To run for a governorship position in any state in the US in 2022, your political party’s primary filing and nomination fee can range from as low as $0 (yes, zero) to $3,750 (or N1.8m). The average fee is thus circa $2,000 (or N980,000). These charges cover what is labeled in Nigeria as nomination and expression of interest forms’ fees. The earlier higher figure of $3,750 is applicable in the state of Texas, one of the largest states in the US. Other than advert and coordinating logistics for the campaigns that are personal to each aspirant, there are no additional obligatory fees to run for the position of a governor in the US general elections.
To run for the US House of Representatives (Congress), the party filing and nomination fee can range from $0 to $3,125 with the average in most states being $1,760 (about N850,000). The US State House of Representatives (we call this House of Assembly in Nigeria) can range from $0 to $750 with the average being $200 (less than N100,000), depending on the state.
Yet, you can bypass these fees altogether by opting to submit a Petition in place of a Filing Fee. That is, your application for a place on the primary ballot is expected to be accompanied by either a filing fee or a petition in lieu of a filing fee signed by a certain number of qualified voters in your constituency or district. For governorship, most of the states require you to submit signatures from just 5,000 voters. For the Federal House of Representatives or State House of Assembly, you may need signatures from just 500 voters.
I contested the governorship position in Ondo State in 2016. Our filling fee for the party (APC national and state) at the time was around N7 million (N5 million national + N2 million state). That’s like four times what a governorship aspirant in the U.S. would pay in 2022! I recently learned that the gubernatorial nomination fee of the leading political parties in Nigeria is likely to increase to N30 million in the 2022/2023 election. The PDP has fixed the nomination fees of its presidential aspirants at N40 million in the 2022/2023 election.
The US’s GDP per capita trends around $62,000 in 2022 while Nigeria’s GDP per capita hovers at $2,400. The GDP per capita measures the economic output of a nation per person. Put in street lingo, it represents the average wealth of the average person in that country. The average monthly income in the US is about $3,000 per month (about N1.5 million) while minimum wage earners in most states make about $1,600 per month (about N780,000). An American with an average job and monthly income can therefore afford to pay for the governorship filing and nomination fee with one month’s salary. More remarkable is that even an individual on monthly minimum wage could afford to run for the U.S. House of Representatives or State House of Assembly by simply saving up ONE month’s salary!
In contrast, the minimum wage in Nigeria today is N35,000 per month. Outside of reliable data, we all know the real truth about the average job and average monthly income on the streets. A professor in Nigeria earns between N381,695 and N501,680 per month. A tenured university professor at the bar in Nigeria can starve and save up all salaries paid for the job in four years combined, yet, that university professor would still be unable to afford the approximately N30 million filing fee required of governorship aspirants by the political parties in Nigeria in 2022. This applies to most legitimate jobs in Nigeria. Inherently, the best earning Nigerians cannot on the weight of their legitimate earnings, contest for states and federal positions as aspirants in Nigerian political parties.
Nonetheless, without prejudice to the mighty significance of the lower and affordable fees payable by those seeking to be part of the U.S. political process in contrast with Nigerians, it is more astounding the thematic realisation that these fees are no limiting factors at all because the U.S. democratic system made a generous allowance for the complete bypass of payment subject to having enough signature endorsement from the people.
Does this have implications? Does this tell us anything about the type of democracy we are incubating? Why is this important? Does it not look like our democracy is different from the U.S. democracy – in nature, character, and essence? Does it not look like one democracy is determined by the people and depends on the will of the average citizens while the other democracy is not determined by the people or dependent on the will of the people? The most important question however is whether the outputs of both democracies can be the same – in terms of accountability, transparency, and responsible use of state power for the benefit of the people.
Nigeria is a nation of 207 million people. There is over two decades of awareness campaigns to get the Nigerian public to actively participate as voters in general elections. Participation as voters in the general election as the sole thrust of this campaign effectively leads to the conclusion that voting at the general election represents the only important civic duty of the Nigerian in the electoral process. But that is misleading. Whilst it is indeed true that the Nigerian political system has made substantial efforts to get the public to vote on D-day of elections, it is equally true that the Nigerian political system has left no stone unturned to ensure the Nigerian public is not able to participate in other most important aspects of the Nigerian electoral processes. These include unencumbered party membership, equitable access to party leadership positions as well as level-playing grounds to aspire to and become flag-bearers of political parties in elections. This is what this succinct comparison between the United States and Nigeria has affirmed. By monetizing the process, the Nigerian political system partitions the political divides into ‘the haves and the have not’ and excludes the majority in clear violation of the provision of Section 14(2)(a) of the 1999 Constitution which stipulates that “Sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government derives all its powers and authority”.
What makes a country like the U.S.A the envy of all is in the very strength of her democracy, whereby the validity and legitimacy of the country’s political process inhere in the people of America, their preferences and choices. This is why you see the typical American politician pandering to his base. This is why clear ideological firmaments can be identified. Regardless of the extent of its sterling finesse or outright ludicrousness, you can see the typical U.S. politician walking a tightrope to stay with the overarching ideology of his base and ensure he projects the aspirations of that base so that he can continue to poll well with them. Overall, the U.S. politician, the British politician, the Canadian politician, etc is subliminally primed by his nation’s political system to seek to apply power to secure the endorsement of his base. In essence, the seeming accountable use of political power for the benefit of their people is a direct product of the respective political processes deferring to their citizens.
Conversely, that the average Nigerian public officer appears to perpetually hold the Nigerian people in utter contempt, is a direct consequence of Nigeria’s restrictive political processes. By limiting people’s participation to only voting on election day, the Nigerian ruling class reduces the public to rubber stamp electorates required only to give a veneer of democratic legitimacy to what is in truth the antithesis of democracy. The frustration with fair and equitable access to the political process is principally responsible for the mushrooming of political parties by citizens in Nigeria. In a display that is contemptuous of egalitarian participation by the people, even political parties have now been known to impose heavy fees for members willing to aspire to leadership positions within Nigerian political parties! It cost N20 million to obtain the form for APC National Chairmanship position at its last convention. The lowest leadership rung at the convention, such as an Assistant Publicity Secretary, cost N5 million – that is about three times what it cost to run for governorship in the U.S.A.
There are litanies of other issues that continually erode the very fabrics of genuine democracy in Nigeria. This essay has only dealt with one. I put this information out here because we do not know which reader, whether now or among future generations, would come to possess the kind of power that can make true change happen. Remember this essay when that time comes and do your best to introduce real democracy.
Tunji Ariyomo is a Fellow of the Nigerian Society of Engineers and the National Coordinator of the Nigeria Focus Group.
Credits and data sources:
Official Websites of:
Texas Secretary of State
North Carolina State Board of Elections
Kansas Secretary of State
Vermont Secretary of State
Kentucky Board of Elections
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