General Buhari has unwittingly kickstarted a debate about how to fund campaigns in Nigeria. To pay the N27.5m cost of the APC’s presidential nomination form, he revealed he had reached some kind of overdraft arrangement with his bank:
N27 million is a big sum, thankfully I have personal relationship with the manager of my bank in Kaduna and early this morning, I put an early call (and) I told him that very soon the forms are coming, so, whether I am on red, or green or even black please honour it, otherwise I may lose the nomination
The bigger issue here is not that he’s come to this kind of arrangement but that he seems to have left it till the last minute. He’s always known he was going to run for President so before declaring, he should have tied up this loose end with his bankers. Or perhaps he is only making the story public to let people know how he is funding the form-buying given how there have been so many stories of people offering to pay for him.
But surely Buhari has friends who can come up with N27.5m for him? And clearly, if N27.5m is a struggle, then a campaign that will cost probably N1bn is going to be an impossible task. The reason for this appears to be a simple one as he explained himself:
But I felt heavily sorry for myself because I don’t want to go and ask somebody to pay for my nomination forms, because I always try to pay myself, at least for the nomination
Ok fair enough – maybe he knows he is going to have to rely on people to fund his campaign proper and he’s trying to preserve some pride or honour by paying for the form himself; the very least he can do.
All of this brings us to another ‘What Exactly Do Nigerians Want?’ debate. I suspect that a decent chunk of the criticism of Buhari’s approach to funding his form-buying is coming from people who want to justify why they will vote for the current government to continue in 2015. Such people tend to spend an inordinate amount of time criticising every possible candidate that is lined up against the incumbent. We are approaching the amusing situation where the same people will criticise one candidate for being a thief and another one for not having money. This is all a welcome form of political entertainment.
We can find some interesting lessons from Indonesia where a man, Joko Widodo, from very humble origins has just been elected President, defeating Prabowo Subianto, the establishment candidate whose brother, Hashim Djojohadikusumo, is one of Indonesia’s richest men.
So how did Jokowi manage to raise more money than Prabowo? The chart below helps:
40,000 people is still quite small in a country like Indonesia with a population of over 250 million but clearly it was an achievement both in comparison to Prabowo and the novelty of it. Indeed, Prabowo himself initially mocked the idea of raising money from ordinary people:
Jakarta. After vocally criticizing Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) presidential candidate Joko Widodo for accepting campaign donations from the general public, Great Indonesia Movement (Gerindra) Party candidate Prabowo Subianto has begun doing the exact same thing.
“Prabowo and [his running mate] Hatta [Rajasa] harshly criticized the public donation scheme at first, but now, without a clear argument, they are doing the same thing,” Indonesian Civic Network (Lima) head Ray Rangkuti said on Saturday.
Joko and his running mate, Jusuf Kalla, have made Rp 40 billion ($3.38 million) since opening three bank accounts in their own names on May 29 for the purpose of receiving donations, becoming the first candidates in Indonesian history to do so.
Some 30,000 supporters have contributed so far, with the campaign taking in an average of Rp 2 billion per day.
Joko-Kalla campaign official Dolfie OFP said that Prabowo’s about-face indicated lack of a clear vision.
“This is inconsistency, they used to criticize Joko-Kalla when they opened the accounts, and now they did the same thing,” he said.
At the time, the Prabowo campaign maintained that the solicitation of public donations was an undignified approach to politics.
“[Joko-Kalla] claimed they wished to make Indonesia prosperous but instead they make their supporters suffer,” Prabowo-Hatta campaign legal affairs head Ahmad Yani said.
The campaign implied that a viable candidate should be wealthy enough to fund his own bid.
“The presidential candidate should be rich so his constituents won’t have to beg for money on the street, this is a social anomaly that lowers human dignity,” campaign official Suryo Prabowo said. “Why ask people to beg?”
But on Friday, the campaign announced that it would begin taking donations nonetheless.
Typical. People first say something is impossible until they see it is successful and then they start copying it. In the end, Jokowi raised 2.5 times more than Prabowo did (at least officially) to finish at around $3m raised directly from the public. The vast majority of that being small amounts of $100.
Not having money in Nigeria has never been a full barrier to political office in Nigeria. A few days ago, I sat with a friend who narrated to me how Aliyu Mu’azu became Governor of Niger state – a hilarious story of how the power brokers in the state couldn’t decide between themselves on a successor to Abdulkadir Kure and ended up with Mu’azu as the compromise candidate. It is unlikely he had much money at the time as he was apparently a civil servant. Of course today, he can probably afford to sponsor someone for the Presidency.
This is the way it has always been done in Nigeria – the Prabowo way. It is thus hard to understand why anyone will criticise Buhari for at least bucking this trend albeit in an uninspiring way.
And this brings us to the real issue with Buhari himself and his campaign – a lack of inspiration. He is undoubtedly popular and is by all accounts a decent man. But his inability to fully maximise his base and then broaden his coalition is a recurring theme of his campaigns so far. And this is a message for those around him. Even if he doesnt win (as is almost guaranteed), he can change Nigerian politics and campaign finance in a way that leaves a lasting legacy.
People often ask why Buhari has never groomed someone as a leader or successor. That is a somewhat harsh but valid question. But if he manages to run a truly people funded campaign, then he will have groomed thousands of successors all over the country who might be inspired to try the same thing.