From Romanus Ugwu and Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja
There is something new in the Nigerian political firmament. It is the practice of supporters “procuring” expression of interest and nomination forms for aspirants to the various elective offices in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.
After these forms are purchased, they are presented to the aspirants at an elaborate ceremony. From presidential to governorship aspirants down to those seeking to contest the national and state assemblies, it has been the same game.
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It started from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), when a group of businessmen paid N40 million to obtain the opposition party’s presidential expression of interest and nomination forms for former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar.
The opposition party had barely started the sales of nomination forms for the 2023 general elections, when a group stormed the PDP national secretariat to obtain the nomination forms for Atiku.
The group under the aegis of North East Business Community, which later presented the forms to Atiku, at his Asokoro, Abuja residence, said that the gesture was in fulfillment of their promise to purchase the forms for the former vice president as an expression of their support for his presidential bid.
In the preceding days, different groups equally obtained nomination forms for the Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwal; former Anambra governor, Peter Obi; former Senate President, Bukola Saraki; former Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim and Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed.
In all, no fewer than six of the 15 aspirants cleared for the PDP May 28/29 presidential primary had their expression and nomination forms obtained for them by different groups. Similarly, several governorship, national and state assembly aspirantsin the party had their forms purchased for them by groups.
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However, the reasons adduced for purchasing the forms differed from one group to another. For instance, the North East Business Community said that they obtained the nomination forms for Atiku in fulfillment of their promise to pay for his forms as part of their support to his 2023 presidential ambition.
On the other hand, a youth group comprising professionals and business persons, who purchased the PDP forms for Saraki said that they did so because they believed in his ability to protect the interest of young persons, if he is elected president.
The leader of the group, Abubakar Danmusa, had noted: “We are particularly unhappy that the country is not providing the right atmosphere for the millions of its youths to serve as agents of development. Instead, many of our compatriots are being forced to go into negative activities because the system is not encouraging them to utilise their positive potential.
“It is for these reasons that we concluded that we should not leave the process leading to the emergence of the next president of our country to only politicians. We have decided to get involved right from the pre-primary election period. We are determined to ensure that only good, solid, forward-looking, and visionary candidates emerge to vie for the February 2023 presidential elections.
“These are boxes we have created for the next president of Nigeria to tick. After an intensive search, we have found a man who ticks almost all the boxes.
“He is, fortunately, one of the leaders of your party, the PDP. He is Dr Abubakar Bukola Saraki… a consummate friend of the Nigerian youths.”
Similarly, Like Minds for Peter Obi, who paid for the nomination forms of former Anambra governor, said that they did it because of their conviction that Obi has the capacity to fix the country.
According to the leader, Ekene Nwakuche, “we want the country to move forward. We think Peter Obi can steer it forward and we believe in him because we’ve seen what he did in Anambra when he was a governor. And we have heard him talk, he has the wealth of experience to lead Nigeria to the Promised Land. We are not in this thing because of any gain. We’re doing it because of our children to come.”
The groups that obtained forms for Tambuwal and Anyim also expressed the same sentiments about the duo.
Nevertheless, an Abuja-based group, Brekete Family, which paid for Emmanuel Udom’s nomination forms, added a new twist to the form purchase fad.
The group said that its objective was to purchase 10 nominations forms for aspirants across different political parties to contest the 2023 presidential poll.
Innocent Orji, who led the group to purchase the forms at the PDP secretariat, told journalists that the gesture was part of measures to hold political leaders accountable.
According to him, “the idea of holding somebody accountability will take place because if we are joined together and put him there, no one person in any form or shape will claim ownership that he installed him, that he is one that paid for him.”
However, there have divergent views whether support groups actually financed the purchase of forms for the aspirants, jostling for various offices in the 2023 general elections.
A school of thought believes that most of the aspirants may have actually provided the fund with which their forms were procured by the support groups.
The National Chairman of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Dan Nwanyanwu, belongs to this school of thought. Nwanyanwu said that it is not possible that the support groups actually raised funds to buy nomination forms for aspirants.
Nwanyanwu said: “The issue of groups buying forms is another lie. I don’t know why people in high offices tell lies. Even in their homes, their children will say ‘daddy, this is a lie’. Look at the people going to buy the forms; I bet you, if you arrest all of them and search them, very few will have N1,000 in their pockets. Some will beg for transport to go home.”
Analysts say the purchase of forms by the support groups might actually just be a way by the aspirants to show off their support base, ahead of the congresses and convention to nominate candidates for the next general elections.
In the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the story is the same.
From the presidential to the national and state assembly aspirants jostling for the tickets of the ruling party, only very few courageously claimed to have raised their nomination funds.
For instance, presidential aspirants like Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Prof Yemi Osibanjo, Rotimi Amaechi, Senator Godswill Akpabio, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, Senator Chris Ngige, Senator Rochas Okorocha, Senator Ibikunle Amosu, Pastor Tunde Bakare, Adams Oshiomhole, Prof Ben Ayade, Governor Dave Umahi, Dr Kayode Fayemi, Emeka Nwajiuba, Senator Ken Nnamani, Governor Yahaya Bello, Governor Mohammed Badaru Abubakar (Jigawa), Godwin Emefiele, Governor Ahmed Yerima, Senator Ahmad Lawan, Timipre Sylva, among others are comfortable enough to pay for the forms, yet they claimed to have raised the funds from elsewhere.
A typical example was the frontline aspirant and former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Tinubu, who got the form from an umbrella body of all groups supporting his ambition, the Tinubu Support Groups (TSG), led by both Hon James Faleke and Babachir Lawal.
As for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the presumed help came from passionate team of support groups and individuals across the country, coordinated by the Osinbajo Support Groups.
The same scenario played out for the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan, where a political group, National Stability Project, led by Sam Nkire, picked the N100 million presidential nomination forms for the Nigerian number one lawmaker.
To be or not to be, a group under the aegis of Coalition of Northern Groups did the unthinkable when their members allegedly sold several herds of cows to raise the required fund to purchase the presidential forms for former President Goodluck Jonathan, even without his consent and authorisation.
It was the same ridiculous situation when groups, comprising Rice Farmers Association of Nigeria, Friends of Emefiele and Emefiele Support Group, pulled resources together to pick the form for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele.
Funny as it may sound also, a coalition of 28 groups, comprising Youth Arise Movement; Nigerians in Diaspora, One Nigeria Group; Prudent Youth Association of Nigeria; women groups, farmers, people with disabilities and other civil society organisations, paid the mandatory N100 million to forcefully drag and draft the Managing Director of African Development Bank, Akiwunni Adesina into the contest.
Similarly, in most of the states across the country, aspirants equally hid under the pretence that friends or political associates and public-spirited individuals sponsored them after raising the whopping amount of money required to purchase the forms.
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Call it the cloak to portray their credibility in office and align them with the President Muhammadu Buhari anti-corruption posture, or strategy to deceive the electorate, it became a workable method adopted by many of the aspirants.
Interestingly, political watchers have equally hinged the deception approach as a winning strategy laced with sympathy and escape mechanism from allegations of fraudulent acquisition of wealth as public servants.
From when the ruling party pegged the fees for nomination forms at a staggering N100 million for presidential, N50 million for governorship, N20 million, N10 million for the upper and lower legislative chambers respectively, it was obvious that such fees are out of the reach of the ordinary members of the party.
Described as institutionalising systemic corruption, the exorbitant fees for the nomination forms, almost two times higher than the cumulative legitimate four year salaries of Nigeria president, is totally a confirmation that it could not have come through legitimate means, especially for aspirants from the public service.
Also, reacting to the trend of hiding under the cover of associates purchasing forms for the aspirants, a chieftain of the APC who spoke to Sunday Sun in confidence argued that they want to kill suspicion and essentially curry the sympathy of the electorate considering the fact that the cost of the forms is out of the reach of any genuine public servant.
“Take for example, the salaries of Mr President for seven years may not be up to N100 million. And in that situation, it requires a corrupt public servant who has dipped his hands in our patrimony to raise such amounts as an aspirant. The question in the minds of many Nigerians will be where will the aspirants raise the funds for the forms from.
Beyond the aspirants’ deceptive claims of the public sponsoring them, the build up to the 2023 general elections also featured rented aspirants where certain aspirants induced and even sponsored others as manoeuvring mechanism.
Many of them adequately deployed the usual smart political game of sponsoring psydo-aspirants to brighten their chances of emerging the candidate after the primaries.
For instance, speculations are rife that a certain prominent presidential aspirant from the Southwest, who also hid under the cover of friends and associates to pick his form, has sponsored some aspirants from the South-south and Southeast geo-political zones, deliberately to divide the delegate votes in that zones that may give advantage to certain aspirants he considered a serious rival.
Whichever side of the coin one settles, what is undisputable, however, is that it has been money rain for the ruling party as it may likely rake in billions of Naira from the sales of the nomination forms alone.
With at least 27 presidential aspirants, over 120 governorship aspirants and more than 2,000 aspirants seeking the legislative tickets of the party, the national leadership of the APC has no reason again to complain of campaign funds.
A member of the National Working Committee (NWC) while reacting to the development, jokingly quipped that; “we can afford to conveniently buy the votes from the electorate. But, truth be told, political campaigns involve huge sums of money. However, the funds generated from the sale of forms is capable of stabilising our party financially.”
However, many party members have raised concerns that what appeared to be an advantage to the party might also be its albatross soon.
They argued that the party may soon be entangled in the web of picking the candidates, capable of brewing serious crisis in the party.
“I am still wondering how the party will manage the situation, especially in handling the thousands of aspirants jostling for the few vacant tickets of the party.
“My biggest fear is that the way we will manage the situation portends serious danger to the future of our party. I fear implosion; I fear litigations from aspirants that may not be comfortable with the mode the candidates will emerge.
“For instance, a party member cannot spend such a huge amount of money only to be told to settle for a consensus option. Yes, the party may have resolved that no aspirant should be disqualified to avoid bad blood, but it goes beyond that. Our ability to conduct peaceful primaries will determine our victory in the 2023 general elections,” the party stalwart told Sunday Sun on condition of anonymity.
Corroborating the fears that the harvest in the sale of nomination forms may be counterproductive to the party, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Mike Aondoakaa, a Benue State governorship aspirant, warned his party on the implications of aspirants signing the controversial ‘Form 18 withdrawal letter.
He further cautioned that the withdrawal form clause is capable of invalidating the electoral victory of candidate in the general elections.
Asked the implications of the withdrawal letter, Aondoakaa, said; “unfortunately, I did not sign and I sought clearance. The implication is a two way traffic. If you sign that agreement now and you win election and the opponent come to know that you signed the agreement, I can bet you your election will be invalidated.
“If you sign an agreement that you have withdrawn from the race, assuming you win the election, you participate in the general election, the opposition party will file an action that you did not partake in the election and when that form is subpoenaed, is presumed you have withdrawn from the election. So you cannot be part of it.
“So, I think what the leadership of the party intended is to have that withdrawal in case at the time of primaries people want to withdraw in compliance with the Electoral Act, they just fill in there and a Commissioner for Oaths will endorse it. It cannot be intended that you withdraw before you participate, it looks absurd because if you win the election, the election will be invalid.”
Interestingly, the national leadership of the party may likely ignore the warning as it plans to deploy any means to ensure that the party adopts consensus option in picking candidates, especially in the presidential, governorship and to a large extent the legislators.
Already, some of the aspirants have zeroed their minds for the worse, judging by how the similar incident played out during the national convention of the party where the aspirants were carefully intimidated out of the race.
Asked her views on the proposed consensus option by the ruling party, the only female presidential aspirant, Uju Ken Ohanenye, a lawyer, , said: “it all depends. I will agree with a clause and that clause is that the major reason for my joining the race must be addressed. Those issues concerning the downtrodden must be addressed. I don’t really care if any other person other than me takes up the responsibility, but the person should be one who will look into solving the problems of Nigeria.
Asked how much she is at home with the womenfolk, she responded: “I don’t just have only women as my constituency, but constituencies all over Nigeria.”
It was the same positive response on the consensus arrangement from another aspirant, Ogbonnia Onu, who promised to abide by the decision of the party.
Speaking through his campaign council spokesman, Dr Uche Egenti, the outgoing Minister of Science and Technology, said: “I am not in the administrative process of the party. Every party member is supposed to abide by the rules. that owns the party. If the party feels that consensus is the right way to make Nigeria work, so be it.”
On whether his principal would be comfortable with the arrangement, he said: “My principle is a man of faith. I don’t need anyone to tell me that you know that very well. That he is a man that does not like controversies, he will be at peace with anything that will make Nigeria work.
Reacting to what becomes the aspirants feelings for the consensus arrangement, a party chieftain told Sunday Sun that they will still accept their fate, disclosing that some of them have even picked two nomination forms, especially the second term governors.
“Very soon the aspirants will begin to withdraw. In fact, given the chance, some of the appointive officials had wanted to pull out of the race to retain their positions when they could not secure any assurance from Mr President, but it was too late because he insisted on their resignation.
“You asked what the aspirants will do should the party opt for consensus, I can tell you that I see a repeat of what happened during the national convention of the party where subtle blackmail was used to intimidate some of the aspirants out of the race for the emergence of Senator Abdullahi Adamu as the national chairman.
“They adopted the carrot and stick approach, but don’t forget that despite the directive from the president to refund them the money they used in purchasing the forms, the party never made any serious attempt to refund any of them that desired it.
“The party will still use the carrots and stick approach. It is obvious that some of the presidential aspirants will certainly withdraw without refund of the huge sums of money they paid for the nomination forms,” a party source told Sunday Sun.