Friday, July 19, 2024

The money madness

The field of power seekers in the executive and the legislative branches of government has never been this crowded in our 23 years of civil rule. It is good for the two major political parties, APC and PDP.

They are raking in billions of Naira from the payments for the expression of interest and nomination forms. These forms are very expensive. But are within the reach of the rich.

In the language of the wealthy power seekers – men and women who are casual about the cost of political power – the APC forms for presidential aspirants go for a paltry N100 million; the PDP forms trail far behind for a pittance: N42 million. Add to them the cost of obtaining governorship forms, senatorial forms, house of representative forms and houses of assembly forms and you have but a rough idea of one part of the cost of political power in our country.

The party leaders relish this. They will be going into the elections with great war chests. Money matters. Power matters. They have a circular relationship to one another. You use money to buy power; and you use power to make more money. One good reason why those who want to buy power or capture power or win power never give a thought to how much it costs them to get power. The danger lurks in plain sight. In the single-minded pursuit of power, the politicians cannot see those dangers for our country and our national politics. The rule of money poisons everything at national and sub-national levels.

The party leaders thought the high cost of the forms would keep away men with shallow pockets and keep in those with deep pockets. This has not happened. The aspirants casually toss to the political parties whatever amount of money they demand for the forms for elective offices at national and sub-national levels. The casual payments make no dent in their accumulated personal wealth. Wealth is the first qualification for elective political offices here. You have it, you are in; you don’t have it, you are out.

I have no empirical study for this (I am sure an egg head must be working at it), but my educated hunch tells me that the 2023 general elections will be the most expensive so far in the country. It will move the cost of political power to the next dizzying level, out of the reach of those whose pockets are not just shallow but give off this squeaky sound of a sack full of holes. The aspirants are tossing huge amounts of money to the stake holders and the delegates at all levels. Some pay in dollars and others pay in the soft and softened national currency. They amount to the same thing: money talks and the leaves dance in the boughs.

These heavy payments raise some intriguing issues about the true situation of our national economy. Are we really that poor? Experts estimate some 84 million Nigerians are extremely poor. Above them are the poor. They too number in millions. Poverty officially afflicts those who cannot boast of being able to feed on $1.90 a day. Are the expects wrong or are we poor as a nation but rich as individuals?

As you know, President Muhammadu Buhari has been grappling with this problem almost from the time he assumed office in 2015 and promised to stop our country from acquiring a membership in the club of the poor nations of the world. And then in 2016, the nation sank into recession. A year later, the managers of the global economy asked India to hand over the crown to Nigeria as the poverty capital of the world. Since then, the president has engaged himself in the titanic battle to rescue the nation from the bottom. He has borrowed huge amounts of dollars from China, France, and other do-gooder countries to sustain the national economy. The response of a national economy to its treatment is usually slow. Keep hope alive.

For lack of space, let me raise two issues about the current state of the rain and the reign of money in this election season. My first point is that this country is not poor. Poor countries do not pour their wealth into the purchase of political power. It seems to me that in borrowing so much money, Buhari was seeking in Sokoto what is in his sokoto.

From what I see of the shameless display of wealth by the politicians and other power seekers, from what I hear of their purchasing power, it seems to me that much of the nation’s wealth is in private pockets, hence its absence from the national treasury. The wealthy have made our country poorer. If the president is after treasury looters, he may wish to interrogate these money moguls.

My second point is that some of the aspirants are state governors and ministers. Meaning, they are public officers whose legitimate earnings cannot meet the N100 million cost of APC forms they have purchased. Those who can casually spend the money have much more where it came from. We ask no questions. But if we expect our public officers to have a huge war chest to fight elections at the next level of their political career, we should be fair and moderate in what we think of their integrity as public officers. Those who claim that the forms were bought for them by their rich admirers bend the truth towards the arc of untruth. Power seekers who depend on financiers know they have a price to pay at the expense of the people.

Some of the state governors aspiring to the presidency are known to be poor and corrupt managers of the resources of their own states. Their civil servants are owed months of salary arrears. Their unpaid and criminally neglected pensioners are dying in their hundreds. They do not pay the minimum wage. Their development projects fill pages of propaganda sheets but are absent in fact.

Some of these state governors are heading for the senate with the support of the very people they have impoverished and made hopeless. They have raped the people and their states and want to recycle themselves to remain relevant in politics. We refuse to ask questions.

I noted earlier that the danger money politics poses for our country is in plain sight. It has already done a lot of damage to our leadership recruitment process. It can only get worse with higher prices placed on the electoral process and the elections at every election season. In the subsequent general elections after 2023, the charges for forms will move up; the stake holders and the delegates will have higher purchasing prices.

Is this what we wish to make of our national politics? We need to pause and address that question. It is madness. It will fuel corruption and any further attempts to wage war against it will make corruption laugh in the face of the nation. It is madness.

Dan Agbese
Dan Agbese
Dan Agbese was educated at the University of Lagos and Columbia University, New York. He holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Science degrees in mass communication and journalism. He began his journalism career at the New Nigerian Newspapers, Kaduna, and has edited two national newspapers, The Nigeria Standard and the New Nigerian. He and his three close friends in the news media, Ray Ekpu, Yakubu Mohammed, and the late Dele Giwa, founded the trail-blazing weekly newsmagazine in Nigeria, Newswatch, in 1984. He held various editorial positions in the magazine and was Editor-in-Chief of the magazine. Agbese is a well-regarded and respected columnist in Nigeria. He wrote popular columns for the Nigeria Standard and Newswatch magazine. He is the author of Fellow Nigerians: Turning Points in the Political History of Nigeria, 1966 - 1999; Nigeria their Nigeria, Ibrahim Babangida: The Military, Politics and Power in Nigeria, Footprints on Marble: Murtala H. Nyako, The Six Military Governors Voices of History, Conversation with History and three journalism textbooks, Style: A Guide to Good Writing, The Reporter's Companion and The Columnist's Companion: The Art and Craft of Column Writing. He has also contributed chapters to several books on Nigerian politics. Agbese's much-admired style of writing has been the subject of a thesis by students in the University of Jos, the University of Ibadan, and Benue State University.


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