100m nomination form: Nigeria’s presidency under auctioneer’s hammer –Odinkalu, ex NHRC

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Prof Chidi Odinkalu, former chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHCR), in this interview analysed the N100 million presidential nomination and expression of interest forms of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and submitted that Nigeria’s presidency is under the hammer of the auctioneer. He spoke on various issues.

The APC and the PDP have fixed N100million and N50 million respectively as the cost of their presidential and governorship nomination and expression of interest forms for the 2023 general elections, what do you make of this?

My views are clear on this. The cost of access to the presidential nomination forms of the APC is 3,333 times Nigeria’s minimum wage. A worker on minimum wage will have to work 277.7 years to reach what it’ll take to pay for the APC presidential form.

With life expectancy in Nigeria put at about 55 years, it means that the intending aspirant needs to live and reincarnate at least five times to make it. But, that assumes that the individual starts working from the day he or she was born. If the worker has to do the 35 years required by the labour laws, starting from the age of 20, it’ll take eight lifetimes to accumulate that amount.

The Vice President of Nigeria earns N12million as fixed by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), so, it’ll take Prof Yemi Osinbajo eight years and three months of work in his present office to earn the money required to buy the forms. Federal ministers like Chibuike Amaechi and Dr Chris Ngige or serving governors will need 12 years and eight months to raise that money. This is beyond corruption; it is a criminal auction of our collective patrimony, and only thieves can buy the APC presidential nomination and expression of interest forms. Those who are not thieves will have to be bought and paid for. If you want to know what it means to have a president like that, and then look no further than Muhammadu Buhari, the acclaimed pauper who’s Entry Form in the 2015 presidential election was infamously donated. Without alternative pathways to the political market, such as independent candidacy, the access fees for the presidential forms are, in all likelihood, unlawful and a violation of the right to democratic participation enshrined in Article 13 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

The cost of this form rose from N27 million in 2015 to N45 million in 2019 and now N100 million in 2023. What accounts for this astronomic rise in the price?

I wish I could tell you but I can’t. I am not a member of either party nor am I privy to the considerations that went into their decision making. May be there is an inflationary trend in the presidential market. That is, the laws of political party demand and supply have driven up the price. Or, perhaps, the political cabals have chosen to artificially fix the price in order to eliminate capable competition that comes with assets other than cash. All of those are plausible.

As it stands, the APC’s N100m is 122.2 per cent higher than the N45 million that the party asked for in 2018 and 270.3 per cent higher than the N27 million price it sold the same form in 2014. Apparently, under President Buhari’s watch, inflation also denuded the worth of Nigerian president? Or, if not, how come the cost of access to the contest for it would have more than doubled in less than one election cycle.

Honest hard-working Nigerian obviously cannot afford the price of the form, which does not even guarantee that the aspirant will win the primary, what do you think?

That is the case. I have said as much. The arithmetic is clear: the Vice-President will need more than the eight years of two presidential tenures to be paid the amount of money that the APC has levied for its presidential aspiration forms. Ministers and governors will need nearly 13 years on their salaries. And for a worker on minimum wage, they’ll have to work eight lifetimes to be paid that amount of money on current life expectancy in Nigeria. So, it is either these people have trust funds their long dead ancestors left for them, which we don’t know about or they have plundered money from somewhere that they should not have or that the APC has licensed open season on political corruption or the presidency has been bought and sold.

Remember, 40 years ago, Alhaji Umaru Dikko told Moshood Abiola that the presidency is not for sale. Abiola stormed out of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) office in a huff. The rest of the story is history. Today, one presidential aspirant goes around the country spraying N50million wherever he goes. Another from another party goes around spraying N200 million wherever he touches down. Party delegates are, in Nigerian parlance, chopping from all sides of the mouth. The presidency is under the Auctioneer’s hammer. The country has been taken over literally and figuratively by bandits.

The Not Too Young to Run Act, was signed in 2018 to give youths a chance at governance, now this?

The morale of the story is that the exclusions that make it impossible for young persons, other than the children and mistresses of the ‘Jagabandits’ that mostly rule Nigeria to access office are structural not necessarily statutory.

The insecurity in the country continues to worsen daily despite President Muhammadu Buhari repeated order to security agencies to rescue Nigerians held captive across the country; some Chibok girls abducted in 2014 remain in captivity, Leah Sharibu also remain with her abductors since 2018. What do you think?

Did we really see or hear Buhari give those orders to the security agencies or are we relying on what Garba Shehu and Femi Adesina told us? If we rely on what these two presidential advisers are saying, then the Commander-In-Chief is not Buhari but Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah. That is the person whom, according to the parable of Garba Shehu, the Americans listen to when they want to decide whether or not to listen to Nigeria’s requests for hardware procurements. When you think about it, all that Buhari has told us is that we should pray to God to resolve the security challenges and mass killings going on in Nigeria. It just happens that Bishop Kukah is a Catholic Bishop, and therefore, known as a man of God. So, if he is a man of God and the President is telling us to go to God to solve our security problems that belong to the Commander-In-Chief, then it follows that Bishop Kukah, being close to God is the Commander-In-Chief. So, you had better ask the good Bishop to give the orders. If you listen to Garba and Adesina, it is at your own risk.

Elder statesman, Afe Babalola, SAN recently called for an interim government in 2023 rather than general elections; he also described the current Nigerian constitution as a fraud; what is your reaction?

I admire Chief Afe Babalola a lot and I will not lightly disregard what he says. However, I think Nigeria has tried enough of band-aids. We have had military rule, Interim National Government, Acting President, Doctrine of Necessity, etc. If Nigeria is going to fail, can we just allow it to fail on its own terms rather than always trying to grant it alibis for neither failing nor succeeding?

What vital insights did you learn as a member of the Anambra State transition committee, what is your view of the Reconciliation Commission he recently set up?

There is a problem in Anambra and much of the South-East that presents an adaptive leadership challenge to the people and governments of the region. It is an existential priority. Whether or not you succeed in any other area depends on how this is handled. It is a good thing that the clergy and the traditional and community leaders have found a willing partner in Governor Chukwuma Soludo to begin to offer leadership on this. I believe that the other governors in the region are interested but at the moment, they are probably distracted by primary season politics. One of them aspires to be president; two are term limited and probably looking for what next; another looks beleaguered but is still in search of another term. Governor Soludo is off-cycle and has the band-width to devote to this at the moment, which is a very welcome development. He needs all the support he can get from all the people of the region and beyond who wish Ndigbo well. Substantively, however, it would be premature for me to say much. As a general point, though, one thing we have learnt not merely from the campaign against Boko Haram but from comparative experience from around the world is that as deadly as guns are, it is not everything that can be eliminated by shooting. Even guns have their limits and there are only so many young bodies that any country can afford to bury through violence without losing legitimacy and its reason for existing. How you strike the right balance between taking measures to shore up the authority of the state on the one hand and creating realistic pathways to healing and meaningful return to civic life on the other is art not science, that is Governor Soludo’s point. Because of this, some things may need time to prove themselves. What is clear is that there is evidence of early sprouts of progress because the governor is willing to think the unthinkable. There is a lot of work that needs to be done before anyone can declare definitive outcomes. So, all hands are needed on the deck.

Former President Obasanjo has called for establishing of state police as a way out of the insecurity situation, what are your concerns?

President Obasanjo will go down in history as the longest serving ruler Nigeria will probably ever have. He ruled Nigeria for a cumulative period of just a little over 11 years and seven months. That is nearly three terms of a 4 year election cycle. He alone should be able to tell us why he fought de-centralisation the way he did. He had all the time in the world and authority too to experiment with state police but he chose not to, almost assuredly, for short term political reasons. He wanted to be able to use central control of police and security services to rule for as long as he wanted, rig elections and harass whomsoever he wished. He set terrible precedents for his elected successors and we are paying an awfully terrible price for his capriciousness. Now he wants to give us lectures. Is that not too late? He is the long term reason why we are where we are.

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