Chima Christian and Oseloka H. Obaze
Money politics and campaign finance remain topical, disconcerting and divisive issues in Nigeria. The challenges they pose are further compounded by vote-buying and prohibitive filing fees charged by the political parties.
Challenges to political candidacy in Nigeria are legion. Aspirants to public offices in Nigeria are hardly incentivized by prevailing financial requirements. Indeed, credible and qualified Nigerians are being leveraged out of running for public offices. Those who run might as well adopt the #NotTooPoorToRun mantra.
Disenchantment with spiraling costs of recent primaries by the All Progressive Grand Alliance, the All Progressives Congress, and less so, the People’s Democratic Party, continue to trend on the national media and airwaves. At fault, is the APC ruling governement, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the variuous political parties. For the aspirants, it boils down to very limited choices; especially in the absence of independent candidacy.
Cost of obtaining an Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms, two necessary prerequisites for aspirants is humongous. This simply means that Nigeria’s electorate is being disenfranchised of true representation. Some, who won their primaries fairly, are being dropped for the so-called “lack of financial capacity.” Others were simply rusticated and their tickets given to the highest bidders.
Published electoral fees by the leading political parties, the All Progressives Congress, and the People’s Democratic Party, were scandalously high and drew understandable condemnation. For the presidency, the ruling APC, requested N45 million; and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), not-so-paltry N12 million.
Govenorship contestants in APC paid N22.5 million, compared to PDP’s N6 million. APC Senatorial and House contestants paid N7 million and N3.2 million respectively for forms, while their PDP counterparts doled out N4 million and N1.5 million respectively.
Comparatively, on a per capita basis, it’s cheaper to run for public office the United States of America than to run in Nigeria. To run for Senate in the United States in the Democratic or Republican Party, a contestant is required to pay a nominal filing fee of US$5,000. The Nigeria equivalent of that fee is $19,000 for the APC and $11,000 for the PDP.
A deeper assessment reveals that the high cost of forms results from larger societal failings. The parties at the state and local levels are grossly underfunded. Many state, local government and ward offices of political parties, in all cases, still find it difficult to self-administer. Most registered political parties don’t even have offices, as required by law.
Any meaningful quest for ameliorative measures can start with card carrying party members paying their mandatory dues. The practice by some parties to peg their forms at affordable prices or offer free forms to qualified female and youth aspirants in order to ensure inclusivity is salutary. This gesture contrasts with the practice where vested interests pool resources to buy forms for their usually very rich choice candidates.
As the grim realities of Nigeria’s hyper-monetized electoral space stares the nation in the face, expert observations indicate 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.”
Societal values and orientation add to the present challenges. There is the burden of undue expectation or a skewed sense of entitlement. Commonly, within Nigeria’s voting electorate, a high percentage decide who to vote for, not based on competence or qualification, but by asking, “What has he/she done for the masses?”
Naturally, any aspirant who has not engaged in running pseudo-charity organizations or the so-called constituency empowerment programmes, which includes 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 remains a noble cause, in Nigerian politics it has been elevated by the electorate as the principal, if not sole 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.
Money is also the dominant determinant in party primaries. Securing party nomination requires aspirants to shoulder the responsibility of mobilizing delegates and providing cash, hotel accommodation and catering for their welfare. Perhaps the best kept secret is the “security vote” and “logistics support” funds doled out during general elections to security agencies, deployed to the constituency and geographical space where one is contesting.
Similarly, hired thugs demand their “fair share of democratic dividends.” It remains common knowledge that a coterie of political stakeholders including INEC officials, party chieftains, traditional and religious leaders, and other influencers, exert a huge financial burden on candidates, who seek their implicit or explicit endorsement.
The pitfalls of Nigeria’s hyper-monetized electoral value chain will neither dissipate nor disappear overnight. Its sanitization must be robust. Motivational and causative factors that constitute such pitfalls have been identified. But a heady question still needs to be asked. Why do people sell their votes? Of the lot, the widening trust gap between leaders and the led, poverty and corruption top the list.
Nigeria’s political elite are notorious for abandoning campaign promises. Reflexively, citizens believe that the only guaranteed benefits are those material inducements they receive before the conclusion of the electioneering process, hence the demand for instant gratification. Left unchecked, this mutual distrust between candidates and the electorate will continue to fuel the pernicious culture of instant gratification.
Additionally, political offices in Nigeria are not necessarily won by the most qualified or most popular candidates, but by the highest bidder, oftentimes, the incumbent. In conceding defeat in the 2017 Anambra State governorship election, Osita Chidoka, the United Progressives Party (UPP) candidate said, “from the ballots, we heard the voice of our people. We heard it loud and clear…they voted for the highest bidder.”
Whereas the “highest bidder” remains the huge elephant in the electioneering room, it is distrust, poor orientation, poor voters’ education, poverty and apathy that combine to pervert the electoral process in Nigeria.