Nigeria 2023: Money was key for Atiku; Tinubu may not have it that easy

By Kayode Aluko
Posted on Thursday, 2 June 2022 18:47

Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, and Bola Tinubu of the APC
Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, and Bola Tinubu of the APC (rights reserved)

Nigeria’s main opposition party elected its candidate in next year’s presidential election in a convention many believed was a game of financial power and influence. With the ruling party’s convention up next, dynamics beyond money and influence will play a big role in who becomes the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC). And that could hurt the chances of frontrunner Bola Tinubu.

On Tuesday, as Nigeria’s ruling party the All Progressives Congress screened aspirants seeking the party’s ticket for the 2023 presidential election, President Muhammadu Buhari broke his silence on how he wanted the party’s candidate to emerge during a meeting with APC governors.

Buhari appealed to the governors, urging them “to allow our interests to converge, our focus to remain on the changing dynamics of our environment, the expectations of our citizens and the global community.”

By “changing dynamics,” one of Buhari’s aides says the president was referring to how the game for who succeeds him is gradually shifting base to the north and how the APC must show it is popular enough to win even before the ballot.

“You saw what happened with the PDP (the Peoples Democratic Party which elected former vice-president Atiku Abubakar) as its presidential candidate. Now, obviously, APC wants someone that cannot just negotiate for votes but is popular enough to win (the election),” the aide tells The Africa Report, speaking anonymously because they are not authorised to speak on the matter.

For Atiku, money was a clincher

As the conventions of the PDP and APC drew nearer it become more difficult to get a room in the five-star hotels in Abuja which hosts the primaries. Forex was being mopped up with more and more dollars exchanging hands – from bureau de change operators to allies of presidential aspirants being used as fronts to reach delegates of both parties.

Within the PDP, as the just-concluded convention looked more to be a context for who has more financial power, Peter Obi, a former governor of Anambra and one of the key aspirants seeking the party’s presidential ticket, defected to the Labour Party. He later opened up to the local Channels TV: “For me, I want to follow a process I believe in. Some people say, do anything and when you get there, correct it. No, I cannot.”

His defection drew the contest further down to a two-horse race between former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and Rivers Governor Nyesom Wike. Lobbying became intense even as more dollars exchanged hands, insiders said, with delegates getting their own share at the respective hotels they were lodged.

Speaking on Atiku’s victory, a source at the PDP headquarters in Abuja noted that “money was a major decider” for the former vice-president even long before the election. He admitted though that “Tambuwal stepping down cemented his victory.”

“We call it delegate election; you don’t assemble delegates and just talk to them and walk away. Delegates are empowered with money,” the source continued. “The problem with Wike is that he doesn’t have friends – the way politicians make friends. If he had friends, some of those aspirants would have stepped down for him, especially Udom and others.”

Although The Africa Report could not independently verify claims of voter inducement, it was gathered that as the primaries became an Atiku vs Wike affair. Each of the expected 774 delegates got between $15,000 and $30,000, mostly at their hotels.

How much for elections in Nigeria?

Speaking generally on how much influence money has on Nigerian elections, Clement Nwankwo, co-convener of Situation Room, a coalition of civil society organisations advocating for an improved electoral process in Nigeria, says money continues to play a negative role in the elections right from the “excessive campaign financing” to vote-buying at the polling booths.

With costly nomination forms “excluding a significant proportion of the population” and lots of money injected into campaigns, he adds that the polling booth becomes “a micro level of a bigger issue (because) you already set the tone during the primaries by making sure money is used to win the election.”

“And I don’t think that existing institutions that are tainted by partisanship including the police or the EFCC (the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) are well-placed to be able to carry out this function because they are agencies of government and that perception is always going to be there,” says Nwankwo, who leads the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre.

For Tinubu, it won’t be just about money

Despite his popularity even among core northern states like Kano and Katsina and with his financial power – enough to fund Buhari’s election – Tinubu, a southerner, may not have it so easy after all with delegates that would decide the APC’s candidate on June 6.

With former President Goodluck Jonathan now out of the race after being rumoured to be lobbying for an express pass for the APC presidential ticket, the APC’s chances of “a comfortable victory” have been reduced, insiders said, especially with Atiku – a northerner who lost to Buhari with just four million out of the total 27.3 million votes – clinching the PDP ticket.

Although “there might be money rain before and during the APC convention, according to a source close to the party’s leadership, “deep down in the minds of the kingmakers, money will not play a critical role.”

The source continued: “Right now, the APC is looking at their best chance of retaining power, which is why they wanted to influence Jonathan. There are strong indications that APC is going to go north now that PDP has gone north and also now that Jonathan will not be on the ballot.”

The change in dynamics leaves aspirants like Senate President Ahmad Lawan from the northeast Adamawa state as a favourite, though other southerners such as former Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo remain in the game.

Why the north matters

The voting pattern in Nigeria’s recent elections points to the north as a major decider of how the outcome usually pans out. Apart from having a higher number of voters and a more active voting population, according to data obtained from the Independent National Electoral Commission, past election trends have suggested that it would be much more difficult for southerners like Tinubu or Osinbajo to break into the votes of core northern Muslims than it would be for a northern Muslim like Atiku to secure the votes of Christians who dominate the south.

Despite being in the opposition party, Atiku – a billionaire businessman and one of Nigeria’s most dominant vice-presidents actively involved in the power play in Abuja – remains very popular among northerners.

The former VP himself has been careful to not puncture the so-called northern bloc of votes in Nigerian elections, especially as losing much of it to Buhari was what cost him victory in 2019. In May when a female student in the northwest Sokoto state was stoned to death after being accused of blasphemy against Islam, Atiku posted a condemnation of the act on social media but deleted it almost immediately after backlash from northerners who are predominantly Muslims. Some of the Muslims even threatened to withdraw their support for him in next year’s election.

At the ruling party, consultations and negotiations are now getting more intense as to who can match Atiku’s popularity,” said the APC insider close to the Abdullahi Adamu-led leadership. He then asked a critical question: “Does a Tinubu or an Osinbajo have the kind of clout they would need to get votes in the north? These are the issues.”

Getting it right

Nigeria needs to “put in place mechanisms to ensure that we achieve a well-controlled discouragement of use of money in elections,” said Nwankwo, citing the need for an Electoral Offences Commission fully set up as an independent agency to complement the amendments in Nigeria’s Electoral Act.

“With both in place, then you will be able to have an institution that can tackle the issue of campaign finance which includes even the process of nomination of candidates,” he said. “If you don’t have it in place, then it is difficult to police excessive campaign finance.”

Buhari factor

The president’s decision to have his say in his successor — after having said for many months that he would not make his preference known — is causing consternation among the ranks of APC presidential aspirants, who are concerned that the deal will be stitched up in smoke-filled rooms.

One of them tells The Africa Report, “There is no way we can’t have a vote”.

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