The primary elections are over and despite the spirited attempts by President Muhammadu Buhari, his inner circle and some spoilers such as vice president Yemi Osinbajo, to steal the All Progressives Congress ticket from Bola Ahmed Tinubu, he still prevailed easily.
Even before the convention where the primary election took place, there were credible reports of delegates being offered huge amounts of dollars. This is in addition to settling their leaders, various power official and traditional brokers from all parts of the country. Contestants who were not willing or able to match the generalissimo of Lagos dollar to dollar, like Tunde Bakare, who only bought the form for 100 million and then sent bulk sms to the delegates, got no votes.
Even APC contenders from the east pretending to be interested in power shift to the southeast in 2023 could not persuade delegates from their states to vote for them. The delegates simply voted for the highest bidder. It may be the case that they all knew it was an exercise in futility and decided not to waste their votes. It may also be that the so-called contestants didn’t even campaign at all not to talk of giving dollars and expected the presidency to be zoned to them by fiat.
Regardless, Tinubu showed his political wizardry by pulling off a stunning victory even in the face of subtle opposition from the presidency and party leadership. For the better part of four years now, he has strategized, forged all kinds of alliances all over the country, bought everyone that mattered, and made it virtually impossible for anyone to compete fairly with him for the ticket.
And like I predicted, most of those who purchased the forms to contest were actually fronting for him. In my May 26 article, I wrote that “most of those purchasing the forms may actually be sponsored by a stronger candidate who is feeling confident of having secured a good number of the delegates’ votes but still feels threatened by the entry of other likely strong candidates.
By flooding the field with so many aspirants, he may derail the chances of the other strong candidates he fears or, in a worst-case scenario, even if the jostling goes down to competitive primaries, the other aspirants will siphon key votes away from his staunchest competitors and with his secured delegates votes, run out the undisputed winner. In the event that the party decides on consensus, his sponsored minions simply drop their bid or even vote to support him as the preferred candidate. It is a political master strategy in the Nigerian environment.”
The key question to ask is how did Bola Tinubu acquire such stupendous wealth as to be able to outcompete virtually all the APC contestants put together and buy his way through? Tinubu is not associated publicly with any business and he last held political office 14 years ago as two time governor of Lagos state from 1999 – 2007.
Well, as governor, he did what no one else had been able to do in Nigeria. He not only managed to remain a powerful kingmaker, he has also built a formidable political empire in Lagos and has extended his suzerainty and influence to other parts of the Southwest and the country at large. From the modest position of being rewarded with the governorship ticket, in 1999, of the AD, an ethnic party, mainly for his services to NADECO during the days of the dark-goggled dictator, Sani Abacha, the Asiwaju of Lagos or Jagaban, as he is popularly called by his admirers, has not only presided over the dismantling of the Western region’s gerontocratic system or, at best reliance on elders for political directions but has equally built from scratch a formidable political structure that has given him total control of the politics and governance structure of Lagos from which he has extended his influence to other states.
Building the so-called structure involves skillfully keeping all successive governors, and elected and appointed officials on a leash and permanently answerable only to him. That way, he has been able to maintain control over the state’s finances. A company that provides tax advisory services – Alpha Beta Consulting – and with links to him has been providing tax advisory services to the Lagos state government in exchange for more than a quarter of the state’s entire generated revenue. The state government, since 2020, has increased the rate it pays to Alpha Beta LLC, from N800 to N2.5 billion, according to credible bank documents obtained by People’s Gazette.
Payments to Alpha Beta has been at the heart of conflict between Tinubu and his two predecessors in office. As governor, Tinubu got the pliant state assembly to sign off on a 10 percent monthly commission to the firm on accrued revenue. But even after leaving office, he continued to authorise outrageous deductions from the state coffers, which led to a face-off with his successor, Babatunde Fashola. Fashola eventually settled to paying the company N800 billion monthly, a fee Ambode, who took over from Fashola, was unwilling to increase.
However, since 2020, Babajide Sanwo-Olu has increased the monthly payments to N2.5 billion, ostensibly to build a financial war chest for Tinubu’s presidential campaign. That has created a shortfall in the state’s revenue and the governor has decided to pass the cost to the poor people of Lagos, by imposing a daily tax of N800 on all buses operating in the state. It amounts to an annual levy of N288, 000 on every bus.
Lagos state, as I argued a few weeks ago on this page, has made nonsense of the standard theory of taxation and accountability, which states that as the state increasingly depends on the direct taxation of its citizens for revenue, it will become increasingly more accountable to its people. That has not happened in Lagos.
Over 50 percent of its revenues come directly from taxation – the only state that has been able to achieve such a feat in Nigeria. If the theory is correct, we should begin to notice greater demand for and rendering of accountability by the Lagos state government. But the reality is that Lagos state remains the opaquest state in the country with zero accountability and almost zero demand for accountability by the people of the state. Despite all the legitimate taxes collected, the state government never publishes its audited accounts and refuses to supply any freedom of information requests about its revenues or expenditures.
It’s standard reply to any FOI request is that the bill, passed and signed into law in 2011, “does not have automatic application in Lagos state and it has not been domesticated in the state by the State House of Assembly,” even when various court judgements expressly stated it applies to the entirety of the country without exception.
What is more, Lagos state is perhaps the only state in the country where the entire government machinery is controlled by a single individual. He alone determines and decides who occupies whatever elective or appointive position in the entire state. Consequently, all public officials in the state are only responsible and accountable to him alone and not to the taxpayers in the state because only that individual determines their fate and not the so-called electorate.
Is it not shocking that despite the fact that over 4.5 million Lagosians pay their tax regularly and with over 6.5 million registered voters, turnout at elections in Lagos hardly exceeds 1.5 million every election cycle? The missing link in the taxation-accountability nexus is the middle class. But this is a discussion for another day.