Opinion: ‘I Want To Be A Party Delegate’ – By Olusegun Adeniyi
I have a friend who is forever seeking trending jobs. He once wanted to be a petrol attendant. None of us (his friends) understood why someone with a master’s degree could set his sights so low until he told the story of how a petrol attendant had ‘oppressed’ him by snatching his girlfriend during a fuel scarcity in the country. Last week, our guy scaled up by looking for anyone who could help him secure a job in the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF). I’m still not sure how that went but I saw someone who resembled him in the ‘Baba Oyoyo’ crowd that ushered the new Overseer of the OAGF (interim replacement for the N80 billion guy) into office on Monday. Readers must have seen the video clip of senior civil servants behaving like Lagos touts before their elevated colleague some now address as ‘His Excellency’!
Meanwhile, in fairness to my friend, he has never sought help from me. But that changed yesterday. I was in my office thinking of what to write this week when he walked in. After exchanging pleasantries, he said, “You know Segun that I have never disturbed you with my hustle.” I affirmed that. “But what I have come for is within your power. Promise me that you will help.”
I told him I don’t make such commitments until I know more about the request. “Well, that is fair. I am aware you know many prominent politicians so you can help me. I want to be a national delegate to the presidential primaries holding this weekend.” Before I could respond, he added, “Let me explain something to you because I am here for serious business. I am also aware that Omoyele Sowore is your friend, but I am not interested in being a delegate to the African Action Congress (AAC) national convention. I want to be a delegate for either the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) or the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)…”
I understood where my friend was coming from. Being a delegate at the national convention of one of the leading political parties in Nigeria has always been a lucrative enterprise. But it is even more so now going by the way the National Assembly has unwittingly reduced the number of delegates to elect party candidates for various offices. In the PDP, there will be just about 811 delegates to elect the presidential candidate and, in the APC, about 2320 delegates. What this means is that the fat cat aspirants in the two parties can afford to give each delegate $10,000 without leaving a hole in their pockets! The person to thank for that is the Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege.
Shortly after the passage of the Electoral Act 2022, Omo-Agege sensationally confessed to unilaterally writing the law to advantage himself in the politics of Delta State. Addressing an audience comprised of his political loyalists in Pidgin English, he said: “No be who first call police dey win case o. They (obviously referring to some politicians within the state) dey here (Delta); we dey Abuja. You know what that means…As my leader, Dr Mordi said, electoral regime don change and that electoral act wey una dey hear so, na me write am. I write am because I know how Delta politics be.”
Omo-Agege may have written the electoral act as he claimed in the trending video, but he has hurt himself and colleagues in the process. For the first time under the current dispensation which commenced in 1999, all the ‘statutory delegates’ comprising public officials (from president to governor to council chairmen as well as federal and state lawmakers) have been played out. It was not intentional. While Omo-Agege was obsessed with inserting the contentious section 84 (12), he unwittingly rewrote the rule to exclude himself and others from voting at the primaries. By the time he realized his mistake and called back his colleagues for a quick-fire amendment, it was too late. Now, we have a situation in which party members saddled with the power to nominate candidates have become super delegates and money is effectively the name of the game.
In recent days, interesting reports on the delegate business across the country have emerged based on what transpired at the PDP primaries. A candidate for a federal constituency with 46 delegates and four contenders reportedly paid 20 delegates five million Naira each, thinking that would be enough to secure him a simple majority victory. When the ballots were tallied at the end of the exercise, he garnered only three votes. I understand the politician is now in the hospital. There was a report in Daily Trust on Monday of how the son of a former vice president is asking delegates who collected N2 million each from him for a refund after he failed in his bid for a House of Representatives ticket. Each delegate in that federal constituency must have returned home last Sunday with close to N8 million but the young man had only two votes to show for his ‘investment’. Since there are no receipts/vouchers for such transactions, I wait to see how he might get his money back. In Delta State, a defeated aspirant slumped when he realized that the same delegates he had paid were singing ‘Winner o o o’ for his conqueror. Reports also indicate that you may have millions of followers on Twitter yet be short in the number of party delegates to secure a senatorial ticket as it happened to a popular political entertainer and skit maker!
With the nomination of presidential candidates slated for this weekend in both parties, the stakes are now even higher. The PDP commences its process on Saturday with the APC following 24 hours later. Not surprisingly, politicians have descended on Abuja from all over the country for what promises to be a weekend of shock and surprises. But many are no longer leaving things to chance. On Tuesday, Senator Shehu Sani tweeted a story of how a defeated House of Representatives aspirant in Kaduna State “recovered over N100 million from delegates this evening, using vigilantes and hunters.” I have also been told by those who should know that some presidential aspirants have brought in ritualists who would administer an ‘oath of allegiance’ to delegates before they dispense any largesse.
What is going on today would be most fitting for a Nollywood blockbuster, except that we are talking about the future of Nigeria. Ideally, countries choose leaders based on their vision, intellect, and charisma. But in Nigeria, the route to power remains deploying ill-gotten money with expectations of a return on their investment. With a plethora of financial scandals dominating media headlines in recent weeks, it is not too difficult to know where the funds being thrown around by political office seekers are coming from. More unfortunate is that at a most desperate period in the history of our country, nobody is discussing issues. Scores of people are being killed daily in different parts of the country by sundry cartels of criminal gangs; rural communities, especially in the north, are being taken over by bandits who kill, maim and rape while imposing ‘taxes’ on the people. Even though the price of oil at the international market has continued to rise, we derive no benefit because of the way we have mismanaged the sector. The challenges at hand are numerous, yet not reflected in the disposition of those who seek to preside over our affairs. Former Anambra State Governor and presidential aspirant, Peter Obi yesterday resigned from the PDP, but I believe he has left it too late to play the role of the much-needed political disrupter that the system urgently needs.
At practically all levels, there seems to be a misconception of what leadership and governance are all about. The tragedy of that misconception is evident in the scorecards of public officials who celebrate inanities: erect boreholes, paint school premises, distribute wheelbarrows to young men, donate expensive vehicles to traditional rulers, allocate a billion Naira a day for some ill-defined ‘Egg Wednesday’ for ten million pupils that cannot be accounted for etc. These people fail to understand that good governance is that which is focused on citizens, their safety and welfare, the optimal allocation of scarce resources and the effective implementation of policies for service delivery. And because of that, only money for the purchase of votes is on offer by those who aspire to retain their offices as well as those who seek to oust them.
To wean the country of this transactional ethos in politics, we need to have a conversation about the minimal expectation of governance, and the values that should drive public office in Nigeria. What we now witness in the name of party primaries are bazaars and financial shoot-outs in which the highest bidders are securing the tickets. When the process for selecting candidates is compromised, it stands to reason that the people have already been rigged out because at the election proper, the electorate may be left with no more than a choice between rotten oranges and maggot-infested apples. And that is why there must be serious reform in the manner candidates emerge from the political parties.
People, according to the former Czech President and public intellectual, Vaclav Havel, are driven into politics “by ideas about a better way to organize society, by faith in certain values or ideals, be they impeccable or dubious, and the irresistible desire to fight for those ideas and turn them into reality.” From what we are witnessing, that may not be true of our country. Most are drawn into politics as just another job with which to make a profitable career. That perhaps also explains why even those who have completed their terms in various executive and legislative offices (and those still serving) now sponsor their sons and daughters for elective positions. In one state, a former governor is now contesting for senate, his son is aspiring to be governor and his daughter is bidding to be a member of the House of Representatives in what is akin to a family business.
Before my friend left yesterday, I learnt a lot about the most lucrative trending job of the moment. He explained to me how being a party delegate carries no risk but offers maximum rewards for all the ‘stakeholders’ involved, especially those who eventually secure the votes. It is difficult to doubt him.
Indeed, what has become clear in recent years is the increasing desperation for power essentially to target the enormous spoils that are attached to political positions at all levels of governance in Nigeria. But against the background that the main essence of political parties is to aggregate ideas on how to solve the problems of society, something needs to change. Of course, my friend and other party delegates are not interested in such preachment this weekend. That, as the Rivers State Governor and PDP presidential contender Nyesom Wike is wont to say, “na theory!”
To be sure, money has always been the bane of indirect primaries in Nigeria. I remember what happened in Jos in March 1993 during the Social Democratic Party (SDP) national convention for the nomination of the presidential flag bearer. There were 30 contenders, each representing their states at the (Option A-4) first ballot which ended with victory for Chief M.K.O. Abiola, Ambassador Babagana Kingibe and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar in that order. In the second ballot which became a straight fight between Abiola and Kingibe (after Atiku had withdrawn from the race), leader of the Oyo State contingent, the late Alhaji Lamidi Ariyibi Adedibu told his disciples that Abiola had approached him with money for the delegates, “but I told him that because we are his kinsmen, we would offer our votes to him free of charge.” He added that he had secured some money from other politicians which he then shared. “It may not be much, but we will make do with it so as to prove to Abiola that we are men of honour who can vote without being paid.”
The next morning, Adedibu met an exultant Abiola who had won the primaries: “I told you that my philosophy is to work before I eat and that I will deliver the votes. Now where is the money for my delegates?” It was with joy that Abiola concluded the deal he had with Adedibu to pay after the votes had been cast so effectively the godfather went home, carrying all the loot with him!
The codification of a set of rules and procedures on how people should get to power and how they can be replaced is what distinguishes democracy from other forms of government. The essence of the constitutional method is to expand the space to allow for an interplay of differing ideas. But in a situation where even under a plurality of political parties these forces are being impeded by unbridled deployment of money to buy votes as we witness today, the outcome of such exercise cannot deliver public good.
Of ‘Ayinla’ and Rudigar
Last Sunday, I watched on Netflix Tunde Kelani’s brilliant biopic, ‘Ayinla’ (which depicts the life and career of the late Apala musician, Alhaji Ayinla Omowura). It was the same day I read the moving farewell message (‘Dear Chelsea’) of Antonio Rudiger, the Chelsea Football Club of London’s German defender with African roots. Ayinla and Rudiger are two different professionals with the latter still very much in the prime of his life and career while the former died 42 years ago. But in different ways, both (Ayinla’s biopic and Rudiger’s message to Chelsea fans) speak to talent and character as well as how the intersection between the two (or a lack of one) can make a remarkable difference in someone’s life trajectory. ‘Ayinla’ is a fitting tribute to one of the most iconic music stars of a certain generation. And I commend Kelani for making the movie. As for Rudiger, may his star continue to shine!
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