Might someone be setting democracy up in Nigeria through organised orchestration of dollar rain on delegates in the on-going primaries of the political parties or is the media prominence for the phenomenon a reflection of genuine, popular revulsion against turning electoral process into a sachet of deals? This is the question for determination in Nigerian politics the day after the primaries in the People’s Democratic Party, (PDP) while the country awaits that of the ruling All Progressives Congress, (APC) next week.
Those raising the poser have in mind General Ibrahim Babangida, (IBB)’s use of narratives of Naira rain in party primaries in the past to annul the outcome of such primaries to the unsuspecting fulfillment of the citizens. Such were, however, the General’s way of testing the ground for operationalising that tactic to keep extending his rule. General Buhari might have cut the image of a puritan but he is still another retired General in power, it is being argued. Is it, therefore, a case of a country that can easily fail to connect yesterday to today in its uncritical consumption of mediated representation of the primaries as no more than a cash transaction exercise?
Those raising this question are pointing at what they consider as worrisome signals from the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) such as the election management body’s sudden shift of the deadline for party primaries. The Transition Monitoring Group, (TMG) which is the coalition of civil society election minders, for example, attacked INEC for the action, with Mallam Auwal Musa Ibrahim, aka Rafsanjani saying the coalition received the news with great worries and concerns. His articulation of that grouse is based on the contention that it came when Nigerians were just beginning to have confidence in the electoral umpire, pointing out how what he suspects as the ruling party’s uncertainty regarding the day to conduct its own primaries should not have been the basis for the extension.
In other words, there is a kind of matching speculations about planned instrumentalisation of sundry financial discipline machinery such as the Federal Inland Revenue Service, (FIRS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) unto suspicion of INEC into a coming crackdown in the name of anti-corruption drives to sanitise democracy. The instrumentalisation attracts fury of its critics on one ground: there is nothing new about vote-buying. It is not ethically okay, they say but insist that it is not different from 2011 when dollar was also shared openly.
What is thus suggested from this angle is how strategic the successful holding of the PDP primaries is, whatever the defects. The point stressed is that a PDP presidential candidate in place makes temptations at any quarters to manipulate the transition process impossible.
But there is a counter argument. Even the TMG Chairman, Auwal Ibrahim Rafsanjani said in the same statement referred to earlier that financial inducements of delegates during the primaries had shot up the exchange rate to an all-time high of N610 to a dollar and that it was tantamount to the mortgaging of the country’s future.
He quoted its observers as reporting agents of leading aspirants coordinating large scale vote-buying for their clients seeking political offices, pointing out how far-reaching the influence of money in an election could be because, according to him, politicians who spent to be voted for “will surely work towards recouping the money at the end of the day, and it is still the voters that will be at the receiving end”.
Similarly, THISDAY argues in an editorial opinion (29/05/2022) erected on the overarching standpoint that “Serial abuses of the political process through ruinously expensive primaries and corrupt practices are worrying” offering an analytically and politically weighty point in particular where it said:
“While Atiku Abubakar won the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential primaries last night in Abuja, what has transpired in recent days, especially in the two main parties, has exposed the transactional nature of our politics, the weakness of critical institutions and the fragility of our democracy.
In all civilised societies, the nomination of candidates for various offices by political parties is usually deemed as a recruitment process for leadership hence the strict adherence to due process. Sadly, one general feature of the primaries of both the APC and the PDP at practically all levels has been the extensive use of money to buy delegates and their votes. But a political party nomination process cannot be a bazaar or some hollow rituals. While minor shortcomings may be excusable, serial abuses of the process through corrupt practices are cause for deep concern”.
It is not clear why THISDAY did not make reference to how dollars as opposed to the Naira was openly offered to delegates in 2011 but that would not impeach its standpoint. It would not be long before other Nigerian (and even foreign) newspapers follow with their own editorials, meaning that there is a problem on the ground. The debate, however, is not about a problem on the ground but about how the problem is interpreted.
Should the majority in the national audience see it as bad, then that becomes the meaning of what has generally been seen as revoltingly massive monetization of the struggle for power in a democracy. If that same phenomenon is massively situated in the context of a transition with temptations for manipulation, then the meaning may change again. Given that truth is thus a political project, the question shifts to who has the power to provide the binding narratives on what the dollar rain might mean – the media, academics, civil society platforms, the parties and individuals with the resources or control over these actors in the politics of articulation of hegemonic and counter-hegemonic vibes.
There should, therefore, be no difficulty in decoding it if, tomorrow, we start seeing competing interpretations of the same dollar rain in the different media houses as either moral dirtiness or primitive accumulation or corruption or the demands of practical politics. It will only further prove that truth is a political project.
Meanwhile, the various speculations in the media have not been wide off the marks. Atiku Abubakar’s ascendancy, though never a foregone conclusion, was imminent, in spite of numerous odds generally associated with his candidature. If he goes on to beat the APC and win the presidency, he would be making history on a monumental scale in the light of the perceived minuses, particularly as articulated by his leading traducers and previous superiors. Even if he doesn’t win, he would still be an in-depth interview attraction for students of the political economy of power in Nigerian politics.
Nothing in the foregone removes the big institutional and candidate problems the PDP has created for the APC by going ahead to hold its primaries before the APC. In fact, if the PDP were to take a representational practice of power seriously, it has substantially put the APC on the road to electoral disaster in 2023. Moreover, as things are today, the APC runs the risk of picking a candidate it didn’t plan for and which it might not market to victory, particularly if the PDP were to quickly and successfully operationalize its “family” approach to resolving internal conflict management. The APC and the PDP are not that different but there are many differences between the two.