Last time General Muhammed Buhari wept publicly, it was at the graveside of his third presidential bid.
Recently, he had a close shave of crying. Ironically, it was at the resurrection of his ambition after nearly four years.
General Buhari had gone, in the company of friends and fans, to the secretariat of his party, the All Progressive Congress. He had gone to obtain the nomination form for his fourth try.
His party had placed a non-negotiable price tag of 27.5 million naira on it.
He made the purchase, tore the silver foil open and encountered the sheer ordinariness of his buy. The form was no reams of paper. It was not worth its weight in gold. He received the least possible value for his money. He was shortchanged. And he ventilated his buyer’s remorse.
He complained that the price of the form he had just bought was exorbitantly high. He had to tap into the chumminess of his bank manager to secure a loan to buy the form.
The purpose of Buhari’s throwaway lament is not clear. But two identical reasons are likely.
Nigerians identify with the power seeker if he makes soft porn out of his past deprivation. We love the infatuated feeling that we have a bond of shared experience that makes us kindred spirits with someone who survived lack. We can gift landslide victory to anyone who can retrieve a token of deficiency in his childhood and make jingles about discovering shoes too late.
Maybe Buahri came around to realizing that we gravitate toward the aspirant who romances our faculty of sympathy. Perhaps, he had meant to test the formula.
Or it was a subliminal advertisement of his modesty. Buhari’s claim to electoral viability and mass appeal hinges on his incorruptibility brand. A lot of Nigerians consider material poverty proof of integrity. And many of them would be inclined to support the incorruptible politician in the hope that he will stamp out against corruption and spread prosperity.
Perhaps Buhari merely brandished that all-important credential, for the potential votes it was worth.
But the tenor of his voice bore an unmistakable overtone: That he was a hapless victim, forced to capitulate to the extortionate greed of his party.
Our political parties salivate over the advent of the electoral season. It is the period they make a windfall off the ambitions of aspirants. It’s a time when the parties prey on candidates they should naturally sponsor to the polls. It’s a time to make blood money.
Before elections, all they do is hibernate. The only reminder that they exist in between elections is the staple of blackmail their spokesmen hasten to dish out at the break of any consequential news.
Perhaps it is the funds to keep their press statement mills running until the next election that they seek to warehouse. Naturally, receiving money from willing aspirants should be easier than contending with party members who would grudge their dues. And it would be cumbersome having to tax members who hypothetically number tens of millions.
As it stands, the two major parties are equals in avarice. It was the pretender to progressive ideology that fleeced Buhari.
The parties have withdrawn the right to be voted from the public and gifted it the upper higher financial caste. They have narrowed the roads to their secretariats. Only those who can bet on disposable millions walk on them.
People of lesser means are at liberty to sprout ambitions and agenda in their skulls. But they are not permitted to gatecrash into their exclusive bazaar.
The parties have reduced the nomination for positions of the highest significance in the land to an auction. It is a reflection of the contempt they hold for these offices, particularly the Presidency, that the foremost criterion for determining the readiness of the candidates to assume the positions is the weight of their pockets on the scale.
The Chairman of APC was quoted to have said, in response to Buhari’s lament, that the party pegged the cost so that the men would be separated from the boys. It was a sorting thing. The outrageous cost was a scarecrow. In Chief Oyegun’s book, maturity is reckoned by the abundance of one’s possession. So poor men are boys and rich boys are men. And the creditor must be something in between the continuum.
But the very premise of democracy is the equality of all law-abiding citizens. Democracy guarantees people of all sex, age, tribe, and creed equal stake in deciding the climate of governance. And anybody of a certain set age and sanity is entitled to participate in the process of leadership recruitment.
But we have contrived a parody of democracy that mocks the original concept. We have cultivated the tradition of ceding the levers of power to moneybags and their anointed surrogates. When the partners conduct their transactions in peace, the cost to the electorate is hidden behind opaque veils. We only get a chance to know a bit when ungrateful incumbents fell behind in paying the tribute agreed in the covenant. We see scandals and arson erupt.
Again, we see that our political system, as a rite of initiation, deflowers the virgin. The party, in compelling hopefuls to throw away their life savings treats them as though their dream of public stewardship qualified them for excruciating penance.
That is why many of our aspirants enter elective offices with vengeance on their minds. They raid the treasury without the inner checkmate of compunction. They are immune to your scream against their heist. Their minds rationalize their recurrent theft. They are simply getting even with the polity.
The subtle rebuke to those who would murmur at the high cost of nomination form is that they will surely recoup their investment when they assume office. The perks that await them far outweigh their expense.
But all predictions on the result of any election will never rise above mere guesses. The possibility that one will win or lose is almost always equal. Even the bright chance of a supposed invincible candidate may be eclipsed by the appearance of an unforeseen newsflash. So there is no guarantee that the exhausted borrower will have a chance to recuperate.
Now, the prohibitive cost of nomination forms incentivizes desperation. It wipes out every hint of sportsmanly playfulness in the contest. It elevates election to an all-out war. Politicians who have become too hemorrhaged ultimately become incapable of contemplating the possibility of a defeat. They become incapable of composing points for a graceful concession speech.
This current trend alienates humble politicians from fully participating in the electoral process. It ensures that voters have a slim spectrum of options at the close of sale of the nomination forms. Voters can only cherrypick from the menu of those already pre-selected on the strength of their riches.
If we will ever raise our democracy to excellence, the parties must begin to study their counterparts in other advanced democracies and learn how they keep their financial hearts throbbing in season and out of season. They must maintain an open and accessible register, build a sense of ownership in the members and get them to pay their dues. Nobody should have to defer or deny his ambition to serve his country in any capacity because a party constituted itself into a sky-high hurdle.
General Buhari is luckier than many people. There are other anonymous aspirants who will never show up at their party secretariat because they cannot borrow to pay the toll fee. Buhari spoke on their behalf, albeit inadvertently. But he could have done more than stoop and moan.
He passed up a good opportunity to confront a ridiculous standard within his sphere of influence. He could have easily repudiated the prohibitive cost of that form. He could have easily declined to submit his honor to that the crazy grading.
The Nigerian minimum wage earner will have to work 127 years to buy the nomination form Buhari took a loan for!
General Buhari devalued himself by acquiescing to it. Here was a former head of state admitting that he required a loan to upgrade him to eligibility to run for office of the President!
Buhari was too shy to challenge a crazy protocol in his party secretariat. Is one permitted to wonder, since we can take loans to compensate for anything we lack, whether Buhari could not have borrowed courage from someplace to challenge the outrage?
When I saw General Buhari weep as he made that swansong speech about retiring from running for the Presidency, I knew for sure the man betrayed the emotions of unrequited love. He was rejected in his three successive bids to woo Nigeria.
It was the pain of confessing he would quit attempting to make Nigeria reciprocate his love that formed those rain clouds in his eyes. I knew the grief rose from the heartbreak of unrequited love.
Looking back, I consider that I may have been wrong. The tears may have been forced by the resurgent memory of a lost investment.
This time, I would love him to win. He would have to figure out how to handle the hefty loan around his neck if he loses again.
That is why I wish Buhari good luck!
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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