I like to state from the onset, I am an ardent and passionate believer in the concept of democracy, having seen how it works and the possibilities it can afford. However, every country must practice true democracy, with a focus on its essence and philosophy of ensuring majority rule and everyone has a chance.
Earlier in the year, the Independent National Electoral Commission warned that it would beam searchlight on politicians ahead of the 2023 campaign to track their sources of funding. Interestingly, this has always been the case and I am not sure I can remember any year INEC has been able to prosecute any politician for such an offence. Some say, depending on the state you are considering, you may need N10 billion or more to contest a gubernatorial election in Nigeria if you are really serious about having a good show at the polls.
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Interestingly, many say the primary election in some states is the most expensive part of the bargain and indeed determines whether or not you are a contender because the ruling party in these states has the joker, whichever way you choose to interpret that. Once you secure the party’s ticket as the flagbearer in the gubernatorial or senatorial poll, the rest, they say is, a charade or some sort of formality that INEC insists to have and perhaps helps them to gain presumed legitimacy.
Officially, the INEC plans to spend over N300 billion for the 2023 elections, and this is apart from its annual budget of about N40 billion which from all indications is just a recurrent expenditure for keeping the Commission afloat. This does not include the cost of the gubernatorial elections in Anambra, Edo, Ekiti, and Osun states, which are off-cycle. So, the official spending is some two per cent of the budget but the unofficial cost is multiples of this, with some estimating that the country spends at least 1.3 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product on elections every four years. This is obviously too expensive for a country whose voters lack the basic necessities of life.
The United States of America, the presumed father of today’s democracy spends less than 0.1 per cent of its GDP on elections, but Nigeria always outshines when it comes to matters of spending. Worse still, most of the cost of Nigeria’s election spending goes into funding rent-seeking activities, bribes, and corrupt practices, as many have said. From the cost of organising party conventions, to the extravagant primary elections and the expensive general elections, Nigeria is wasting so much of the scarce resources on a process whose outcome has been less than satisfactory, to say the least. The elites have perfected the design of the system in a way that perpetually keeps them in power directly or through their cronies and stooges.
How can a poor sincere Nigerian with the right integrity to serve, participate in this type of expensive democracy? Let’s even move away from the official cost from INEC and focus on the bogus campaign costs. The question is, what exactly do politicians spend the most on during campaigns? Is it the uniform that they buy for party members, or the organised crowds that attend rallies and campaigns, or could it be the media cost or the gifts they dish out to different stakeholders? Whatever it is, a poor man who can never afford these bills cannot be in the race, hence the poor Nigerians, who are truly the country’s majority, are automatically disenfranchised through this barrier that the political elites have placed in the way.
The worry is not even so much about the cost of the elections; the real problem lies in the fact that politicians take the cost as their investments, and they of course know how to make the best return from it. This is perhaps the genesis of the endemic corruption in the country. Unfortunately, the bogus political and governance structure does not help the Nigerian masses, whose taxes are being wasted and stolen, many times laundered abroad. Imagine if the government sincerely spends scarce resources on infrastructure development and social services for the poor majority. We possibly would not be in the war situation we find ourselves in today.
The expensive politics of Nigeria, directly and indirectly, creates all forms of monsters in the country and if we must truly address the decaying issues, we must stop this menace as quickly as possible.
This begets the question of whether or not something is wrong with the brand of democracy that we have adopted. Or, do we need to fashion out our own form of a democratic regime that can better serve the peculiarities of the Nigerian people, systems, and structure? After all, the outcome of this our choice of democracy cannot be described as the government of the people, nor for the people, nor by the people.
Democracy is great and it has proven to be a workable system of government that gives voice to the majority of the population, with lofty evidence of success in both developing and developed countries. So, why is Nigeria an exemption? Could it be because we just copied and pasted the American system without considering the peculiarities of our systems and cultures? How has China and many other emerging economies leveraged democracy to improve the lives of their population and delivered on the dividends of democracy while also ensuring inclusivity?
China has managed to gain its rightful place in the world, as the second-largest economy in the world and more importantly, the most important global production base, with limited cost of governance. More importantly, China has ensured the best person occupies the best position, not necessarily with perfection but its model is possibly worth considering, especially for countries like Nigeria that are still in nascent stages and cannot afford this luxury and widespread wastage.
Interestingly, the United States did not have the current form of democracy decades ago. Rather it has continued to reform and refine its democracy, in alignment with the realities of its economic and social environment. We do not need to copy the Chinese model but definitely, the current democratic structure in Nigeria breeds too much waste, especially considering the scarce resources and the stage of development of the country.
For instance, do we really need a bicameral legislative structure, and do we need as many ministers and ministries as we have? These question are pertinent, especially when we realise that every public institution you create is just a leakage through which most political gladiators exploit the masses and steal the country’s resources.
Stopping this waste is now more urgent than ever, especially as we have little or no balance of power. The legislative arm is as we know not truly representative of our dreams of a great Nigeria. And the judiciary?