the fragile conscience of even the youngest breed of the Nigerian citizen.

Before the politics of wanton and reckless showmanship of mammonism, politics was about a good and revered name. In the days of the Azikiwes, the Awolowos, the Eyo Itas, the Enahoros, the Margaret Ekpos, and those in their exclusive class, politics was about integrity. These politicians were not fabulously rich but they had a good name and an undying passion to deliver their people from the shackles of colonialism and imperialism.

But since the incursion of the military into Nigeria’s politics, Nigeria witnessed a gradual putrefaction of patriotism and seeds of corruption began to breed, maturing into today’s monetised politics. Money became the only way men could secure their living.

Moreover, INEC placed a heavy price tag on those seeking public office and for that also, money will always mess up the process. As long as a huge monetary commitment is required of those who want to serve, the system will hardly be rid of dubious men. All what this has produced is more and more business politicians, who invest money to gain power and reap a harvest of funds for the public good. The presidential candidates in last Saturday’s election paid N27m to obtain their forms.

The concept of god-fatherism has also played out across states in Nigeria. We still remember the case of the self-styled strong man of Ibadan politics, Lamidi Adedibu and the case of Chris Uba and Dr. Ngige which was the messiest evidence of politics of trade by barter going on in Nigeria. Chris Uba had the effrontery to declare war on the Ngige government because his monetary investments were being threatened.

The fraud perpetrated by politicians during elections since 1999 and the big money that exchanged hands overtime is monumental. The last presidential election was explicit . Critics would agree that big money in politics, used mostly to buy votes, electoral officers and political thugs to clobber the opposition has exacerbated the “kleptomania” in the society. Politicians have the obsessive desire to steal and amass enough money to enable them sludge it out politics. The money-induced political power struggle has corrosive effect on the political process.

At present, a specter is haunting Nigeria – the specter of corruption fueled by moneybags. The Nigerian politicians have not yet imbibed the democratic principles that permit them to act as true democrats, except to steal and destroy others.

During the 2003 politics, the moneybags made billions of Naira donations toward the re-election campaign of the then president Obasanjo. His party (PDP) served as conduit for corrupt governors and public servants to channel their loots to his campaign.

Nevertheless, whenever the President felt that his administration was sliding into irrelevance, he would create a ripple in the polity to drum his reforms programs. But his diversionary tactics did not tame corruption or curb the politics of “give and take” and “kleptocracy.”

Why money failed Jonathan

Despite the outrageous sum he squandered for the election, Nigerians still preferred an opposition government and a new breath of life. Although both parties spent a lot of money, the ruling party , the PDP spent more.

Yet, the incumbent President Jonathan lost.

In a situation like this, one point at which friends, admirers, foes and detractors agree upon the person of General Muhammadu Buhari is the issue of his transparent, honest and incorruptible nature. Based on his antecedents, many believe that a man with strict disciplinary qualities can tame the behemoth of corruption and liberate Nigerians from that scourge’s destructive impact. If corruption in Nigeria is reduced by 50% , over 70% of our problems will be solved. And it takes an incorruptible person to sincerely fight corruption.

Another possible reason is a strong yearning for change. In Nigeria, many people are yearning for change and the person who is entrusted to facilitate the change must be that person who can make the difference. In today’s Nigeria, General Muhammadu Buhari is a solid character and indisputable political leader with the largest number of ardent followers across the country. His followers are not induced, purchased, coerced or brainwashed. They follow him based on the admiration of his trustworthiness, honesty of purpose, courage, patriotism and disciplined nature.

Former military president, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, recently said President Goodluck Jonathan lost the presidential election to Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress, APC, because Jonathan failed to meet the yearnings and aspiration of Nigeria’s citizens.

In his congratulatory message to Buhari, he said: “Buhari deserves this victory. The country had witnessed a downward trend and wanted a leader who would salvage it. Nigerian politicians have a lot of lessons to learn from the election and Buhari’s victory and one of this is that an incumbent could be defeated if he did not do well as President.

“ This victory to me conveys two significant statements on our political history and evolution. First; that incumbents can be defeated in any democratic process if the people’s aspirations are not fulfilled. Second, that there is good reward for perseverance and hard work. General Buhari has been very consistent in pursuing his political aspiration. In fact, he reminds me of President Abraham Lincoln of the American fame, who was very dogged in pursuing his political aspiration and enriched the contents of democracy in America. General Buhari lives true to his military calling by remaining very consistent, resilient and courageous right from 2003 till date. This enviable feat to me further enriches our democratic process and matures us into the top echelon of nations where democracy has taken firm root. That President Jonathan has indeed conceded defeat and congratulated the President-elect is also cheering news.”

Nigeria is consistently ranked as one of the world’s most corrupt nations and the north is wracked by the brutal Boko Haram Islamist insurgency.

Jonathan was accused of failing to take on endemic problems but sitting on them.

“He has always said ‘Oh yes, we will take care of that,’” said Pat Utomi, a professor at Lagos Business School and prominent political commentator. “I think he meant to do well… but it seems there was never clarity in his head of where he wanted Nigeria to be.”


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