The promise of democracy is that citizens can freely change their leaders to redirect the collective destiny during elections. Such a national redirection is sorely needed for Nigeria right now. But no thanks to the outrageous costs of nomination and expression of interest forms for elective positions fixed by parties in the ongoing primaries, that promise appears dead on arrival for Nigeria, a country where the party system is the only constitutional mechanism for electing new leaders at all levels.
The presidential and governorship nomination forms for the ruling All Progressives’ Congress (APC), Nigerians have learned last week with considerable indignation, are fixed at N100m and N50m respectively. The corresponding amounts for the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are N40m and N21m respectively. For the National Assembly positions (Senate and House of Representatives), the APC forms go for N20m and N10m each, while those of the PDP go for N3.5m and N2.5m respectively. Even alternative parties like the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), Young Peoples’ Party (YPP), among others, have all toed the same line. The form for the presidential primary election contest goes for N35m in the SDP, N30m in the NNPP, and N20m for the YPP; and none of these parties sells their nomination forms for the governorship contest for less than N10m.
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Daily Trust strongly condemns these exorbitant rates as they effectively amount to putting up our elections for sale to the highest bidder. Elections are about two most fundamental principles of democracy: access and choice. The prohibitive costs of nomination forms threaten both by denying free access to many otherwise qualified aspirants and by narrowing the electoral field to the monied few. Political party processes that produce both outcomes by default will throw up a meaningless democracy, or worse, a civilian coup. Nigerian democracy cannot thrive either way.
The costs of the nomination and expression of interest forms are also simply distasteful in a country where the minimum wage remains N30,000 a month, and where over 87 million Nigerians live below the national poverty line of N137,430 per year, according to recent estimates of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). How should these Nigerians—and tens of millions more who live precariously just above the poverty line—view these outrageous decisions by the political parties? The political class may not want to hear it, but their distasteful manipulation of the political system to produce only skewed outcomes worsens the glaring disconnect between the political leadership and the citizenry and fuels rising insecurity and criminality everywhere across the country.
Also, the costs of the party nomination forms will further entrench corruption in the polity, by corrupting not just the means for acquiring political power but also its very ends. As a recent article in The Guardian shows, the N100 million charged by the ruling APC for its presidential nomination and expression of interest forms is equivalent to the salary of the president for a total of 85 months or seven years. if nomination forms alone cost so much, it is not inconceivable for aspirants or their ghost sponsors to be already thinking of how to quickly recover their ‘investments’ through fraudulent means, rather than work genuinely in the service of the country.
In this regard, the costs of nomination forms in the ruling APC in particular—a party elected on mantra of change in 2015—are nothing short of a scandal. And it is worse because the meeting that approved the fees were chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari, a man who as a candidate for 16 years was always quick to simultaneously lament his lack of money and suitability for the job in the same breath.
We are not unmindful of the importance of money in elections nor are we unaware of how expensive elections can be for political parties and their candidates everywhere. But even in the Unites States, a country with the most expensive elections in the world, the costs of party nomination forms are often $0 across most states and for most elective offices, although local party branches in some states charge up to about N2 million for governorship primary elections. And at $63,543, the US has a per capita GDP that is more than 30 times higher than Nigeria’s $2,097.
We are also aware of the claim by political parties that nomination fees are one of the main ways they raise funds for campaigns and other party activities. While this is true, it also betrays the poverty of creativity, dysfunction and disconnect within our political parties. Across major democracies, political parties raise money, not by charging exorbitant nomination fees, but by generating policies and recruiting candidates that will appeal to and connect with wide sections of voters who, in turn, make personal or organizational financial contributions to the parties or candidates’ campaigns. Such a system of party finance makes political parties more open and more accountable to voters. The experience of the APC in 2015 shows that such a system can also work in Nigeria.
We urge all political parties to review their nomination fees downwards and find other more creative and democratic means of raising party funds. Party nomination forms cannot be open only to the highest bidder.