By Farooq Kperogi
When I first suggested that the Buhari regime’s naira “redesign “policy was strategically conceived to cripple Bola Tinubu’s financial tendons for the 2023 presidential election, many people, particularly wide-eyed APC partisans, scoffed at me. But the very people who thought I was mistaken in my assessment are now re-echoing what I’d said.
The intensity of frustration and rage that APC governors have been ventilating over the policy is the surest signpost that they recognise the politically mortal danger that the policy poses for them in next week’s election. Their winning strategy was obviously anchored on the strength of their financial muscles. It had to be. With its sordid record of unrelieved deprivation for the vast majority of Nigerians, APC couldn’t possibly hope to rely on its performance as a basis to solicit votes.
To be fair to Tinubu, though, he was never directly in government in the past eight years and hasn’t directly influenced any of the policies that underline the Buhari regime. Given the complete absence of any clear cut ideological or policy directions in Nigeria’s political parties, it’s reasonable to say that Tinubu’s future performance as president can’t be gleaned from Buhari’s past and present. Political parties are no more than mere vehicles to get to power.
That is why APC’s northern governors’ fulmination that the new naira policy, which has created artificial scarcity and deepened the misery of everyday folks, was intended to make voters associate their suffering with APC in order to hurt the chances of the APC presidential candidate isn’t supported by the evidence. If that’s APC’s only worry, they should hold their horses because most voters now know that there’s a wide, unbridgeable gulf between the Buhari-led federal government and the APC presidential candidate.
The APC presidential campaign has done a great job of distancing Tinubu from Buhari’s naira policy, so I doubt that the collateral damage of the policy on Tinubu’s electoral chances that northern governors fear is justified. Most voters now know that Tinubu isn’t just his own man but is at odds with Buhari on so many issues.
So, it is now clear, if it wasn’t clear enough before, that the artificial scarcity of the naira days to the election not only has Buhari’s visible imprimatur in it but is actually his brainchild—in the fashion of his April 1984 naira redesign policy. That indicates that, as I’ve pointed out in many past columns, Buhari is invested in ensuring that his party’s candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, loses next week’s election.
But who will benefit the most from this? Supporters of both Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi think the policy is designed to benefit their candidates. I have even seen a chorus of Peter Obi supporters singing Buhari’s praises and saying Buhari is secretly “Obi-dient” because he has seen parallels between his austere lifestyle and Obi’s. Ha!
Atiku’s supporters also assume that Buhari’s silent resentment toward Tinubu has caused him to embrace Atiku with whom he had been locked in amortal political combat in 2019 and whom he had also financially hamstrung as a Machiavellian pre-election move. Recall that Buhari forced Atiku to divest his shares in Integrated Logistics Services Limited (Intels), his former “cash cow,” a few years before the 2019 election when it became clear that Atiku would challenge him.
Similarly, a well-regarded international journalist who is close to Nigeria’s power brokers told me in February 2019 that, like Jonathan in 2015, the Buhari cabal prevailed on INEC to postpone the 2019 election because they wanted Atiku to spend himself lame before Election Day.
“Word from a very credible source within the ruling party: ‘we need to throw Atiku off his game. He’s invested too much and since yana da kudinbanza [he has a lot of money] let him continue. It’s good for us.’,” she wrote in a chat.
Well, in an ironic twist, Atiku appears primed to be the major beneficiary of the hamstringing of Tinubu this time around. I don’t have any reliably exclusive insights into this, but my hunch tells me that if Tinubu has been so restrained by the politically engineered scarcity of the naira that he can’t financially induce voters to vote for him, Atiku may be president.
The realignment of forces in the Muslim North is now decidedly in his favour and, while he may not win the Christian North outright, he has a great fighting chance there because of his enduring image among northern Christians as a tolerant, cosmopolitan Muslim who has no known record of religious discrimination toward Christians.
In fact, the single most important reason for the erstwhile lukewarm reception he had received in the Muslim North was the perception that he was too comfortable in the midst of non-Muslims in ways no Northern Muslim politician of his stature has ever been.
APC vice presidential candidate Kashim Shettima’s recent amplification of this sentiment (he said northern Muslims should reject Atiku because he’d opposed Sharia in the early 2000s and resented being addressed as “Alhaji”) actually helps Atiku with northern Christians and does nothing to reverse the growing consensus around him in the Muslim North.
Plus, Atiku’s political tentacles across the length and breadth of Nigeria’s ethno-religious labyrinth are deep and enduring. If he is not outspent (which the naira “redesign” policy seems calculated to achieve), he just might get lucky this time around.
Peter Obi might also theoretically benefit from the financial constraining of Tinubu, but whether it will be enough to one-up Atiku remains to be seen. Obi has to overcome enormous structural handicaps to have a chance at winning, and that seems almost insurmountable at this late stage.
Out of Nigeria’s 36 states, he will most certainly not get up to 25 per cent in at least Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Kano, Kwara,Kogi, Niger, Sokoto, Jigawa, Zamfara, Katsina, Kebbi, Katsina, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, and Ekiti. Even if he were to decisively win states in the South-East, the South-South, Benue, and Plateau, he would still come up short by a lot.
Plus, opinion polls that show him with a commanding lead, most of which are mere partisan exaggerations to start with, overlook what we call social desirability bias in social science research and public opinion polling, which is a tendency for survey respondents to give answers that affirm sentiments that are thought to be sanctified by the community that respondents belong to or aspire to belong to.
In the United States, it used to manifest in what was called the Bradley or Wilder effect. The Bradley or Wilder effect was the phenomenon where white people used to lie to pollsters about their willingness to vote for Black candidates because they didn’t want to be seen as racist. This used to exaggerate the electoral chances of African American candidates.
“Bradley effect” is named after Tom Bradley, an African-American who ran for governor of the state of California in 1982. Opinion polls showed him leading his white opponent by several margins. In fact, exit polls (what people told pollsters after they voted) showed that he had won the election. Based on these exit polls, the media declared him the winner. But when the actual election results were released, he lost to his closest white opponent by a wide margin.
In 1989, seven years after Bradley’s shocking defeat, Douglas Wilder, America’s first elected African-American governor, nearly lost to his white opponent, even though opinion polls showed that he was ahead of him by 15 per cent. He won by a mere 6,700 votes.
Among southerners and Christians, there’s a lot of stigma in saying you will vote for Atiku Abubakar or Bola Tinubu—and for good reason, to be honest—so it’s not hard to see why they will tell pollsters that they will vote for Obi, the current darling of the South and of Christians, even if they will actually vote for another candidate. There’s also a lot of reputational brownie points to be gained if a Muslim says he’ll vote for Obi, even he won’t.
These factors may conspire to overestimate Obi’s electability in opinion polls even though he has virtually no presence in almost half of the country. Having said that, it’s still hard to tell how much impact Buhari’s politically engineered naira scarcity will have on APC’s vote-buying schemes because Nigeria’s political elites always have a way of circumventing barriers put in their way.