Party Primaries- A week Of Daggers And Dollars-By Lasisi Olagunju
“My brother will give 15,000 dollars. Initially, he was working on 2,500 per delegate but when Ibrahim entered the race and offered 10,000, my brother had to jack his own up to 15,000. The delegates told him not to do anything for them again after winning the election.”
I eavesdropped and heard this statement in a public place last week in a south-west city. I had to double-check from a friend who was with me there. Did I hear right? My friend told me I did – and the guy truly had a brother contesting the senatorial primary of one of the big parties. I tried to do a quick calculation of how much $15,000 was in Nigeria. I thought that would translate to about N7 million per delegate for a senatorial primary! My friend told me my calculation was wrong. He said I used CBN rate. He reminded me that no one uses traceable FOREX from banks to do politics. Nigeria’s financial system feeds the black market which in turn feeds the dark world of elections in Nigeria. It is complex. The result is the American dollar you see up on the mountain and glowing at par with N600. My friend said the calculation I did was wrong; the answer should be N9 million per delegate.
A reporter filed a story to me last Friday. The report said the APC in Imo State had instructed “all aspirants”, in writing, to give transport ‘stipends’ to delegates. The reporter quoted a memo dated 19th May, 2022 and signed by the state secretary of the party. It was an order complete with threats and figures: each House of Assembly aspirant must give each delegate N30,000; every House of Representatives aspirant must pay each delegate N50,000; every senatorial aspirant must shell out N80,000 to each delegate. So, how much is each delegate going home with after these primaries? Before you answer that question, please note that there could be as many as ten aspirants jostling for each of those tickets; note that every of the aspirants must obey the party’s order to pay. Note again that the delegates are definitely in their hundreds and each of them will vote to elect candidates for all the three posts. You can now do the calculations; it is democratic mathematics (or mathematical democracy). The APC is a very creative party; it said the directive was to “minimise cost” and “conserve funds” during the primaries. If I did not sight a copy of the memo, I would not believe that anyone would document a vote-buying order. But it is true. In 2022 Nigeria, nothing is too ‘gross’ to do by anyone if it is about cash and power. Nothing is an inhibition again. There is no public opinion; the powerful own the public and its opinion.
A political system defined solely by money cannot be a democracy. The oracle of our political dictionary needs to be consulted for guidance on what we run and what it should be called. Our people, very long ago, stopped voting without being paid. If you tell delegates of this week that exchanging votes for dollars is not democracy, they will ask you what it is. They would likely ask you what you think of our ancestors who declared that unless the young eat kola nut, the elders must not be allowed to have the throne (Ọmọdé ‘ò j’obì; àgbà ‘ò j’oyè)? The young here is the voter; the monied aspirant/candidate is the elder.
A friend’s surname is Olówóyẹyè (the rich fits the throne); another is Olówólàgbà (the rich is the elder). Olówópọ̀rọ̀kú was a popular politician in Ekiti State; his name means ‘the rich wins all arguments.’ There was a man called Akinpelu Obisesan in Ibadan of the late 19th to mid-20th centuries. He was a contemporary of Ibadan’s ultra-rich Salami Agbaje and Adebisi Idiikan (1882-1938). Those rich two were the real big men in the big town while Obisesan was always in despair, always sulking and in self-pitying slough because of his relative poverty. He always compared his fate with those of those two and wondered where he chose his own head from. Obisesan kept a diary which is a valuable record of wealth and misery and debt; of how money made chiefs and how it deposed chiefs. He wrote about the meaninglessness of life without money in the world he lived. The diarist, in a moment of want and self-pity, wrote: “Nobody in this town will regard anyone of no means; he will be counted as no man…. after all, what is our intelligence, our school going, and reading of books without getting money to back these three things up?” He noted in particular that if you had money, you could jump steps on life’s social ladder and confound those who thought they were eagles with great wings, and had flown before. With money, all things are possible. He was right. On 26 November, 1926, Adebisi, ‘man of means’, ploughed into Ibadan chieftaincy, jumped 10 rungs of the ladder and was installed Ashaju (Asiwaju) Baale of Ibadan. An astonished Obisesan witnessed this and exclaimed in his diary that, truly, money “is the god of the world.” With this week’s party primaries, you will see greater wonders.
What sort of politics can money buy? American author, Jaime Lowe, asked that question in an April 6, 2022 article in the New York Times. And, it is not the only question he asked in that incisive piece. Indeed, Lowe’s article has the intriguing title: “With ‘Stealth Politics,’ Billionaires Make Sure Their Money Talks. What do they actually want?” His answer to the first question is: “It’s hard to know exactly…” And I think it fits the second question as well. Behind politicians who are buying every available delegate with every currency of worth are standing very quiet, wealthy people with various masked agenda. The ultra-rich are a dangerous riddle; they are everywhere, even when you are not seeing them. What they want is definitely not power for power’s sake. Yet, till eternity, we won’t be able to answer questions on what they want and why they want it. Benjamin Page, an American political scientist cited by Lowe, provides an insight: “The main reason billionaires practise stealth politics is that taken collectively, their political preferences do not align with what a majority of the (people) want.” The mind of the super-rich, anywhere in the world, is deep and unfathomable especially where money and power are in contention. That is why I say that this week of decision in Nigeria is actually a billionaires’ week. It is also a week of cloak-and-dagger negotiations. The super-rich have closed down the economy; they are mopping up every dollar available to buy delegates and choose our governors, lawmakers and president for us this week. They are locking the choices and narrowing the options down to their men. After this season of primaries, they will go back to their rocking chair and leave you, the poor, to choose from their choices and claim the credit on election day next year.
Contesting the presidency of Nigeria is an ultra-rich billionaires’ sport. Two weeks ago, I had an engagement with Chief Dele Momodu, celebrity journalist and PDP presidential aspirant. It was a long discussion. We exchanged books and ideas and spoke briefly on the golden days at Great Ife. Then the journalist in him tried me. He said he was a fan of my writings and was interested in my story. I smiled and changed the course. A reporter’s story hardly makes any headline. In today’s Nigeria, the aspirant is the news; and so, I launched out. Where did he get the gut, the audacity to say he wanted to be president of Nigeria? It is awesome that he paid the N40 million PDP nomination fee but that is just about one percent of what it takes to be president of Nigeria or of anywhere. He told me that he might not be a billionaire but he had enough men of means around him to put the wind behind his sail. He said he would compete and prevail over those whose only endowment and qualification for the top job is money. Besides, he added, billionaires don’t get the Nigerian presidency; they always fail to clinch the throne. I wanted to ask why he thought it was so but he didn’t wait for me to ask: You don’t hand over political power to a man who already has economic power. If we do that, we will lose our country to mindless oligarchs. That was his submission. And he cited examples. Momodu said he had paid his dues and was determined to make a statement that what others did badly, he could do well and excel there for the good of the people. I took a long look at him; I did not see a man who was joking. But is the pathway to his ambition not mired by the peculiarities of Nigeria’s presidential politics? And he is doing this not in a fringe, panting party, but right in the power house of a money-guzzling behemoth, the PDP. It takes guts and lots of cash to do that.
What I heard from Dele Momodu two weeks ago was what Dr. Kayode Fayemi of the APC told his party people in Kaduna State last Friday. “I am not a moneybag,” he said, “but I know that this job has never gone to a moneybag…” Fayemi said he had no billions, but like Momodu, he was truthful enough to let us know that he had friends big enough to keep him afloat in this game of sharks. He then challenged the people (delegates) to let the future of their children be a priority over immediate gains. We need more of such sermons from the throne. Dr Fayemi is my friend and person. But I wish I could tell him and Dele Momodu and the few other men of ideas in this contest that head or tail, the billionaire owners of Nigeria always win. They own the yam and the knife; they only use the hands of the victim victor to peel the tuber. The vultures are gathering.
The last time we voted in a presidential election, we reinforced failure. The result has been a free-fall of all values. Another election cycle has started. There is a rush to replant the old trees the old way in order to reap new results. Do we need to be told that sowing seeds of failure with an eye on harvesting fruits of success is how to know the meaning of insanity? The failure we entrenched in 2018/2019 has become a possessed Iroko; it demands daily worship from everyone, the holy and the unholy. The evil tree’s food has been blood and more blood and it won’t ever be tired unless the axe does its duty. But where is the axe? We condone evil and provide cultural contexts as excuses for misbehaviour.
Four years ago (6 August, 2018), I wrote on this page that we do with Nigeria what we don’t do with our personal lives. I said: The best should rule the rest is a cardinal order even in the animal world. And it isn’t that we don’t know what is right. We just won’t do it for Nigeria. But why? At least, we carefully choose our cooks, our drivers, the doctors who treat us; mechanics who fix our cars. We don’t accept counterfeit currencies nor do we knowingly take expired drugs. We do due diligence on that boy and that girl seeking the hand of our child in marriage. But we orphan Nigeria, we feed it poison –like talks of foisting ancestral candidates on the parties; and endorsing what may be Muslim/Muslim or Christian/Christian tickets and other toxic, suffocating stuffs. Wisdom is the pill Nigeria needs from us. But we did not inherit that from our masters, the British. Power here, at all levels, goes to the weakest, the unlettered, the unskilled, the unwise, the sick, the bigoted who is backed with real money. And so the country is crippled in the hands of deadly fake doctors serially hired to manage our case. By this time next week, the candidates will be known. And by then, we will know how clearly hopeless our situation is.