Nigeria 2023: Civil war erupts in APC one week to presidential election

By Eniola Akinkuotu

Posted on Friday, 17 February 2023 12:57
APC party's new presidential candidate Bola Tinubu shakes hands with Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari during the party's convention in Abuja, Nigeria June 7, 2022. Nigeria's Presidency/

A decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to redesign the naira ahead of the presidential election has sparked a civil war within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). What effect will this have on Bola Tinubu’s chances next week? 

Never in the history of Nigeria has a serving governor openly asked residents of his state to ignore the directive of a President who is a member of his political party. However, the last couple of days have witnessed this and a lot more within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).

Sounding frustrated and angry, Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai said in a live broadcast that President Muhammadu Buhari had been deceived by his advisers and the central bank to disobey the Supreme Court and pursue a cashless policy that would derail the 25 February 2023 presidential election.

“The address by the president earlier this morning limiting the legal tender status of old notes to only N200 [$11.09] amounts to total disregard and disobedience of the ruling of 8 February, which was extended further yesterday by the Supreme Court,” he said.

“For the avoidance of doubt, all the old and new notes shall remain in use as legal tender in Kaduna State until the Supreme Court of Nigeria decides otherwise. I therefore appeal to all residents of Kaduna State to continue to use the old and new notes side by side without any fear.”

APC Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State also criticised the president for trying to implement the policy so close to the election.

Ganduje said it was unfortunate that Buhari was trying to destroy the APC, the party that helped him to win two presidential elections after three consecutive defeats at the poll.

“He is doing nothing but to destroy the party that got him elected,” Ganduje said.

People are dying of hunger, and the painful thing is that President Muhammadu Buhari calls himself the president.

Two days earlier, Retson Tedheke, a deputy director at the directorate of agro-commodities in the APC Presidential Campaign Council, said it was high time Nigerians challenged President Buhari over his cashless policy.

In a video he posted on Twitter he said: “People are dying of hunger, and the painful thing is that President Muhammadu Buhari calls himself the president. President Muhammadu Buhari calls himself the president of the ordinary people, the president of the Talakawa. How can he [with] this policy be killing rural farmers?

“It is either the president is stone deaf….Who are you? For goodness sake, who are you that Nigerians cannot talk to you?”

Similarly, Jigawa State Governor, Muhammad Badaru, asked residents of his state to disobey the president’s directive, insisting that the old notes remain legal tender. He also threatened to prosecute firms that reject the old notes.

However, Buhari’s special assistant on digital communications, Bashir Ahmad, who enjoys a large following on social media, said the governors were only upset because Buhari’s policy had rendered stolen funds useless by his new policy.

“They have stashed money and now it is useless… That is the reason Ganduje and others are all fuming. Ganduje and others do not care about the masses. If the money Ganduje and friends are complaining about is legit, why don’t they deposit it in the central bank and wait for the EFCC and the NFIU to verify,” he said.

Naira redesign

The current crisis rocking the APC could be traced to the decision of the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) to redesign the three highest naira denominations – N200, N500 and N1, 000. The policy states that the old notes would cease to be legal tender from 31 January 2023.

The deadline was later shifted to 10 February following complaints that the new notes remained scarce. As the deadline approached, APC governors visited President Buhari where they appealed to him to suspend the deadline indefinitely, but he refused to budge.

The president argued that the primary goal of the policy was to drastically reduce incidents of vote buying which had undermined the credibility of elections in recent years. The president’s plan was to ensure that the old notes that had been stashed by politicians would cease to be legal tender ahead of elections so that vote buying would be nearly impossible.

The downside, however, was that the new notes remained scarce thereby sparking riots in several parts of the country mainly in the south. It had also made the ruling APC unpopular. Both the IMF and the World Bank advised the Nigerian government to extend the deadline because it would have an adverse effect on the economy. But he remained adamant.

With imminent defeat staring them in the face, three APC governors approached the Supreme Court asking the apex court to suspend the deadline set by the central bank. They argued that the policy had caused a scarcity of the naira and untold hardship.

The Supreme Court subsequently extended the deadline by one week to 15 February pending the determination of the substantive suit. While this was ongoing, APC governors plotted to extend the interim order of the court by filing fresh applications. The ultimate goal was to get the court to extend the deadline beyond the 25 February election date in order to trigger a fait accompli.

Expectedly, rather than deliver judgement on 15 February, the Supreme Court adjourned the matter yet again to 22 February citing the need to consolidate all applications. It further ruled that the old notes remain legal tender pending the conclusion of the case. The snag, however, was that the next adjourned date was just three days to the election.

Buhari defies court

Eager to ensure that the old naira notes are not used in buying votes on the day of election, the president blatantly defied the order of the Supreme Court. He, however, made a compromise which states that the old N200 will remain legal tender until 10 April.

He maintained that the old N500 and N1,000 notes cease to be legal tender, but people with such old notes can redeem them at the central bank while their source of livelihood will be investigated by relevant authorities.

Money is Tinubu’s religion and his essence.

“To further ease the supply pressures, particularly to our citizens, I have given approval to the CBN that the old N200 bank notes be released back into circulation and that it should also be allowed to circulate as legal tender with the new N200, N500, and N1000 banknotes for 60 days from 10 February 2023 to 10 April 2023 when the old N200 notes ceases to be legal tender,” the president said.

One month ago, the ruling APC was in pole position to win the presidential election. With 21 governors and a president under its belt, it seemed the ruling party was invincible and its candidate, Bola Tinubu, would have an easy ride to the presidential villa.

However, the civil war between the governors on the one hand and the president and his men on the other hand means the party’s chances at the poll are getting slimmer.

Tinubu’s chances affected?

Tinubu and his supporters have stated publicly that the policy is being targeted at him.

He claims the plan is to force people to get angry with the APC so that they will vote against the party. Tinubu adds that the second option of those behind the policy is to force nationwide riots so that elections will not hold.

However, the main opposition candidates, mainly Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Labour Party’s Peter Obi, say that the APC politicians are only upset that their plan to use the old notes to buy votes has been thwarted. They support the policy but also exploit the anger that it has generated.

“Money is Tinubu’s religion and his essence. He wants to buy the election with bullion vans just as he bought the presidential ticket of his party last year, but this will never happen,” says Phrank Shaibu, a spokesman for Atiku.

How will this conflict less than a week to the election affect the ruling party? Speaking with The Africa Report, social commentator and lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin, Abimbola Adelakun, said the naira debacle will most likely affect the APC at the polls.

“There is no doubt that the present hardship will affect their chances, and that is why they have chosen to propagate [it] as a conspiracy theory. They are all over the place trying to convince us that some disgruntled forces caused the problems just to jeopardise Tinubu’s ambition,” she says.

On whether this could lead to Tinubu’s defeat, the award winning columnist says this is difficult to determine since most Nigerians vote based on religious and ethnic considerations.

“Don’t forget that elections are complex. People do not only vote based on economic necessities, they also vote [on] the sentiments of religion and ethnicity. I have had several conversations with people who insisted on voting Tinubu because they think it is the turn of a Yoruba Muslim. There is no amount of suffering that can deter such people,” she says.

Buhuri an unconvinced Tinubu supporter

In an interview with The Africa Report, Farooq Kperogi, a professor of Journalism and Emerging Media at Kennesaw State University, says it is hard to say for sure if the debacle could cost the APC the election.

He, however, said Buhari’s action suggested that he was against Tinubu’s ambition.

“That indicates that, as I’ve pointed out in many past columns, Buhari is invested in ensuring that his party’s candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, loses next week’s election,” Kperogi says.

He adds that the APC presidential campaign has done a great job of distancing Tinubu from Buhari’s naira policy.

“[…] I doubt that the collateral damage of the policy on Tinubu’s electoral chances that El-Rufai fears is justified,” Kperogi says.

The columnist says it’s still unclear how much impact the policy will have on vote buying.

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