The costs of these nomination forms for APC and PDP, the two major political parties in Nigeria, are beyond the reach of more than 90 per cent of Nigerians. These costs come across as “party tickets for sale”. With over 90 per cent of the electorate not able to afford these amounts, especially for the presidency and governorship nomination forms, this shuts them out of the election process. Inadvertently, this cost bars middle class and working class people…
The people are the bedrock of democracy. The supremacy of the people and the democratic institutions over and above individuals, no matter how well placed or wealthy, is at the core of democratic principles. Behind this democratic collectivism lies the individual’s inalienable rights and privileges that assume equality of all before the law, equality of all votes (one man, one vote) and equality of opportunity for all to seek elective positions of power in the country. In a true democracy, the struggle for power and the right to serve is not in the hands of the elite or the wealthy, who can afford the election process. This anomaly goes against the principle of democracy and tends towards aristocracy.
In advanced democracies, all efforts are made to, structurally and procedurally, create an enabling environment and easy access for many, irrespective of their social and economic backgrounds, to aspire for power and to serve. Based on this principle, most countries limit the cost of electioneering campaigns and the electoral process. Although it has been challenging to implement such financial restrictions, there have been attempts to limit campaign costs in Nigeria.
Recently, parties in Nigeria put out information on the costs of expression of interest and nomination forms for various elective positions in the country, including that of presidential aspirants. The figures mentioned have not followed the reality of economic conditions in the country nor the basic principles of financial restriction in elections and, in the views of many, are considered exorbitant and only affordable by the wealthy, thereby shutting out average Nigerians who have the capacity and ability to serve in various capacities but who cannot afford the parties’ nomination forms to participate in their primaries.
There is a moral panic regarding the outrageous cost of these party nomination forms, especially with the two major parties – the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The PDP and APC pegged their presidential nomination forms at N40 million and N100 million respectively. The APC charge is a 370 per cent increase of the cost for the 2019 election. The APC Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, on national television, said that although the cost of N100 million may seem high, it is vital to charge that much to raise funds to cover party expenses for the forthcoming elections, because the party has little or no funding sources. He further argued that the capacity to raise funds, overall, is a critical measure of acceptability and viability of aspirants for office. As noble as this idea seems, N100 million for a nomination form presents a psychological tipping edge to most Nigerians, who see that amount as huge and outrageous, especially in a country where the minimum wage is N30,000 per month, and still people are not paid for months.
The costs of these nomination forms for APC and PDP, the two major political parties in Nigeria, are beyond the reach of more than 90 per cent of Nigerians. These costs come across as “party tickets for sale”. With over 90 per cent of the electorate not able to afford these amounts, especially for the presidency and governorship nomination forms, this shuts them out of the election process. Inadvertently, this cost bars middle class and working class people who have something to offer from participating in the electoral process to the best of their abilities and interests.
Besides the costs of the nomination forms, data on campaign expenditure in Nigeria is not available, and money spent on the electioneering process is top secret and just left for individuals to conjecture. What is known is that with each election cycle, the cost gets higher, and inversely the value that office holders deliver in service drops. The inference is a relationship between the prohibitive costs of running for elections and the quality of governance. We may not capture the consequences of the excessive cost of securing a party ticket and getting elected in numbers, but citizens feel it.
Even with candidates having the noble intention of serving the people, their financiers force them to compromise in situations where their values and those of the financial sponsors conflict. He who pays the piper dictates the tune is a famous saying that readily comes to mind in this regard. In the recent past, we saw political actors in massive conflicts with their financiers and godfathers over how to administer state activities…
The argument that aspirants from less privileged financial backgrounds should solicit for funds from party members or family and friends, to raise money to buy nomination forms and fund elections is not tenable and goes against the spirit of democratic service. Aspirants should not be indebted or beholding to anyone or persons to avoid problems of the rich and powerful hijacking the election process and, ultimately, the political leaders who will emerge.
One of the significant reasons that candidates compete for elective posts is because they want to serve. Sometimes, some candidates know that the financial rewards for serving may be little, in comparison to the rewards from their private ventures, and they often will be willing to bear a minimal cost for this privilege. Nevertheless, with the prohibitive cost of electioneering, from getting a party ticket to running a campaign, the venture has become essentially monetised and transactional. The more money it costs to win an election, the more candidates become Machiavellian in their approach to pursuing it — the prohibitive cost of securing party tickets and conducting election fuel corruption and undermines democratic values. Cerebral Felix Morka also countered this, noting that there is no direct correlation between the cost of fees and the tendency for corrupt enrichment.
Little wonder that for some candidates, winning is a do-or-die affair and it must be done at all costs. After running huge costs, candidates are minded to recover their “investments and make a profit” when they eventually win. This problem makes many politicians loot treasuries recklessly when in power. If they borrowed the funds or their “godfathers” sponsored them, they would become puppets in the hands of these financiers or special interest groups.
Even with candidates having the noble intention of serving the people, their financiers force them to compromise in situations where their values and those of the financial sponsors conflict. He who pays the piper dictates the tune is a famous saying that readily comes to mind in this regard. In the recent past, we saw political actors in massive conflicts with their financiers and godfathers over how to administer state activities or even how to share the allocations of funds. We can still remember how a governor was kidnapped by his sponsors and forced to compromise on financial and appointment decisions he needed to make in his state.
The state was held captive by these unscrupulous power mongers and money bags who wanted to control the state apparatus of power and money. Often, this degenerates into moral decadence and even to the loss of lives in the pursuit of power. Our elections witnessed a wanton display of money (in bullion vans) and the shameful buying of votes and bribing of electoral officers, as a continuation of the overspending that started with the buying of party nomination forms in seeking an elective position. During party primaries and elections in Nigeria, the amount of money the system is awash with could be mindboggling. Elections then become a game of who has more resources to outspend the others in order to win party tickets or elections.
Besides, how many middle-class people with integrity and competence can afford the sums for the APC and PDP presidential nomination forms? As mentioned earlier, through the cost of party nomination forms, many working-class people and middle-class politicians-cum-technocrats who cannot afford these party nomination forms are shut out of the process. Also, young people are discouraged from participating since they may not afford even the 50 per cent reduced rates for the nomination forms of the APC. Effectively, it makes the “not too young to run“ affirmative action meaningless.
Every political party in Nigeria should open itself up to allow for more democratisation of the system and to allow for popular participation by reducing the cost of participating in the electoral process. It is time that parties operationalise the idea of membership dues and contributions from members. The current huge nomination fee structure distinguishes between party members and party owners. I hope that, even if not the 2023 elections, subsequent elections must benefit from lowering the cost of buying party nomination forms for interested candidates.
This issue may cause a total lack of interest in seeking political office by middle class and working class people in Nigeria. In comparison with developed democracies, Nigeria fares poorly in middle class and working class participation in elective positions. For similar positions, for example, in the U.S., the cost of party nomination forms for primaries is less than that of Nigeria, especially when factors like per capita income and other economic variables intervene.
The costs of party nomination forms (filing fees) for the primaries for state governors and U.S. senators range between $5,000 and $3,500, respectively, while that of an APC governorship ticket is about $85,000, which is about sixteen times more that in the U.S., whilst the per capita income in the U.S. is more than twenty times that of Nigeria. An average middle class American who earns about $3,000 will have to save two months salary to pay for the party nomination fees, whilst an average Nigeria middle class who earns about N500,000 will have to save about one hundred months salary (almost ten years) before being able to raise N50 million to buy a governorship party nomination form. The contrast is shocking.
The exorbitant cost of our elections, from the party nomination to the primaries, through to the elections proper, forces a mercantilist ideology on our political actors. It becomes a quid pro quo situation where financiers, whether candidates themselves or external people, change the priorities of officeholders to suit those who funded their elections. In such situations, special interest groups and other external power players shift focus from governance and leadership to achieving and accomplishing their pecuniary interests and often hold the system hostage for their distinct advantage. The people, Nigerians, therefore, lose on all fronts.
Nigeria is at a crossroads. Only a credible general election in 2023 that ushers in the people’s choice as leaders in a true democratic sense will move the country in the right direction. All should jettison anything that will inhibit popular participation. Structural hindrances to popular participation across all social strata and groups will be a desideratum to our collective political loss.
Every political party in Nigeria should open itself up to allow for more democratisation of the system and to allow for popular participation by reducing the cost of participating in the electoral process. It is time that parties operationalise the idea of membership dues and contributions from members. The current huge nomination fee structure distinguishes between party members and party owners. I hope that, even if not the 2023 elections, subsequent elections must benefit from lowering the cost of buying party nomination forms for interested candidates. We need to keep deepening our democracy and stabilising core democratic values that all players must abide by. The party institutions in Nigeria are the microcosm of the more extensive Nigerian state. Any disempowering impunity and structural boundary, whether intentionally or unintentionally, create confusion and discord, and these must be uprooted and replaced with better democratic core values and ethos.
Dakuku Peterside is a policy and leadership expert.
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