As the general election campaigns intensify, the first problem today is how will the elections hold without money, both in politicians’ pockets and in people’s pocket. As a parting gift to most Nigerians, President Buhari, in his wisdom, has decided that the current generation of Nigerians must also suffer the trauma of the emergency currency change that our generation suffered in 1984. His idea then, as it is today, is that it is a method to catch looters of the national treasury who will be forced to reveal their stolen monies. The problem then, as it is today, is that whatever the merits of the approach are, there is massive collateral damage among the masses.
Yesterday, I listened to the Jigawa State Commissioner of Finance, Ibrahim Babangida Ganza complain bitterly on BBC Hausa Service about the suffering of the people. He explained that salaries were paid on 25th January. Six days later, 70% of government workers have not been able to access their salaries despite spending all day and all night on ATM queues. He explained he has visited and met with officials in eight banks in Dutse the State capital. They explain that they receive only two million Naira a day from the Central Bank and since salaries have been paid, it simply is not enough to meet customer’s needs. He requested that they issue small bills – N20, N50 and N100 which are not under any restriction but the banks say they are not getting that either from the Central Bank.
The scenario for a perfect social storm has been created. Workers with money in their banks have hungry families at home because they cannot access their own money to buy food. Traders and their families in Jigawa are hungry because they are not in the world of electronic transfers and customers have no cash to buy their produce. Meanwhile the wider ramification is that the Naira, suffering from runaway inflation has ceased being a store of value. Now, it is no longer playing its role as a means of exchange. The Central Bank of Nigeria has now become a Special Purpose Vehicle working very hard to dismantle Nigeria’s financial, commercial and economic system under Presidents Buhari’s Watch. Already, markets near borders are trading with CFA Francs from neighbouring countries because they cannot access Naira. At the same time, the cost of living crisis is being exacerbated by acute fuel shortage. Hungry people are angry people so something must change if Nigeria will run peaceful elections in three week’s time.
On the political front, there is a lot happening regarding the leading presidential campaigns. The presumption among pundits is that the two leading candidates are Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar. The evidence for this assumption is not clear. Bola Tinubu has been weeping and gnashing his teeth that his path to the presidency is being sabotaged by enemies in his own party working against him deep in Aso Rock. Of course, he has not done himself any favours by his inability to articulate even one sentence without a gaffe, his repeated failure to recite the verse that proclaims the genuineness of the Muslim-Muslim label he created for his campaign and his manifest health challenges that is crying out to Nigerians that this candidate might be too medically challenged to rule.
In this context, the inheritor of the voters Tinubu is losing might well be Atiku Abubakar of the PDP. Atiku has been beaming not just because of the rapid decline of Tinubu’s chances, especially in the North West but also because Governor Wike and his Gang of Five have failed to agree on and unveil their preferred presidential candidate. The fact of the matter is that the G5 of Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, Samuel Ortom (Benue), Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi (Enugu), Okezie Ikpaeazu (Abia) and Seyi Makinde (Oyo) have almost no voters to offer Atiku Abubakar. The votes they thought they could have offered Atiku in four of the States have been taken by Peter Obi and they themselves are in delicate political situations.
The G5 have however become the stars of the campaign by holding frequent meetings in Nigeria and abroad, dressing up in fancy clothes and displaying their beauty on catwalks. I am particularly impressed by their carved walking sticks and hats as significant fashion statements. I must however confess that as a political scientist, I have not yet been able to decipher the political value of their fashion shows. Nonetheless, they add colour and style to an otherwise nasty campaign.
The dramatic decline in Tinubu’s chances may not necessarily be a gain for Atiku Abubakar. Indications are that Rabiu Kwankwaso has excellent vote catching skills which he is deploying in the Northwest zone. He is running a good campaign, is not too old, is in full control of his faculties and has bragging rights given his good governance records from his two terms as Kano State Governor. Kwankwaso remains a contender in the race.
The other contender is Peter Obi of the Labour Party who has shown himself to also have a creditable path to Aso Rock. He has galvanised youth enthusiasm and support and appears to have already secured the votes in the South-east and South-south. He is also making significant gains in non-Muslim parts of Northern Nigeria as well as having a strong base in Lagos.
As the elections approach, the four leading candidates remain on course to realise their ambitions. The APC candidate, Bola Tinubu, counted his eggs: 21 APC governors offered to deliver their states too early. The days of governors “delivering” their states are over. Voters, citizens, deliver votes to whomever they want under the BVAS electoral regime. Thanks, INEC, for your great work. The PDP candidate, Atiku Abubakar, nonplussed at losing five of the fourteen governors in his camp, now has his eyes on inheriting the famous 15 million voters Muhammadu Buhari used to have in his pocket. Not so fast, says Rabiu Kwankwaso, I am the popular one in the zone, and I will get the votes for my NNPP.” Meanwhile, Pete Obi is running an excellent campaign, telling young voters in particular that for too long, politicians have promised and failed to deliver positive change, and he is the real purveyor of change. May the best candidate win.