By Sunday Ani
Less than one year to the 2023 presidential election in Nigeria, the struggle to pick the ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has assumed an interesting dimension. At the last count, about 11 aspirants have already declared their intention to clinch the ticket, with strong indications that more persons would join the fray in the days ahead.
Currently, the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi; Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello; former Governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu; former Governor of Imo State, Senator Rochas Okorocha; Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and Minister of Labour and Employment, Governor Kayode Fayemi, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, Senator Chris Ngige and a business mogul, Chief Moses Ayom have all indicated interest to slug it out for the ticket.
However, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ruling APC, last week, shocked Nigerians when it pegged the cost of the party’s presidential expression of interest and nomination forms at a whopping N100 million.
Since the announcement was made, different schools of thoughts have emerged, with various views on the implications of such a humongous nomination fee. While some are quick to conclude that it was a clear manifestation of the formal emergence of billionaire clubs, others saw it as the completion of the institutionalisation of corruption in the polity. Yet, there are those who believe that it was a subtle way of preventing the younger generation from aspiring to the number one political position in the land, and generally from governance.
Those who view it as the official legalisation of the formation of billionaire clubs among political leaders argued that only Nigerians who are billionaires could dare to pick the form. Their argument is that with the development, the final death knell has just been sounded on the Greek philosopher, Plato’s postulations in the book, ‘Republic’ that only the Philosopher Kings should be allowed into the political leadership of an ideal society. Their worry is not just that a new circle of Nigerian billionaires has been made public; they are also worried that politics will never be the same again as only the billionaires will aspire to lead the country in future if what the APC has done succeeds.
For those who hold the opinion that it is the final stage of the official acceptance of corruption as part of Nigeria’s political system, their calculation is that there is nobody who would cough out such an amount of money just to procure a nomination form and not recoup the money as soon as he wins the election. The question is: “where will the person recoup such money from if not by stealing from the public coffers?” Critical observers believe that the development shows that corruption would be an official signature tune of such a government and has put a big question mark on the APC-led Federal Government’s anti-corruption crusade. To them, the fight against corruption is a ruse as the latest development has just confirmed. In their estimation, none of the ministers, governors or even the vice president earns more than N1.5million per month, except for those with questionable sources of wealth.
Pundits pushing this argument would not even buy into the popular song that some groups or individuals have volunteered to buy the forms for their preferred aspirants.
One of those pushing this view is the former Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Timi Frank, who has described the development as a clear depiction of deepened arrogance in both corruption and governance. He accused the ruling party of reaping from the cesspool of corruption it had enthroned in the country, and thus, entrenching insensitivity like never witnessed in the country.
In a statement he released last week, he said it was unfortunate that in a country where hunger, strife, unemployment, insecurity, disunity, economic hardship, decaying educational system and dwindling standard of living, have become normal act of state policy, the APC slammed a N100 million price tag on Nigerians wishing to vie for the presidency on its platform.
He said: “The moral question that many Nigerians are asking is: How much is the salary of those aiming to buy the APC’s presidential nomination forms? Again, before venturing into politics and probably even attaining their present offices in 2015, how many of the aspirants were known multimillionaires? How many of them before 2015 had businesses yielding dividends, and who are employers of labour; how many?
“What the APC has done is to take advantage of the very rot they have entrenched in the system and reap from corruption that has turned its aspirants to overnight multi-millionaires.
“After all, if in 2015, its then candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, decried the N20 million cost of nomination form, saying he didn’t have the money, what changed suddenly for the APC and its aspirants today that the same Buhari and party leadership have no qualms selling nomination forms for N100 million. If it is argued that it is strictly party affairs, didn’t the same president direct leadership change in the APC recently?”
Another proponent of this school of thought is the President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr. Pogu Bitrus, who said pegging the presidential nomination form at such a humongous amount of money would only mean that many qualified, very good contestants would be shut out. He argued that for anybody to cough out N100 million, such a person must be a multimillionaire or a billionaire because that is one tenth of a billion. “So, APC is saying that politics is not for the poor but for the rich. It also means that anybody who gets into the office after paying such a huge nomination fee will have to recoup his money, thereby encouraging corruption in public offices,” he said.
However, there are others who see what the party has done as a deliberate attempt to shut out the younger generation from aspiring to lead the country. They reasoned that no young person will be able to muster the courage to part with a whopping N100 million in the name of buying the expression of interest and nomination forms alone. It is their considered view that the development had completely rendered impotent and useless the recent ‘Not Too Young To Run Act,’ which young people in Nigeria put so much energy and resources to see that it became a reality.
The ruling party had shocked Nigerians when the party’s spokesman, Felix Morka, after its emergency meeting at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, told Nigerians that the party had settled at N30 million for the expression of interest and N70 million for the nomination forms, bringing the total to N100 million for its presidential ticket.
The party went further to fix N50 million for the expression of interest and nomination forms for governorship aspirants, while Senate and House of Representatives aspirants will have to pay N20 million and N10 million respectively.
The party also fixed N2 million for state legislative aspirants, even as it announced a 50 percent discount for aspirants less than 40 years and free tickets for women and persons living with disabilities.
In 2014, when the party was formed, the presidential expression of interest and nomination forms were sold for N20 million for the 2015 general elections. It was raised to N45 million in 2019 general elections and N100 million for the 2023 general elections.
However, the announcement did not go down well with many Nigerians. They spontaneously bared their minds, with many saying it was a recipe for massive corruption as the aspirants, when in office, would loot massively in order to recoup their money.
Another Nigerian, who argued that the move by the APC had rubbished the ‘Not Too Young To Run Act’ that came into effect in 2018 is the President of Arewa Youths Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima. He said the action was a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise the younger generation from contesting for the office of the president of Nigeria. ‘I can’t imagine a younger person who can muster the courage to buy the form for presidency at such a huge cost,” he added.
On the implication of the development, he said Nigeria would continue to parade the old generation as leaders if adequate measures were not taken urgently. He stressed that any nation that does not respect the younger generation or groom leaders would run into problems because naturally, the old leaders would die some day or they would end up creating a society where it will be very hot for anybody to live. “That is exactly what it implies.”
He lamented that while the younger generations are being encouraged to take over from the old people in other climes, the reverse is the case in Nigeria, as men in their 70s and 80s still want to occupy the political space. He, therefore, charged the younger generation to insist on the right thing to be done. “If the APC decides to put their form at N100 million, then the youths must look for alternative platforms because it is not compulsory that they must contest under the APC. Let us look for an alternative platform and ensure that if one of us picks the form, we must give him all the necessary support. We, the youths, constitute over 80 percent of the voting population; so we can decide the fate of the country. Let us be determined and be united and ensure that our votes go in one direction,” he stated.
Aligning with Shettima, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has also described the APC’s action as insensitive, saying it has cast the party in the image of rogues and hypocrites.
Noting that it was most insensitive and mind-boggling, the party requested that those buying the N100 million and N50 million nomination forms should be investigated for fraud, even as it urged Nigerians to reject the APC and bring back the PDP in 2023 for peace, development and growth to return to Nigeria.
A statement by the PDP National Chairman, Senator Iyorcha Ayu, said what the APC did was to disenfranchise and dash the hopes of millions of Nigerian youths who applauded President Buhari when he signed the ‘Not Too Young To Run Bill’ into law in 2018.
He said: “Nigerians can all see that the APC is a fragmented alliance put together to capture power and inflict maximum pain on Nigerians, including their own members. Nigerians will recall how in 2014, then Gen Muhammadu Buhari, now President and leader of the APC told Nigerians that he borrowed N27 million to buy his nomination form.
“This same man as leader of his party has now sanctioned the sale of the same form at N100 million. I am told that’s an increase of 370 percent.”
He recalled how the Nigerian economy was booming in 2014 but has now been run aground due to the incompetency of the APC, and urged Nigerians to return the PDP to power in 2023 as a better option.
“The incompetency of the APC has now run the economy aground, making Nigeria the poverty capital of the world. How then can the impoverished APC aspirants buy the nominations at such prohibitively high cost?
“We, the PDP, are different. We are a mass movement for the Nigerian people. This is why our nomination fees are soft and democratic. When you compare us with the APC, the difference is clear. This is why we must return to power to save Nigerians from this insensitive government,” he stated.
Also decrying the prohibitive cost of the APC’s presidential nomination form, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) said it was a deliberate move to marginalise the youths, women and average citizens.
Executive Director, CISLAC/Chairman, TMG, Rafsanjani Auwal Ibrahim Musa, described the APC’s decision as a despicable action meant to marginalize the youths, women and average citizens.
He said: “Who can legally afford a N100 million for a Presidential ambition? Despite claims of a 50 per cent reduction in nomination and expression of interest fees, the new Presidential nomination fees of N100 million to N50 million, remains clearly higher than the 2019 Presidential nomination fees which was N45 million (N40 million for nomination form and N5 million for expression of interest form). This will apparently exclude the youths, women and average Nigerians, who have clamoured for improved opportunities to exercise their rights to declare their interests and contest in the elections.”
He agreed that the price tag had equally rubbished the ‘Not Too Young To Run Act’ signed by President Buhari on May 31, 2018, saying, “The 1999 Constitution by omission or commission placed an age barrier by disqualifying persons below the ages of 40 and 30 from contesting for the offices of the President, and membership for House of Representatives and Senate, respectively. Today’s decision by the ruling party, however, makes a mockery of the efforts of all the stakeholders and general public that campaigned vigorously to secure the signing of the ‘Not Too Young To Run Bill’ into law by President Buhari on May 31, 2018. It once again re-emphasises the lack of sincerity of purpose and political inconsistencies that have plagued this administration’s decisions/commitments to any cause or agenda. Needless to say, the ‘Not Too Young To Run law’ has been reduced to only a facade that masks the true drivers of retrogressive politics in Nigeria, which include money politics, god-fatherism and the lopsided economic disparity between the mighty old ruling class and the seemingly apathetic youths, deliberately pauperised by the same criminal political elite. It is very unfair that after securing such a long-sought after victory, an under-handed means has been used to hijack any opportunity whatsoever for a youth in today’s Nigeria to finance his political aspirations. The decision is thus very exclusivist and runs contrary to the purpose of the ‘Not Too Young To Run Act.”
But amidst public outcry, anger and condemnation, the APC has justified its decision. Defending the party’s decision, its Spokesman, Franka Morka, said the decision reflected the country’s situation, stressing that economically, things were not perfect in Nigeria just as they are not perfect anywhere. In an interview with Channels Television last week, he said: “Do you have a country where the economy is perfect? Is it the United States or the United Kingdom? We should make decisions that reflect our situation. The party thinks that the values placed on these forms are justified.”
Although the APC thinks its decisions were justifiable, many Nigerians insist that the party’s action signaled the completion of the institutionalisation of corruption and a formal legalisation of the billionaire clubs among the political elite in Nigeria.
The bottom line is that the cost of the nomination fees is not sinking well with Nigerians who believe that the ruling party should reconsider its decision for the interest of democracy and good governance in the country.