PDP’s N5m question

Casmir Igbokwe

First published in SUNDAY PUNCH, Sept. 20, 2009 

Anambra State will never cease to draw attention. It is a state where contradictions and ironies romance high ambitions. The state has produced many intellectuals and astute businessmen. But it also boasts of young men who borrowed the art of kidnapping elsewhere but have now turned it into a lucrative trade. It is a state that has not been able to conduct local government elections because many people want to be chairmen and nobody is ready to concede defeat. The state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party has been embroiled in different squabbles mainly because many individuals want to be at the helm of affairs at the same time.

 Last week, this uncanny character of the state manifested again. The ruling party had advertised its intention to pick a candidate for the governorship election coming up in the state in February 2010. Up to 48 aspirants rushed for the nomination forms. Media reports indicated that the screening committee cleared 31 of the aspirants and disqualified 17 others. These 31 fellows will slug it out in October when the party will conduct primaries for the governorship position.

 One issue that has sprouted from this contest is the commercialisation of our democracy. The aspirants, for instance, reportedly paid N5m each for the nomination forms. This is outside the N250, 000 reportedly paid for the expression of interest forms.

 To the aspirants and to the ruling party, this is no big deal. The money may not be up to what some of them spend in one outing with their girlfriends.

 It is worthy to note that democracy is not cheap. For instance, in the run-up to the United States Presidential election last year, the campaign organisation of the Republican Presidential candidate, John McCain, reportedly spent over $200m on campaigns. President Barack Obama and his team spent over $500m.

 The difference between the American system and ours is that while the source of funding for US candidates is known and easily verifiable, ours remains mired in secrecy and corruption. For instance, Obama lovers made donations to fund his campaigns. Even our own Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke was so moved that she also organised a fund-raiser for Obama in Nigeria.

 Here, rich godfathers play prominent roles in the funding of candidates. Chris Uba, for instance, sponsored the fraudulent election of Chris Ngige as the governor of Anambra State in 2003. To Uba, that was an investment. And many attempts to recoup from his investment set him on a collision course with Ngige. Now, the same Uba is said to be favourably disposed to the immediate past governor of the Central Bank, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo. It will be interesting to see how things play out in the next few months.

 In Oyo, the late strongman of Ibadan politics, Chief Lamidi Adedibu, was instrumental in the emergence of Alhaji Rasheed Ladoja as the governor of the state in the last dispensation. His overbearing attitude and his quest to have at least 15 per cent of the security vote of the state engendered serious quarrels between him and Ladoja. 

 Now the question for the PDP is, if the governorship aspirants could pay N5m just to obtain a form, how much will the candidates spend when the real campaign starts? Nigerians also need to know the source of income of these aspirants and how they intend to fund their campaign programmes.

 Those who are already in government need not fret as the source of funding can never be a problem. State treasury never runs dry. They can easily hire thugs and buy over some electoral officers to rig out their opponents.

 Money politics has continued to pose a serious problem in our quest to attain genuine democracy. Those who have the leadership skills to move the country forward usually find it difficult to occupy positions of authority because they may not have the financial muscle to match dubious politicians.

 The most unfortunate thing is that efforts to correct some of the problems of our electoral system appear to be doomed. The former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Muhammed Uwais, chaired a panel that recommended good measures to right some wrongs inherent in our system. Some powers that be decided to twist the report of that panel. Now we seem to be back to square one.

 To move our country forward, we need to learn certain values from other countries. For instance, last week in Kenya, parliamentarians threw out a proposal by President Nwai Kibaki to reappoint the country’s anti-corruption boss, Aaron Ringera, for a second five-year term. The lawmakers took a cue from Kenyans who had criticised Ringera for not doing enough to fight corruption.

 Penultimate week, former Taiwan’s President, Chen Shui-bian got life jail for corruption. A Taipei Court found the man guilty of embezzlement, money laundering, and bribe taking while in office between 2000 and 2008. Chen’s wife, Wu Shu-chen, did not escape the hammer of the court as she got a life sentence for corruption. The court also fined them $15m.

 Court spokesman, Huang Chun-ming reportedly said, “Chen Shui-bian and Wu Shu-chen were sentenced to life in prison because Chen has done grave damage to the country and Wu because she was involved in corruption deals as the first lady.” Some of the couple’s relatives including their son and daughter-in-law were also sentenced to some years in prison for money laundering. 

 We should begin to clear any virus that will endanger our match to an ideal democracy. The first of such virus is an overbearing influence of money in our politics. Billions of naira will likely go down the drains in Anambra next year. Other states will follow the trend in 2011. But the questions for our ruling elite remain, for how long will we continue like this? And when will we begin to give the Chen treatment to whoever is found guilty of frolicking with ill-gotten funds?

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