Nigeria Elections: Choice between competence and integrity

The forthcoming elections in Nigeria is a choice between the integrity of President Muhammadu Buhari and the competence of Atiku Abubakar, the leading contenders in the race. Moffat Ekoriko and Peterclaver Ebochue report

Bola Ahmed Tinubu, one of Nigeria’s most formidable politicians and the leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress set off the race to frame the issues in the country’s forthcoming elections. The country is going to the polls, in February and March, to elect the president, 32 state governors and federal and state legislators. In an allegory on the charcter of the two leading candidates, Tinubu said, “Leave a naira on the table with Buhari in the room, you will find the naira on the table when you return,” He was alluding to the famed integrity of President Muhammadu Buhai who is running for a second term in office, after his feat in defeating an incumbent Nigerian president in 2015. His main contender is Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s vice president for eight years (1999 – 2007) and a successful businessman who is running on the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The party became Nigeria’s main opposition party after losing to Buhari’s APC at the last election.

An anonymous writer on social media latched on to Tinubu’s comment to crack a joke, albeit one which now clearly reframes the election. According to him, ‘If you leave Buhari with N1 in the room, he will pretend not to see it while his aides will steal the money. If you leave it with Tinubu, both the N1 and the table will disappear by the time you return. If you leave it with Atiku, he will multiply the money to N1,000, take 50 per cent and and leave 50 per cent on the table for you.’

In Tinubu’s eyes, Buhari’s integrity is unquestionable, much like that of a colonial banker. To the man who amplified his comment, Atiku’s integrity may be questionable but he has the competence to improve the situation. There is no point bringing Tinubu into the picture since he is not a candidate. The banter is an apt framing of the issues in the election. Nigerians are asked to chose between integrity (as in Buhari) and competence (as in Atiku). Interestingly, none of the top candidates is credited, even by their staunchest supporters, as having both attributes.

Those who have both, are campaigning on the fringes. They are Kingsley Moghalu of the Young Progressive Party (YPP), a an economist, journalist and former deputy governor of the central bank;   Oby Ezekwesili, former Vice President of World Bank, former Minister of education and Co-founder of ‘Bring Back Our Girls’, BBOG, Movement who is running on the platform of the Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN);  and Adesina Ayodele Fagbenro-Byron, a former governance adviser with the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, a lawyer and musician running on Kowa Party platform. As at the last count, the Indpendent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has registered 91 political parties though only 46 parties fielded candidates for the presidential race. Of this number, a handful of the parties are said to be serious while the rest are believed to have gone into the race just for the records or probably to test the ‘waters’. According to reports, most of the newly registered political parties do not have the grassroot support and structures across the 36 states of the country.

Part of the campaign strategy of the APC is to continue to paint PDP as the party of corruption. The party has not wasted time since it took over power in May 2015 to blame Nigeria’s woes, be it economic or security, on the corruption which it claims PDP foisted on the country. In fact, its campaigners in 2015 had asked Nigerians to vote in Buhari so that he ‘will kill corruption before corruption kills Nigeria’. More than three years on, the party is still anchoring its legitimacy in power on the anti corruption mantra.

APC is quick to reel out its achievements on the anti corruption front. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the government anti corruption agency, recovered N473.06 billion ($1.3 billion) as proceeds of corruption and other economic crimes in 2017, the last year for which data are available. Many Nigerians still believe that Buhari is the man to fight corruption, despite attempts by the opposition to puncture his integrity persona. The challenge the opposition faces is that despite being a public officer since the age of 19 (bar the 30 years he was out of power), Buhari has no oil bloc or business that can be traced to his name.

The opposition has moved to demystify the president’s persona. They have pointed out and correctly too, that the president is surrounded by known corrupt persons, and officials of his government caught with their hands in the oily Nigerian pot have been let off with slaps on the wrist. Immediately  he inaugurated his presidential campaign council, the PDP quickly asked him to send the list of members to the EFCC for vetting if he means business. The most damaging counter attack appears to be that of petroleum subsidy. When the president was campaigning for office in 2015, he accused his predecessor of fraud in subsiding 30 million litres of petrol a day when the assessed consumption was 20 million litres. Bukola Saraki, the president of Nigeria’s Senate and now the director general of Atiku’s campaign council says Buhari’s government is subsiding 50 million litres a day. Worse, the funds for the subsidy was never appropriated by the National Assembly. As at May, the government was spending $7 million daily to subsidise fuel imports. The Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC), the state oil company, which is the sole importer of the product calls the subsidy ‘under recoveries’, the difference between the cost of the fuel it imports and the pump price of the product. The subsidy tells part of the story. For an oil producing country, Nigeria still runs a high fuel import bill, which was $2.7 billion by the first half of 2018.

The ruling APC has latched on to the perception of corruption against Abubakar. His former boss, Olusegun Obasanjo, who later endorsed his candidature had literally written off the candidate as a man unfit to hold public office. To Atiku’s handlers, the message has shifted to his competence and the promise to turn round an economy which has depreciated on all known indices. The attempt to play up the integrity plus competence reputation of his running mate, Peter Obi, an economist and businessman, has not gained traction. Reason: Buhari’s running mate, Yemi Osibanjo, a professor of law and the current vice president, is also perceived as honest and competent: rare attributes for  a Nigerian politician.

The opposition wants President Buhari to run on the basis of his performance in office, which has been rather poor. On security, the president has not delivered as promised. Boko Haram insurgents have become bolder in recent weeks taking over towns like Baga, close to the shores of Lake Chad. His biggest security challenge has been killer herdsmen, recognised globally as the world’s fourth deadliest terrorist group. The president has not been able to reign in the herdsmen, sparking accusations that at best, he is a passive supporter of their actions. Last year, the international Society for Civil Liberties and rule of Law, an NGO, counted 1,750 people, mainly Christians, killed by the herdsmen, in the first half of 2018. The group, said the death count from the activities of herdsmen and Boko Haram, from June 2015 when the government came into to power to mid 2018 stood at 8,800.

On the socio-economic index, Nigeria has overtaken India as the country with the highest number of poor people. Given that Nigeria’s population is one seventh of India’s, it is an appaling performance. The national currency has depreciated by 50 per cent and the country’s statistican says the number of unemployed Nigerians increased by 3.3 million to 20.9 million in the third quarter of 2018.

President Buhari has hit back with his government’s achievements. Top of the list is the transformation in agriculture, which has seen the country achieving near sufficieny in food production. Godwin Emefiele, the central bank governor says the country’s monthly food import bill has fallen from $665.4 million in January 2015, four months before the new government came into power, to $160.4 million by October last year. According to him, the cumulative savings over the period came to $21 billion. The government has also invested heavily on infrastructure, putting in a record $9 billion in the last two years.

With INEC, Nigeria’s electoral umpire scheduling the presidential election for the 16th of February, 2019, there are fears about the credibility of the exercise. PDP is worried that the security agencies will not be impartial in the policing of the elections. The heads, bar two,  of all security agencies in Nigeria are from the president’s inner circle. President Buhari succeeded in ignoring the spirit of federal character in the constitution to appoint security chiefs only from his part of the country. Uche Secondus, national chairman of PDP in reviewing the performance of the party in an election in Ekiti State last year said ‘they contested against APC and the security agencies’. NewsAfrica learnt the party still harbours that fear.

Few weeks ago, Amina Zakari, President Buhari’s niece by marriage was appointed the head of the collation centre at the electoral commission. This is being seen as part of the plot to rig the election in favour of the government. The attempt to remove the country’s highest judge, Walter Onnoghen, in breach of laid down constitutional rules is perceived as another. The government filed charges against the chief judge at the Code of Conduct Tribunal on January 11 with a summons to appear in court on Monday. The government is accusing the chief judge of failing to declare his assets in line with public service rules. To the shock of many, the government also filed a motion asking the chief judge to step down from office. Under Nigerian laws, any allegation against a judicial officer has to be reported to the National Judicial commission which is vested with the power of investigation and discipline of judges. This was not done in this case. In fact the timeline from the receipt of a petition against the chief judge to filing of charges was 48 hours, an unpredecented record in Nigeria’s law enforcement history. The move against the chief judge has attracted condemnation from politicians, civil society and lawyers.

President Buhari has also refused to sign the amended electoral bill which could have institutionalized the deployment of card reader technology. Proponents of the bill says it will check malpractices like bloated votes as the capturing of accredited voters will be transmitted in real time to a central computer. On his part, the president in refusing to sign the bill into law says it will create confusion, coming so close to the actual elections. He has, however, promised to deliver a credible and fair election.



Nigerians prepare for the polls

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari is gearing to contest for another term in office but it is unclear who is opponent will be. Peterclaver Egbochue in Abuja surveys the emerging polictical landscape

As campaigning for the 2019 general election enters its unofficial but limbering up phase, President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress (APC) are beginning to make frantic efforts to ensure they retain power for next four years just as their rivals are jostling equally to unseat them.
Buhari came into office in 2015 after defeating the incumbent, Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), following three unsuccessful attempts at the presidency in 2003, 2007 and 2011.
His pledge to fight corruption and turn around the economy were a key part of his ‘change’ mantra and this proved a hit with the electorate. Although shortlived, his abrasive but no nonsense record as military leader during the early ‘80s, rested favourably with an older generation.
For APC stalwarts, the president has given a very good account of himself in the last three and half years in the critical sectors, particularly in the implementation of the treasury single account (TSA) through which millions of naira has been saved.

The minister of information, Lai Mohammed, has taken every opportunity at his disposal to tell Nigerians that the coming of President Buhari is the best thing that has happened to Nigeria at this point in its history given the magnitude of the problems it has been saddled with. In his view, the entire economy would have collapsed but for Buhari’s Midas touch. Whether Mohammed is speaking from his heart or merely doing his job of defending his leader is a matter of conjecture.
But a number of political pundits argue that the gains of the APC in nearly one term speak more loudly than all the noise made by the PDP in its 15 consecutive years of government. Among the ruling party’s much vaunted list of achievements is reduction in the importation of rice thanks to increased local production, the new rice processing factory in Kebbi State, the state of the art poultry factory in Kaduna State, and the gum arabic plantation in Borno despite the Boko Haram insurgency there.

But many ordinary Nigerians remain unconvinced. They continue to feel the pinch from the economic downturn and have been dismayed by a string of corruption scandals involving top government officials. Often, Buhari appears to have dithered when it comes to taking swift action against them.
For instance, many believe there was no justification for the delay in Babachir Lawal’s pending corruption investigation. Lawal, who as secretary to the government of the federation was Nigeria’s highest ranking civil servant, was sacked in November last year for diverting aid funds intended for the humanitarian crisis in the northeast. By now, Abdulrasheed Maina ought to be facing trial for alleged theft of public funds; instead he was reappointed to the civil service. To date, Buhari has yet to secure a high-profile conviction for corruption, with the PDP accusing him of mounting a political witch-hunt while favouring APC loyalists.
Political watchers argue the Attorney General of the Federation should have been publicly queried about the apparently selective graft prosecutions to avoid suspicions of favouritism that are gradually building up.
Buhari’s frail health is also a worry. The president has spent long periods in the UK for medical treatment – despite his one time pledge to crack down on ‘medical tourism’ among officials – leaving the country in the hands of his deputy Yemi Osinbajo. Aged 75, people wonder how fit he is to be an effective leader of Africa’s most populous nation.
So far the president has not openly declared his interest to try for a second term in 2019 but he has not said that he is not going to either. Be that as it may, his close lieutenants have suggested that he will indeed run again.
In the event that he puts his name forward, it is likely that he will get his party’s ticket without too much opposition given his cordial relationship with the party’s national chair, John Odigie Oyegun.
However, there are rumours that the Northern Elders Forum has set up a committee to look for an alternative candidate. Their objection is that they did not have enough of a hand in choosing Buhari as the 2015 candidate, or the previous president, Umaru Yar’Adua. Both Buhari and Yar’Adua hail from the Katsina in the northwest of the country but are seen by northern die-hards as being put in power by other powerful forces in the country.
According to Bello Muhammed, a former PDP chair, the northern elite is looking for someone younger but still able to easily win votes in the northern heartlands.“The choice of the northern elders will include how the candidate can secure enough votes from Kano, Kaduna and Katsina states, which were the states the incumbent president won massively in the 2015 election,” he explained.
Should President Buhari get his party’s nomination, his main rival will be veteran politician Atiku Abubakar who at present is odds-on to win the PDP primaries. Abubakar, from Adamawa state in the northeast, served as vice-president under Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2007. A civil servant turned businessman, Abubakar’s vast wealth and political machinations have continued to stand him out.
His second term as vice-president was marked by a stormy relationship with Obasanjo, whom he prevented from changing the constitution in order to run for a third term. In the 2007 election, representing the defunct Action Party, he came third. Never far from controversy, his name was initially missing from the ballot because he had been indicted for corruption. Abubakar went to the courts and overturned the disqualification.
In 2011, he lost the PDP’s presidential ticket to Goodluck Jonathan. He later decamped to the APC, hoping to try for the presidency under its colours in 2015 but lost out to Buhari. He remained in the APC where he used his vast influence and resources to help the party end the PDP’s long rule.
Abubakar, a one time deputy director of the customs service and co-founder of Intels, an oil servicing company, announced via Facebook at the end of last year that he was “returning home” to the PDP, accusing the APC of not consulting him sufficiently. He had been with the APC since 2014.
Aged 71, Abubakar’s presidential ambitions date back to 1992 and 2019 is likely to be his final bid. He has made youth the focus of his nomination campaign and boasts not only experience in government but powerful contacts and plenty of money. However, his opponents accuse of him of corruptly enriching himself during his time as a customs officer at Apapa Ports and they disapprove of his political bed hopping. Ultimately, to win the ticket he needs the support of PDP governors.
Another PDP hopeful is one of its most prominent figures, Sule Lamido, who served as foreign minister during Obasanjo’s first term. He was the leader of the G7 governors who boycotted the PDP convention before the 2015 elections.
Lamido entered politics just before Nigeria’s Second Republic in the late 1970s as a member of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP). In 1979, he won election to the federal house of representatives where he served on a number of committees. In 2007, he was voted governor of Jigawa State, and was re-elected in 2011.
His strength is his steadfast support for the PDP, which has earned him the respect among the party rank and file. Going against him is his ongoing corruption trial by anti-graft agency the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The PDP will want to avoid fielding a candidate facing trial and having a possible jail sentence hanging over him in the run up to the election.
Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso, representing Kano Central District in the upper chamber of the National Assembly, has also put his name forward for the PDP ticket. Twice governor of Kano State, in 1999-2003 and 2011-2015, he was appointed minister of defence by Obasanjo in 2003. In 2007, after losing his bid to contest the election, he was appointed presidential special envoy to Somalia and Darfur as a consolation prize.
He served as a member of the PDP’s board of trustees under President Yar’adua in 2009 and was also a member of the Niger Delta Development Commission board. In 2014 Kwankwanso defected to the APC where he unsuccessfully contested the presidential primaries. However, he fell out with the APC leadership, who had attempted to suspend him for what it called anti-party activities and in March last year he was back in the arms of the PDP again.
In 2015 he was investigated for alleged misappropriation of pension funds while serving as Kano State governor. Despite this, with his vast political experience, Kwankwanso continues to attract positive attention as a potential presidential candidate.
Another is Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, arguably one of the most influential politicians in the current political dispensation. Born in 1962, he studied for a medical degree at the University of London but after a brief period working in a UK hospital he returned to Nigeria and soon entered the world of politics.
In 2000 he was appointed special assistant to President Obasanjo on budgetary matters and is credited with initiating the fiscal responsibility bill. He was also a member of the influential economic policy coordination committee.
Senate president since 2015 and the chair of the National Assembly, he served as governor of Kwara State from 2003-2011, coming as he does from the influential Saraki family that has shaped politics in the state for more than three decades. He was first elected to the Nigerian Senate in 2011 and won a second-term to serve as a senator in 2015.
Viewed as a as a charismatic and strategic leader, pundits believe he has the capacity to build consensus in the political process. His previous chairmanship of the Nigeria Governors Forum is likely to work in his favour.
For many observers, former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida remain factors no politician should ignore given their clout and connections. In 2014, Obasanjo wrote an open letter to President Jonathan brutally highlighting his failures and suggesting that he should not make a return bid. He went on to publicly declare his preference for Sule Lamido, then governor of Jigawa State.
This time round the object of his wrath is Buhari whom he blames for letting down the country with his lacklustre leadership. In a letter titled ‘The way out: a clarion call for coalition for Nigeria movement’ , he fumes: “The lice of poor performance in government – poverty, insecurity, poor economic management, nepotism, gross dereliction of duty, condonation of misdeed – if not outright encouragement of it, lack of progress and hope for the future, lack of national cohesion and poor management of internal political dynamics and widening inequality – are very much with us today. With such lice of general and specific poor performance and crying poverty with us, our fingers will not be dry of ‘blood’.”
He suggests that the reason Nigerians voted Jonathan out of office is the same reason they will boot Buhari out, too. “First, I thought I knew the point where President Buhari is weak and I spoke and wrote about it even before Nigerians voted for him, and I also voted for him because at that time it was a matter of ‘any option but Jonathan’,” he continues.
“I knew President Buhari before he became president and said that he is weak in the knowledge and understanding of the economy. But I thought that he could make use of good Nigerians in that area. Although, I know that you cannot give what you don’t have and that the economy does not obey military order, you have to give it what it takes in the short-, medium- and long-term.”
Although he says that the president should be given “some credit” for fighting corruption and tackling the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast, he feels there is still much more to be done in these areas.
Ex-military leader Babangida also appears to have withdrawn his support for the APC. In a letter titled ‘Towards a national rebirth’, he gets straight to be point and calls for a change of leadership. “In 2019 and beyond, we should come to a national consensus that we need new breed of leadership with requisite capacity to manage our diversities and jump-start a process of launching the country on the super highway of technology-driven leadership in line with the dynamics of modern governance. It is short of saying, enough of this analogue system.”
He adds that everyone should have a role to play in the process of “enthroning accountability and transparency in governance”.
For his part, the former PDP minister of aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, said Nigeria needed to be freed from the shackles of what he calls the “Fulani ruling class”.
Referring to recent attacks committed by Fulani herdsmen, he blasted: “The struggle is not against Buhari but against what he represents: the hegemony and impunity of the Fulani ruling class and the barbarity of their murderous foot soldiers known as the herdsmen. It is not a struggle between political parties but a quest for liberation from the Fulani.”
The seemingly endless clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in Benue, Taraba, Plateau and other states in Nigeria, which have claimed thousands of lives and the destruction of millions of dollars worth of property have remained a great source of concern and many feel that the president has not intervened effectively enough.
However, despite the current hue and cry against the APC, many believe the PDP as presently constituted is a shadow of its former self and cannot mount a credible challenge against the ruling party. To do so it would have to re-brand itself completely. Many believe that the re-emerging Social Democratic Party (SDP), created during Babangida’s days as military ruler, poses a bigger threat to the APC.
There is speculation in some quarters that Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the main Igbo political grouping, is planning to throw its support behind the president so that he can complete his second tenure. Under Nigeria’s zoning arrangements, the 2023 president should hail from the south, thus paving the way for an Igbo presidency. But the notion was flatly dismissed by Sylvan Ebigwei, a prominent member of Ohanaeze.
“That is not true and cannot be true,” he said. “I can authoritatively tell you that there is no such plan by Ohanaeze.”
Charles Anike, the head of the Eastern Union, was also dismissive, saying that Buhari did not deserve Igbo backing. “No reasonable political leader from the southeast who has the collective interest of the people at heart will support the current government to return in 2019. We cannot support Buhari because he does not have the interest of the Igbo at heart.”
He added: “In fact, there is non-performance in virtually every aspect of governance, no respect for the constitution he swore to protect, and insecurity. My organisation is already mobilising against him. We are holding conferences where we sensitise people to ensure they register and vote out this government in 2019.”
The winner of the next election is due to be inaugurated in May 2019. It is early days yet and anything can happen between now and the ballot box, but expect there to be the usual jockeying for position by those with their eye firmly on the prize.

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