Buhari The Ascetic

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.


15 thoughts on “Buhari The Ascetic

  1. Pingback: Buhari The Ascetic – Y! Opinion

  2. Totally agree with this. Being a decent man is not enough. The least Buhari can do in this election is to mobilize resources by taking advantage of his reputation amongst the grassroots and use technology. That’s one of the stick that is used to beat him, he needs to surround himself with dynamic people. God knows this country needs a change!

  3. Thank you for this insightful piece. The last paragraph stands our for me – a great leader will surround himself with potential leaders. Nigeria still has a long way to go if after more than 20 odd years, Buhari still wants to be the president.

    1. 1. Babangida Aliyu had been at top of (Federal) Civil Service since 99. Nasiru el-Rufai made the fight against him and other Super-PermSecs/Directors his 2nd big fight (after that with the Senators). As is expected, he got OBJ to take them out of the service. In fact, this issue was one of Aliyu’s headache when he wanted to run for governorship, certainly not funds. 
      I, for one, would’ve thought you were going to give example of Shekarau in 2003. Or Chike Udenwa (not cos he didn’t have much, but also cos he was an anointed on, lol. 
      2. I’ve always had issues with Buhari refusing to take campaign funding electorate-owned. That way, you don’t just get the required funds but you can also bank on people to protect their ‘investment’. But what do I know… 
      3. As for succession, I’m still hoping (No matter how little) that Buhari would leave the race for Fashola. Some would wonder why would have declared then, in the first place? Atiku. Its public knowledge Buhari would rather have at least half a dozen party members inc Fashola than Atiku. I pray that BRF becomes the ‘Raba Gardama’ both at party levels and at general elections.

  4. I want Buhar to open a public account for public donation and also use BRF as his running mate. Even though its a muslim/muslim combination but its the best for Nigeria

  5. Babangida muazu was a very rich civil servant (perm sec) in several ministries. His choice as pdp candidate was just Obj shitting on IBB/ Kure. They (Kure) had already decided on a candidate (Gumna) when obj heard of the perm sec who was interested. That’s y muazu was taken to court. He resigned less than 3 months to the election.

  6. Buhari had tried to get the APC to lower the price of nomination forms, but met with a stone wall in the party leadership. He has quite rightly tried to pay for the nomination form, to show that he is willing to pay a price and not just ride on the back of others, but it is clear that a person who wins the party ticket must depend on the party and its supporters for election financing, as has been championed by Obama and others.
    Personally, I would like to see Buhari involved in the immediate future governance of Nigeria, in whatever capacity, because he has the pedigree needed to take on the colossus of corruption. I wish him the best, and continue to pray for the soul of our country.

  7. Just thought to add that following your post, some Nigerian politicians have started soliciting public funds for their political campaigns… the pioneer(as it were) in this field is Frank Nweke Jr, who is running for a senatorial seat in Enugu. Stumbled on his advert on Youtube. You can check out his website here – http://www.franknwekeii.com/support

  8. Feyi:

    Actually, you skipped some FACTS in your article – BUHARI is running for the fourth time – and he has always been funded by OTHERS!

    It is also public knowledge that THE ABACHAS funded him on so many occasions before they fell out when he didn’t support Mohammed to become Governor of Kano; the ANPP and then CPC Governors have also always funded Buhari’s elections before now – and AMAECHI has just withdrawn a warchest of N19bn to BUY the VP ticket from him while wrestling for “who can spend more” versus Lagos/Tinubu/Fashola machinery to secure that slot – while both funding Buhari!

    Buhari is therefore the last person you should be expecting to reform CAMPAIGN FUNDING in Nigeria because he has benefited immensely in the past and continues to benefit for the lack of a proper framework in that regard.

  9. Feyi:

    Futhermore, I am glad you raised the question “What do Nigerians want?”

    You see that question becomes very important when you consider that those that align with BUHARI are the very ones that call themselves SAINT PROGRESSIVES – they are the ones that would quickly scream if it was GEJ that had made the statement of ‘collecting a loan to pay for the ticket’ and the very ones that have all manner of theories about “how our OIL sector is used to fund GEJ’s elections!”

    These are the same people that never want us to have a decent discussion about “How INEC rules regarding campaign funding is useless” – you know why? They love to sell the logic that “they are prudent with PDP/GEJ is reckless!”

    Yet we all know that since APC became a party, some of the governors have expended Billions of Naira selling propaganda on behalf of the party – criss-crossing the nation daily on funds put together from the respective treasuries of their states!

    But what do you have – everyone – media; civil society; intellectuals keep quiet when APC is on a spending spree but soon remember “how PDP should have used these monies to solve POVERTY problems in Nigeria” – this shows you that we are not, as a polity ready for a honest conversation on this issue – and I doubt that even your own article even begins to scratch the surface around that!

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