Nigeria 2023: Tinubu, Atiku flex financial muscles as Peter Obi seeks funding

By Eniola Akinkuotu
Posted on Tuesday, 8 November 2022 13:08, updated on Wednesday, 23 November 2022 12:32

Nigeria's All Progressive Congress (APC) ruling party presidential candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu attends an APC meeting to unveil the party Vice-Presidential flagbearer in Abuja on July 20, 2022.
Nigeria's All Progressive Congress (APC) ruling party presidential candidate Bola Ahmed Tinubu attends an APC meeting to unveil the party Vice-Presidential flagbearer in Abuja on July 20, 2022. (Photo by Kola Sulaimon / AFP)

It costs upwards of a billion dollars to successfully run a presidential election in Africa’s largest country even though Nigerian law says the spending limit is N5bn ($11.2m). With about 100 days to the poll, Lagos godfather Bola Tinubu and former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar are definitely not holding back their financial muscles. Will Peter Obi, an outsider, be able to catch up?

Moved by the flooding in several parts of the country that displaced about 1.4 million Nigerians and killed over 600 others, Labour Party candidate Peter Obi announced that he would be suspending his campaign to visit victims. He also called on all other presidential hopefuls to suspend their campaigns for humanitarian reasons.

Taking the lead, Obi threw down the gauntlet by making a donation of N5m ($11, 286) to an Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp in Benue State. He also visited his home state of Anambra where he presented some cartons of noodles, a few sacks of rice, some loaves of bread, a small generator and a grinding machine to victims and posted the photograph on Twitter.

This elicited jokes from supporters of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

“A former governor and presidential candidate donating a grinding machine and 24 loaves of bread to thousands of flood victims? Comrade, we are in 2022 for God’s sake. We urge you to respect your family and correct it,” Bashir Ahmad, an aide to the president, said in a viral tweet.

Atiku, Tinubu show off

Taking up the challenge, Tinubu, the APC candidate, donated the sum of N100m ($225,733) to victims of Kano flooding during a three-day political meeting in the north-western state. A few days later, he sent representatives to Kogi State in the north-central region and donated a separate N100m at a political gathering.

The monies some of the candidates are announcing as donations are scary. Where were they when Nigerians were dying of hunger and insecurity?

“I want to tell you today that flooding will be a thing of the past when we get to office. We will work with the Kogi State Government to devise a permanent solution to this problem. The blessings of God exemplified in torrential rain should not be a curse on us,” he said.

The Lagos godfather also donated N20m to a Catholic church in Benue; N50m to flood victims in Jigawa State; and N50m to flood victims in Delta State.

Earlier, while lobbying governors ahead of the APC presidential primary, Tinubu donated N50m to the victims of a train attack in Kaduna; N75m to victims of the Owo church massacre in Ondo State; N50m to victims of banditry in Niger State; and N50m to victims of terrorism in Zamfara State.

Not to be outdone, Atiku announced that he had donated N55m ($124, 153) to Bayelsa State, a sum which was more than 10 times of what Obi had donated to Benue State. He also thanked delegates of Bayelsa State for voting for him at the presidential primary back in May.

Earlier, Atiku donated N50m to victims of flooding in Kano; and N10m to the victims of Owo attack while also announcing a donation of N100m at the book launch of Solomon Lar, one of his late mentors.

Big boys’ club

Atiku and Tinubu are cut from the same cloth as far as politics goes. Both men own private jets and properties in several highbrow neighbourhoods in Nigeria and abroad. They have plenty of experience when it comes to running a presidential campaign and the source of their wealth has always been a subject of controversy.

Tinubu is reported to have been the biggest financier of the APC in the last two election cycles. On the eve of the 2019 election, two cash laden bullion vans were spotted on Tinubu’s premises in upscale Ikoyi. The Lagos godfather claimed he was wealthier than Osun State and that even Buhari could not match him financially.

Atiku, for his part, has run for president a record six times. He was one of the major financiers of the PDP in 1998 and even donated N100m ($4.7m at the time) to the party as a takeoff fund.

At the presidential primaries of their respective parties this year, Atiku and Tinubu are reported to have spent millions of dollars securing the votes of delegates and the tickets of their parties.

However, Obi’s approach has been different. The former bank chairman, who sits on the board of many companies, is also a wealthy man in his own right and has donated to noble causes. Last year, he donated N100m to a hospital in the southeast and also claims to have been involved in relief efforts in Haiti.

Even so, the ex-governor is known for his frugality and prudence, especially when it comes to politics. He claims to fly economy and owns only two houses. Back in May, he quit the PDP to join the Labour Party, insisting that he could not spend millions of dollars bribing delegates at the PDP primary.

His supporters say “He no dey give shishi”, which means he doesn’t spend money frivolously or buy votes.

Fundraiser vs. public funds

Nevertheless, even though Obi is not frivolous with money, the fact remains that it is impossible to win elections without spending. Already, his supporters on social media are complaining about the lack of funds to mobilise road shows. To this end, the Labour Party has set up an account seeking funds from supporters and members of the public. Obi’s supporters in the diaspora are also expected to make donations.

The chairman of the Labour Party, Julius Abure, says even though the slogan of Obi’s movement is “we do not give shishi,” this time round, the party needs money to prosecute the campaign.

“The party is in serious need of funding required to prosecute the elections,” he says.

Campaign councils and political parties [are being urged] to regularly and widely publish the sources of their campaign funding

Abure says the presidential election is expensive and competing against the main parties “that have stolen resources and [are] ready to deploy it in the election” will not be an easy task.

Some friends are expected to donate money to Obi, but it remains to be seen how he will raise the needed funds that can rival established politicians in a country that lacks a fundraising culture.

Besides being super wealthy, Atiku and Tinubu also have the support of governors, senators and other members of their party who have no qualms with spending public funds on elections, as has been done in the past.

Some of the things that will gulp huge funds ahead of the elections are transportation and logistics, legal fees, publicity, mobilisation of supporters, souvenirs, renting of venues for rallies and town hall meetings, refreshments and payment of polling agents. There are suspicions that money will also be used for illegalities, such as vote buying on election day and bribing of electoral and security officials.

It is now that elections are approaching that they are ‘vote trading’. This is vote buying in the name of donation

In a bid to prevent public funds from being used for elections and also ensure a level playing field, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a pro-transparency group, has sent an open letter to candidates, urging them to demonstrate leadership by directing their “campaign councils and political parties to regularly and widely publish the sources of their campaign funding”.

SERAP says it will “consider appropriate legal actions” to hold candidates and their parties to “account for any infractions of the requirements of campaign funding, as provided for by the Nigerian Constitution 1999 [as amended], the Electoral Act and international standards, even after the 2023 elections”.

Still, the main candidates have not taken up the challenge. Paul Ibe, a spokesman for Atiku, says his principal is using his personal money and donations from members of the party and well-wishers to fund his campaign.

Ibe says Atiku’s numerous donations are not connected to elections as he is renowned for his philanthropy.

“Atiku has been out of government since 2007 so he cannot use public funds to run his campaign. He is using his personal funds to contest, but also has a legendary history of charity so you cannot link his donations to campaign. It is a way of life,” Ibe says.

Similarly, Hannatu Musawa, a spokesperson for Tinubu’s campaign, tells The Africa Report Tinubu reserves the right to decide if he would make his source of funding public or not.

Musawa, however, insists that Tinubu will not spend public funds, nor will he contravene the country’s electoral law.

Nevertheless, Transparency International’s local chapter in Nigeria tells The Africa Report that Nigeria’s institutions are too weak to enforce laws especially when it involves the ruling party while the electoral umpire lacks the powers to investigate.

Auwal Rafsanjani, TI’s leader in Nigeria, says the donations by the candidates are nothing but vote buying. He says civil society groups will monitor the spending of the candidates and pass on information to the relevant authorities.

“The monies some of the candidates are announcing as donations are scary. Where were they when Nigerians were dying of hunger and insecurity? It is now that elections are approaching that they are ‘vote trading’. This is vote buying in the name of donation,” he says.

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