Comments and Issues
The fuss over N100m presidential nomination as misplaced concreteness
Following the recent announcement of the electoral timetable by INEC which chronicles events that builds up to the 2023 national elections in Nigeria, political parties have swung into action to prepare themselves and their members either to retain the power that they already have or wrestle power from the incumbent.
Money is always a major factor in determining performance at the polls in most countries of the world and perhaps the only factor in Nigeria! In 1960 after he narrowly defeated his opponent Richard Nixon in the United States of America’s presidential election, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was asked by a journalist ‘what does it take to succeed in politics’? JFK answered and said ‘it takes three things to succeed in politics: money, money and money’. My interpretation of JKF’s statement is that, no matter how brilliant or good intentioned a candidate may be, without the necessary financial backup, any political ambition is dead on arrival.
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As part of preparation for the 2023 presidential elections, political parties recently announced the cost of nomination forms for each office that is up for grabs in that election. The current ruling party took the lead with ₦100,000,000 for presidential ticket nomination form while PDP followed in distant second with ₦40,000,000. This announcement has been greeted with a great deal of hue and cry by Nigerians both in the social media space and in mainstream media. While I am not in support of such humongous amount of money for mere expression of interest to contest for the highest office of the land, I think that such widespread fuss amounts to misplaced concreteness in the face of weightier financial transactions along the presidential election value chain.
Let’s face the fact, anyone who is genuinely ambitious of becoming the president of Nigeria through election under the current presidential system cannot have a problem discounting one hundred million naira. A potential president must either be a man of means or a man of the people. In other words, if he cannot bring out the money by himself, he must have people or organizations who believe enough in him to pick up the bills.
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The Weightier financial issues
Based on my observations and close interactions with political gladiators over the years, I can state without equivocation that ₦100,000,000 is like coins or a tip of the iceberg compared to other financial hurdles on the way to the presidency. These bigger issues, most of them unofficial are more likely to shape our presidential electioneering process than the nomination fee.
I. Delegates inducement during primaries:
It is common knowledge that delegates to national convention of major political parties often smile to the bank with huge sums of money derived from aspirants after presidential primary elections. Some aspirants pay as much as $10,000 per delegate. Upwards of six thousand delegates are eligible to elect their party flag bearers. With due respect to some delegates who are not interested in selling their conscience for a mess of porridge, a vast majority of them would receive inducement from aspirants. For an aspirant to be sure of winning, he has to settle at least half of the delegates.
$10,000 to 3,000 people will amount to $30,000,000. This is equivalent to ₦18 billion.
II. Accommodation and feeding of delegates:
Very often, delegates who show some support for a particular aspirant often becomes the responsibility of the presidential aspirant. This means that the flight, bus or train ticket is on the aspirant. They are often lodged in hotels and fed on the account of the aspirant. On the average, about ₦100,000 to ₦200,000 would be spent on a delegate to cater for transportation, hotel and feeding. Let us take a limit of ₦100,000 for 3,000 delegates. This comes to ₦300,000,000.
III. Settlement of fellow aspirants:
Often, when the contest gets to the decisive end and as party leaders begin to zero in on preferred and likely candidates, the perceived unpopular or unanointed candidates are prevailed upon to step down for the popular or anointed candidates. This often comes with a lot of compensation for the aspirants who will eventually step down for the preferred candidates. Such financial compensation usually includes the cost of purchased nomination form and other campaign expenses. The amount in question runs into billions of naira to compensate an aspirant in order to get the support of the stepping down aspirant. Imagine what it will cost to settle the top five contenders. Anyone who pays ₦100,000,000 to purchase a nomination form deserves to be considered as a contender and must be settled handsomely for any compromise to be reached.
IV. Campaign finance:
Following emergence of candidates from the presidential primaries, the campaign for universal adult suffrage then begins. This is the business end of the campaign and even more costly. To become president under our present arrangement, a candidate is expected not only to win majority of the votes but to get at least one third of the total votes in one quarter of the states. This translates to 25% of votes in at least 24 states. This makes it imperative for the presidential campaign train to touch down on each of the 36 states of Nigeria. Considering all the inputs that go into each state campaign such as courtesy visits, mobilization of campaign support groups, television adverts, bill boards, organizing of campaign rally and of course renting of crowds, a contending party for the plum job is not expected to spend less than ₦2 billion per state. For Lagos, Kano and Rivers, the stakes are higher and so is the expenditure. I will put a figure of ₦100 billion to run a visible presidential campaign across the country. In most cases, it is higher for the two largest political parties.
V. Election day expenditure:
Party Agents: According to figures published by INEC, there are now 176,846 polling units scattered across the 36 states of Nigeria and FCT. Each polling unit must have an agent representing a political party and each agent must be catered for in terms of their feeding, transportation and welfare package else they can compromise and work for the opponents: considering a fair cost of ₦20,000 per agent, this will translate to over ₦3.5 billion across the country.
VI. Vote Buying:
This nauseating phenomenon has unfortunately become a constant feature of our elections. All the parties are involved in this ugly trend. Some parties only outdo the others in this merchandise. Depending on the centre and other prevailing factors, votes are bought for between ₦2,000 and ₦10,000. It used to be much lower but the figures have gone up in recent elections perhaps due to inflationary trends. It is fair to assume that 30% of voters would be induced with money. Whether they end up voting for the inducing party or not is another issue altogether. President Muhammadu Buhari won the 2019 presidential election with 15,191,847 votes; 30% of that figure is about 4.5 million voters. Taking ₦5,000 as average cost of buying a vote, each contending candidate would budget about ₦23 billion for vote buying.
There are many other underhand costs such as settlement of some corrupt security agents, settlement of party stakeholders, sorting out of street thugs etc that are real to every discerning mind and constitute major costs that run into billions of naira.
From the foregoing, it is obvious that any presidential candidate who cannot muster ₦200 billion from start of campaign to the finish line cannot be considered as a serious contender for the exalted office. This reality is a slap on the face of the 2010 electoral act as amended in 2022 which placed a limit of ₦5 billion on presidential election spending.
In the United States of America, election funding is strictly regulated and campaigns funds goes through Political Action Committees (PAC). Every dollar received or spent in the electioneering campaign is audited. Nigeria is different. Many of the sponsors of our politicians are individuals or organizations unknown to the public or government. These sponsors will definitely call the shots when the time is ripe. They are called the deep state in some circumstances.
As long as we maintain the current presidential system of government, the politics of prebendalism, (a term coined for Nigeria’s corrupt political system by Richard A. Joseph, the director of the program of African studies at north western university in Illinois, USA) will never end. Here, politics is seen as a franchise in which investments are made and the winner of such an expensive electioneering process goes into the office with a certain notion of entitlement to our common patrimony, or how else were they supposed to recover their investment? From the foregoing, it is obvious that the hue and cry about the high cost of party nomination forms for the presidential election is a red herring. It is a distraction from the bigger picture of the rotten underbelly of money politics in Nigeria.
Nigeria, unlike the United States of America is too poor to continue to progress on this erroneous pathway of the presidential system of government. I suggest that we look again into the parliamentary system of government in which people are voted into the parliament by their small constituents located within their states. The president and his cabinet are then elected from amongst the parliamentarians. The party with the majority seats is favoured to produce the president and parties can form coalition to form government if they don’t have the numbers to go alone. This way, most of the milestones of presidential campaign and the associated costs will be excised from our politics. This will reduce the tendency of political office holders to convert state funds because whether we like it or not, all moneys spent on election will be recovered with interest by the winner of such election and the ultimate source of such money is our money.
- Dr. Otabor is a Chief Consultant Orthopedic Surgeon and Chief Medical Director Alliance Hospital, Abuja
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