Who Swindled Our President?
In the lead up to the party congresses that produced the presidential candidates for the recently concluded general elections, one of the most memorable quotes by any of the contestants was the one credited to the President-elect General Muhammadu Buhari. In a letter he addressed to all Nigerians and published in almost all the national dailies, Buhari pointedly stated that he did not have dollars to share and that the Nigerian presidency was not for sale!
It was an emphatic statement of intent, and one that captured the bare essence of what the man is all about. It said much about his disdain for corruption, and indeed the high standards he expected from anyone vying for the nationís highest office. Quite inevitably, the statement was also an angled missile aimed at the incumbent president Goodluck Jonathan, and the much diminished party he now leads.
Call it temporary insanity or whatever you like; but acting in defiance of our electoral laws, and in full view of the entire world, a congregation of grown men and women from the PDP, joined by their cronies in the corporate world who should know better, had gathered in Abuja for what they dubbed a fund-raising dinner for their preferred candidate Goodluck Jonathan.
At the end of the extravagant exercise, it was announced that a whopping sum of 21 billion Naira was raised for the Presidentís campaign! And as if that was not shocking enough, it was also declared a lion share of the sum came from ghost donors or some so-called friends of the Presidentís henchmen like the now Professor Jerry Gana. Until, General Ibrahim Babangida gave him his first break as the Chairman of the now defunct MAMSER, Gana was an obscure Professor of Geography at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria. But this was 2015. Gana has obviously done very well for himself since his days in Zaria. He now had powerful friends who thought nothing of the billions of Naira they gambled away.
What struck me when those donations were announced was not so much the involvement of people like Jerry Gana Ė and most Nigerians must now hope AGIPS like him were politically retired by the events of the past fortnight- it was the barefaced effrontery with which they were made.
The electoral law is clear about how all the parties should go about the process of campaign funding. It is also precise on when any form of politicking should commence. It gave specific thresholds for different processes in the electoral process. Everything was spelt out in black and white. But the president and his party did not seem to care. And perhaps, they were indeed above the law.
For almost a full year before INEC blew the whistle for the commencement of election campaigns, the President had already jumped the gun through the activities of the so-called Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN). The group ambushed Nigerians at public spaces with expensive logos and images of the president demanding for a continuation of his presidency. They ferried Nigerians to many sporting events in which the nation participated including the World Cup in Brasil last summer.
Who paid for all the activities of TAN? How much public funds were used directly or indirectly to finance its wasteful jamborees? Even if the donations came from his so-called friends and TAN was also funded by one or a group of them, should Nigerians not reserve the right to demand more transparency and decency from their president?
Do we even need to remind the President and his party about the potentials for conflict of interests when an enabling environment is created for his cronies and faceless other individuals to donate limitless sums to his re-election campaign? Have we not placed the institution of the presidency up for sale as a result? Are we not dealing with serious issues of integrity here? And; more damningly, have we not compromised our collective national security in the process.
For so long in the Jonathan presidency which I am certain many Nigerians cannot wait to see the back of, we all seemed to have taken so many issues for granted, including the vital issues of probity and integrity in the conduct of public affairs. That is why when the serious matter of the mind-boggling report of the astronomical sum reportedly spent expended on the presidentís campaign broke over the weekend Jonathans media team rushed to react the way it did.
Perhaps if the President and his party had not taking such incredible liberties with the way it handled its campaign funding in the lead-up to the elections, Nigerians would be tempted to give them the benefit of the doubt in the brewing scandal reported by the Punch newspaper. But as things stand today, they donít have a hope in hell.
In fact, the way the Presidentís campaign was structured Ė with serial insults against notable voting blocs and all that -it was as if his strategists believed our votes were inconsequential in the final equation. Only campaign funds bulging at the seams could possibly give that irresponsible degree of confidence heading into the polls.
It now remains for us to solve the riddle of how they managed to amass the vast fortunes already in the public space. If you ask many Nigerians, the unresolved controversies about finances in the NNPC and the petroleum sector is too hot a trail to ignore. There are also rumours that most other buoyant federal government agencies were levied vast sums for the campaign effort. But these are all issues the incoming administration will have to confront squarely one way or the other.
For now, though, it is safe to conclude that the 2015 General elections in Nigeria were the most expensive in human history. With nocturnal visits to traditional rulers especially in the Southwest, as well as the disgraceful hobnobbing with some questionable clergymen, its antecedents were unprecedented.
Nigerians are renowned all over the world for advance fee fraud otherwise known as 419, but this, quite easily, is the greatest scam of it all because it was our own president who was conned, and that, to me, is the greatest irony and tragedy of it all! Our President Ė yes Goodluck Jonathan- was the ultimate Ďmuguí in this entire sordid affair.
While he is left to clutch at thin air, a few smart crooks who masqueraded as politicians are smiling to the bank across the country. Who swindled our president? A big gap exists between his electoral fortunes and his capital outlay. That is what should bother him and not whether Nigerians believed the sums reported in the newspapers. His situation is pregnant with useful lessons for the future. With the advent of the card reader and recourse to technology, the days in which the Nigerian presidency could be bought like cigarettes off the shelf should be behind us.
But the good thing is that the vast sum reportedly expended on his re-election bid should at least improve the local economy in good time if not smuggled abroad. It may even find its way into your pocket in trickles, who knows?