JONATHAN HEADS TO ELECTION ON BRIBERY HOPE
Bribery has been a recurring decimal in Nigerian elections. But the case of the 2015 electoral season is well ripe for the Guinness Book of Records.
The problem took a new dimension when President Goodluck Jonathan shocked the world by plainly rejecting a plan by Independent National Election Commission (INEC) to monitor campaign funds in the 2015 general elections. In Jonathan's words, regulation can only be realistic, “if you're getting funds from government, then you must set restrictions; but if you're generating your own funds, then you've no restrictions.” The president followed by raising over N21 billion at one sitting, most of which interestingly came from state governors, federal government agencies and contractors. This brazen impunity was not only in utter violation of the electoral law which pegs the presidential campaign expenditure at no more than N1 billion, but the event took place when many states could not even pay their staff salaries. This is not good.
Plagued by a woeful performance in office, and with most major local and international polls predicting a dizzying defeat, it appears President Jonathan plans to cling onto power by hook or crook. Rather than continuing to hold mass rallies around the country to make a serious case why Nigerians should trust him again, events after events have shown that Jonathan's main hope of winning the election is premised upon diverting the huge war chest to bribe the voters.
Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State triggered the first alarm, alleging that Jonathan's party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had indeed offered N6 billion to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). One of the CAN pastors, Kallamu Musa-Dikwa, corroborated the crux of Amaechi's story but marked up the figure to N7 billion. Many newspaper reports also cited instances where the president and his party were said to have bribed titular heads of tribal, religious, traditional, and militant groups. Notable among them are Ohaneze Ndigbo: N6.2 billion; Yoruba groups: N9 billion; and billions of money to some Northern emirs, to name just a few. Although counter bribery accusations were equally leveled against the major opposition party All Progressive Congress (APC); there are cogent reasons to ignore those. First of all, the accusers failed to provide any semblance of evidence in form of witnesses, individual or group givers or takers of the bribe cases associated with the APC and its presidential candidate. Moreover, common sense dictates that the political logic of funding or winning a bribery war does not favor Nigerian opposition parties.
Perhaps the ruling party attempted to brush aside the bribery charges as mere allegations. But that was then. A Roman Catholic Reverend Father, Camillus Ejike Mbaka, has dropped a bombshell. The popular priest swore in the pulpit that he rejected a bag of bribe money sent by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. This revelation is unique in a significant way: The man of God named two sitting Senators, Prince Gilbert Nnaji and Chief Ike Ekweremadu, as principal witnesses. A close ally of the president, Ekweremadu doubles as the Deputy President of the Senate and Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, and has remained a faithful adherent of the Reverend Mbaka. Besides, before the bribery scandal went public, both the senator and the First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan, visited the priest, who they had openly hailed as an unsung saint. What is more, the stoic silence within the Jonathan camp since the revelation is very suggestive of a stark acquiescence to the charges.
Be that as it may, if truth is told, producing evidence against President Goodluck Jonathan on bribery is as simple as deducing that his regime is the most corrupt in the annals of national history. The bribery pattern of his wife alone is an open book. Always at home with passionate hyperboles, the First Lady has branded her husband a messiah. Her idea of the dividends of democracy is hauling and sharing trailers of goods during solo campaign episodes around the country. The hope, of course, is to receive votes in return.
Yet, the most disheartening is that Mrs. Jonathan preys on the unsuspecting masses—the very helpless and needy, the elderly, women, and unemployed youths who wallow in abject penury and despair due to massive mismanagement of public resources under the husband's watch. Some of her inducing jingles below better tell the story: “Vote for my husband”; “Goodluck is the messiah”; “other presidents have served for eight years. Now is our turn. Constitution provides two tenure of eight years. Why is our own different?”; “Anybody that tells you change, stone that person”; “I brought some gift for you, I brought rice, I brought meat, I brought brocade. I brought many things for you”; “Other trailers are on the way with more bags of rice.” A sad part of the unending drama is that these petty things Lady Jonathan brandishes are basic human needs which the poor voters may never experience again once the election is over. This is not good.
The reason for this quagmire is that most of the Nigerian leaders think an average voter is a fool. Rather than providing basic amenities for the masses, creating jobs for the youths, and fighting endemic corruption, they think they can always remain in power by looting the public money to buy over the voters. That explains why President Jonathan and the First Lady are playing God, boasting that they “will surely win” again, their poor performance in government notwithstanding. But the time has come for the masses to say enough is enough. It is time to consider the future—and go beyond the mere exigencies of petty election gifts and undue selfish interests. It is time for Nigerian voters to show that they are not fools. It is that time to finally make election bribe a vain hope. Here is the time for Nigerians to vote their conscience and sweep out an inept party in power.
***Dr. SKC Ogbonnia is the Executive Director, Patriots United for Transparency and Accountability in Nigeria (PUTAN).