Chima Christian and Oseloka H. Obaze
Money politics and campaign finance remain topical and disconcerting issues in Nigeria. They are also policy issues that have further compounded by vote-buying and the amount of money charged prospective candidates by political parties. Those who aspire to public office in Nigeria are hardly incentivized by prevailing financial requirements. Indeed, many credible and qualified Nigerians are being leveraged out of running for public office. Those bold and rich enough to run might as well adopt the mantra, #NotTooPoorToRun#.
Challenges to political candidacy in Nigeria are legion. Broad disenchantment with spiraling costs associated with the recent primaries by the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), the All Progressives Congress (APC), and less so, the the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), continue to trend on the national airwaves. At fault, is the ruling governement, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the variuous political parties. For the aspirants, its all a matter of very limited choices, in the absence of independent candidates.
When considered, the simple cost of obtaining Expression of Interest (EOI) and Nomination Forms, two necessary prerequisites for anyone truly aspiring for public office is humongous. For the ongoing elections, aspirants, constituencies and indeed Nigeria’s electorate are being disenfranchised of true representation. Some who won the primaries are being dropped for the so-called lack of financial capacity to contest. Others were rusticated before the fact for the same reasons.
When Nigeria’s two leading political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), announced fees for aspirants who wished to obtain forms on their platform, the costs drew understandable public condemnation. For the presidency, the ruling APC, requested N45 million; and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), not-so-paltry N12 million. Those ccontesting for Governorship, APC aspirants had to pay the sum of N22.5 million, compared to PDP’s N6 million. APC Senatorial and Federal House of Representatives aspirants picked up forms at N7 million and N3.2 million respectively, while their PDP counterparts forked out N4 million and N1.5 million respectively. Similarly, fees for those running for State Houses of Assembly were scandalously high.
In comparative terms, running for public office in Nigeria cost more per capita, than running for office in the United States of America. To run for Senate in the United States (with its GDP and Income Per Capita several times the size of Nigeria’s) in either of the two leading political parties, one has to pay a filling fee of US$5,000. The equivalent of that fee in Nigeria is $19,000 for the APC and $11,000 for the PDP.
These outrageous application costs, have elicited understandable consternation and derision. What is perhaps most disconcerting, is the levity with which this pressing national interest question is being addressed in all quarters. It does, indeed make nonsense of the ongoing reform of electoral laws. The obvious pitfalls of Nigeria’s hyper-monetized electoral value chain are certainly not receiving the attention it deserves. The reality is that even if an aspirant is the preferred choice of his constituents, a vast number of “ordinary citizens” within that category, cannot afford EOI/Nomination Forms. The major political parties have technically made aspiring for public offices the exclusive preserve of deep pockets.
It’s hardly incidental that observers of Nigeria politics contend unreservedly that Nigeria’s dominant parties scheme out poor, honest Nigerians from elective offices. To buttress this point, Kemi Busari projected that it will take a Nigerian public servant on the lowest rung of the of civil service cadre, at least three life times to pay for the presidential form at the ruling party’s asking price.
Though often overlooked, these are very valid concerns, which in reality, affects the growth of our democracy. A deeper prognosis reveals that the high cost of forms results from larger societal failings. Considered strictly for the political party administrative angle, it’s unsettling to know that many state, local government and ward offices of political parties, regardless of the party, still find it difficult to renew their annual rents, pay administrative staff, and pay utility bills. Several registered political parties, don’t even have offices, as required by law, let alone bearing the cost of administering them.
The crux of the high candidacy tariffs is that the top echelons of the parties corner these funds, and even when they disburse them for party activities, do so in a manner that gives them a grip on the party hierarchy and confers on them, undue advantage over their rivals. Numerous times, these funds are reportedly paid into personal accounts.
Any search for ameliorative measures can start with card carrying party members paying their dues as and at when due and convincing a critical mass of other party faithful to do likewise. The current trend where some lesser known parties peg their forms below “outrageous” amounts; and some parties offer forms free of charge to qualified prospective aspirants in order to ensure engender and youth inclusivity should be encouraged.
In the meantime, the grim realities of Nigeria’s hyper-monetized electoral space stares one in the face. Part of it derives from a pernicious culture of instant gratification, where most people in the electioneering value-chain, expect to be induced financially. Relatedly, it’s been observed that “vote buying takes place at multiple stages of the electoral cycle in the country and has been seen eminently during voter registration, nomination period, campaign and Election Day.” This is so true. Once you readily express interest in running for political office, you are compulsively expected to part with huge and at times mind-boggling sums or risk being adjudged an unserious aspirant. As Reuben Abati opined recently, “you are to show up at funerals, weddings, naming ceremonies, thanksgiving, chieftaincy title taking and all manner of social functions. And this is not without its cost.”
Societal values and orientation add to the present challenges. There is the burden of undue expectation or a skewed sense of entitlement. It’s common knowledge that within Nigeria’s voting electorate, a high percentage decide who to vote for, not based on competence or qualification, but by asking questions like; “What has he/she done for the masses?” Naturally, any aspirant not who has not engaged in running a charity organization or the so-called constituency empowerment programmes, including paying school fees, hospital bills, sponsoring free medical missions, sharing sandals to school students, bags of rice to their parents, etc. may well forget being elected. Whereas altruism and philanthropy remain noble causes, in Nigerian politics they have both been elevated by the electorate as the principal criteria for political support. The resultant effect – a dubious corollary – is that such disposition contributes to the spiraling cost of running for public office, while shutting out qualified people with modest means from partisan politics.
In contested party primaries, money remains the dominant factor. To secure party nomination, aspirants shoulder the responsibility of mobilizing delegates and providing logistics, hotel accommodation and catering for their welfare. This is in addition to the cash inducements running into several thousands of Naira or preferably foreign hard currencies for each delegate. Perhaps the best kept secret is the “security vote” and “logistics support” funds doled out during general elections to security agencies relevant to the constituency and geographical space one hopes to serve. Similarly, well-remunerated hired thugs, demands their “fair share of democratic dividends”, even though it appears ballot box snatching has been removed from their job description.
Although not openly discussed, it remains common knowledge that a coterie of political stakeholders including INEC officials, party chieftains, traditional and religious rulers, and other influencers, exert a huge financial burden on party candidates who hope for a successful campaign outcome. However, it is on the Election Day proper that the fiscal cost of electioneering and campaign finance manifests fully. Beyond the aforementioned inducements, vote buying which is a new trend, is fast becoming a scourge. A heady question needs to be asked. Why do people sell their votes?
Nigeria’s hyper-monetized electoral value chain will neither dissipate nor disappear overnight. It has to be tackled robustly. Various factors, both motivational and causative that constitute obvious pitfalls have been identified and must be addressed proactively. Of the lot, the widening gap trust between leaders and the led, poverty and corruption top the list. Nigeria’s political elite are unabashedly notorious for abandoning, or even denying their political campaign promises. With that, citizens tend to believe that the material inducements they receive before the conclusion of the election process is the only thing they are guaranteed to get out of the electoral process, hence, the demand for instant gratification. Accordingly, extant electoral and penal codes must be enforced without hindrance.
Contextually, under the prevailing circumstances, Nigerian political offices are not necessarily won by the most qualified or most popular candidate, but by the highest bidder, oftentimes, those with the wherewithal of incumbency. Attestations abound. In conceding defeat in the 2017 Anambra State governorship election, Osita Chidoka the United Progressives Party (UPP) candidate said, “[f]rom the ballots, we heard the voice of our people. We heard it loud and clear. On November 18, our people announced strongly their rejection of politicians. They traded their votes because they doubted we would truly represent their interest. While our message resonated with the people they doubted that the political class cared about them. They voted for the highest bidder.”
Naturally, the mutual distrust between candidates and the electorate will continue to fuel the pernicious culture of instant gratification. Whereas the “highest bidder” remains the huge elephant in the electioneering room, it is poor orientation, poor voters’ education, and poverty that combine to pervert the electoral process in Nigeria.
Chima is a Research Associate at Selonnes Consult, Awka. Obaze is the MD/CEO, Selonnes Consult, Awka.
Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.
Selonnes Consult Ltd. is a Strategic Policy, Good Governance and Management Consulting Firm, founded by Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze who served as Secretary to Anambra State Government from 2012-2015; a United Nations official from 1991-2012 and a Nigerian Foreign Service Officer from 1982-1991.