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EDITORIAL

2023: Citizens as victims of high cost of Nigeria’s electoral process

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ALTHOUGH the hue and cry that trailed the recent exorbitant fees charged by All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for their expression of interest (EoI) and nomination forms for members aspiring to fly their flags in elections  into  various positions at state and federal levels in the forthcoming 2023 general elections may appear to have ebbed, the  development refreshes a malaise.

While APC pegs its forms between N2 million and N100 million, PDP follows closely with a N40 million asking price for its presidential ticket form.  Almost within finger snap of the announcements, what Nigerians saw was aspirants across the two dominant parties  being accompanied by drummers and dancers to pick the forms at their parties’ national secretariats in full media glee.  If this malaise verging on insensitivity to the feelings of ordinary people  is interfaced with Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s N239 billion budget for polling materials in the same  election, it surely leaves more than mere mouthfuls for Nigerians to ruminate.

  BUT this is not a novel development by every stroke of logic. Rather, it has become a sour grape that turns Nigeria’s periodic general elections into poisoned chalice of sort, especially, since the current civilian dispensation in which  every election year had turned into a bazaar  and spending spree for politicians. 

Hence,  the cost of forms,  for example, has been on exponential rise with every succeeding poll. While  PDP fixed its nomination fee and EoI forms for the November 2021 governorship in state at N21 million, APC charged N22.5 million, for instance, after the two parties had previously placed N22.5 million and N25 million fees respectively on governorship aspirants’ form for the September 19, 2020 gubernatorial election in Edo State, just as their price menu for the June 2022 governorship election in Ekiti State was not  different in the country’s egregious electoral ecosystem.

And its endless list just goes on and on as currently, ahead the 2023 poll, every  governorship aspirant in the  states where elections will hold  will need N50 million to buy an APC form while every APC Senate aspirant will cough out N20 million and a House of Representatives’ contender ‘sourcing’ N10 million from only-God-knows-where, leaving a state House of Assembly aspirant will pay N2 million for primary election forms alone.

  MAYBE, this explains the body language of elected public office holders  which shows they really have no time to think about the country’s development. Hence, from what is happening now, the only ministers still ‘working’ are those who are not interested in contesting for positions while those such as Minister for Labour, Senator Chris Ngige and Minister for Transport, Rotimi Amechi, as well as Minister of State for Education, Emeka Nwajiuba, among others are caught up in a dilemma of knowing what amount of time to devote to their competing official duties and presidential election aspirations. Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio joined the long list of presidential aspirants, yesterday.

 Maybe, the president will understand because they are working together to ensure the success of the ruling  party.

  A MAJOR dynamic sticking out of the conundrum  is that the figures keep increasing in marveling rate.  APC’s presidential nomination form fees have risen from less than N50 million in 2018 to N100 million in 2022 diametrically followed by PDP’s  N18 million price in 2018, graduating to N40 million now.

This leaves two startling questions,  is this a testament of the steep inflationary trend in  Nigeria since 1999,  or does it crassly depict the current Nigerian politicians’ unconscionable greed? But whichever explains the anagram better weighs parri passu with the fact that though President Muhammadu Buhari kicked against N25 million nomination form fee in 2015, not a few Nigerians see his own party as the worse culprit in this highest bidders’ show.

  INDEED, the development while bringing up salient issues about the country’s financial temperature equally underscores the gross oddities in her electoral process. It either speaks to the country’s quotient of filthy lucre or it is  financial dope with which those who trapped the country’s economic war chest game the country’s political space, even before balloting, against those outside their clique, they evolve ways of  squeezing out those without deep pockets from seeking public or elective offices. But without bothering what causes the rot, one thing is certain about it, it  clearly sets Nigeria on a trigger. 

  YET the twist gets more curious when interfaced with the fact that this financial saga  is going on in a country ranked among those in  extreme poverty in  comity of nations. Or what strand of rhetoric excuses a nation to warble in this fudge when many states ‘cannot’ afford N30,000 (or nearly $58 at N520 per dollar exchange rate) minimum wage for their workers?

  ONE lesser reason for this sleight of hand, if not outright sleaze, is that unlike functional democracies, Nigeria’s political parties do not muster sufficient membership to fund their activities. The upshot is that parties seek funds from those capable of playing benefactors under any nomenclature, even if they turn back to hijack the parties by converting them into their personal fiefs.

This does not happen in some Western democracies which Nigeria emulates hence in United Kingdom, for instance, Conservative and Labour Parties each charges standard annual membership fee of £25 just like the template subsisting in Nigeria’s First Republic to defray certain tendencies to cutting corners.

  AMONG other disincentives, this trend not only inhibits democracy from taking deep roots in Nigeria, because the high fees disenfranchise a vast majority of Nigerians who cannot afford them even if they have brilliant ideas and requisite potentials for public service from taking any shot at those offices. Hence, the people are forced to tick the ballot papers for one moneybag or another. Is it still any wonder that those who are not moneybags resort to bank borrowing or godfathers’ sponsorship in order to fund their political campaigns?

  BUT there is a snag in each choice, because while those in the former group will quickly turn it into a business venture rather than a call to public service with motivation to recoup their investment as quickly as possible if they eventually win,  candidates that funded their campaigns through sponsorship often found themselves in the situation that played out in Anambra State in 2003 when a sitting governor was abducted and forced to tender his resignation by his godfather.

  THERE is no justification for Nigeria’s costly electoral process. Rather, it depicts all that is wrong with Nigeria’s political economy where election is more expensive than UK economy that is valued at $2.70 trillion whereas Nigeria’s economy is valued at  $432.3 billion.

  THEREFORE, we call for establishment of a specialised unit in INEC for regulation of fees payable by aspirants in parties’ primaries and the general elections. This unit should be peopled by elder statesmen of integrity in order to insulate their affairs from manipulative tendencies of underhand transactions with crooked, corrupt politicians.

The unit should have powers to impose caps on parties’ electoral expenses and sanction offenders. If there is none, and legislature cannot be trusted with such role for being part of the game, NGOs or coalition of non-state actors should step into the shoes to resist these parties by finding creative ways of mounting pressure on National Assembly to sponsor bills limiting atrocious expenses, beginning with cost of nomination forms to campaign expenses.

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