By Victor Agi
When Nigeria transited to democracy and embraced the presidential system of government in 1999, it marked the transfer of sovereignty from authoritarian leaders to the people. Nigerians were presented with the opportunity to elect their president and other political leaders every four years.
But, the democratic system of governance, all over the world is expensive, and the cost of conducting elections vary from country to country depending on the prevailing socio-political situation and nation’s social classification either as underdeveloped, developing and developed nation. Likewise, the cost of conducting elections in established and stable democracies differs from what is obtainable in transitional, and indeed restive / post-conflict societies.
Over the last two election cycles in Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) reportedly expended the sum of N108.8B and N189B in 2015 and 2019 respectively, with the Commission’s Election Project Plan (EPP) document showing that the sum of N305 billion is estimated to conduct the 2023 general elections.
Cumulative spending by key stakeholders, including INEC, political parties and candidates was estimated at N1 trillion during the 2015 general elections alone, for instance. This estimate, it was learnt, at a two-day Learning Conference on the Regional Cost of Politics organized by Westminster Foundation for Democracy in 2017, are those expenditures that could be traced and recorded, implying that the actual cost could be higher.
There has been an incremental budgetary allocation towards the conduct of elections over the years, and the INEC may be justified to claim that the number of registered voters has steadily increased during this period, which would necessarily attract more costs, coupled with the cost of deploying innovations like the Card Readers and Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) to strengthen the process.
However, there have been reported cases of resource wastage as a result of low voters’ turnouts during polls, with Dataphyte reviewing and submitting that, “while the Federal Government spent N444.5 billion to conduct the country’s last three general elections, a total of N255 billion was wasted due to the low voter turnout recorded in each of the elections.”
The brazen use of money to determine the outcome of elections, manifested in vote buying and selling, has continued unfettered, with the recently passed electoral law further encouraging a hijack of the electoral process by political elites. Section 88 of the Electoral Act, 2022 for example, increased the spending ceiling for the position of the president from N1 billion to N5 billion; the ceiling for the governorship position was also jerked up from 200 million to 1 billion, and it applies to all other elective positions in the land.
It is therefore not surprising that the major political parties have also jerked up the cost of nomination forms for key political positions ahead of 2023 elections. The ruling All Progressive Congress’ presidential nomination form is pegged at a N100 million, governorship aspirants are to also cough out N50 million, while house of representatives and senate hopefuls are to pay N20 million and N10 million respectively. The main opposition party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) also raised the cost for its nomination forms, with the presidential and governorship form now selling for N40 million and N21 million respectively, up from N12 million and N6 million it sold same forms in 2019.
Unequivocally, political elites have perfected measures to politically exclude majority of the nation’s population and will continue to deny the nation of capable leaders, either through laws they facilitated or by willfully disobeying laws to remain in power. It is not out of place to posit that moneybag politics has become a recipe for organized crime by politicians, the consequent of which is embezzlement of public funds and other acts of corruption; because a politician who ‘invests’ hugely in winning election is most likely to want to recoup his/her investment.
For instance, available breakdown from the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) shows that currently, the nation’s president earns N1, 171,568.33 monthly, and N14, 058,820 yearly in salary and allowances; with basic salary of N3.5m per annum; while a governor’s basic salary is merely N2.22m. In four years, the statutory salaries and allowance of the president will be N56,235,280 million.
Without prejudice to other benefits that come with being the president of a nation, is it not ridiculous that the presidential nomination form of the ruling party is sold for 100 million, and much more so, in the nation that is reputed as the poverty capital of world?
As earlier submitted, the high cost of politics has proven to be a calculated attempt to exclude women and youth, who do not have the financial strength, from participating in the electioneering process. This is why despite the celebrated “Not Too Young to Run” efforts, which saw president Buhari signing the bill into law, the current political environment has made it seemingly difficult for young people to participate as they should.
Ahead of 2023, INEC and other stakeholders must take more seriously the enforcement of relevant laws that discourage brazen display of money in politics, such as we have begun to witness. While it may be difficult to actually quantify in monetary terms, all the fund politicians expend during elections in our kind of politics, one of the responsibilities of political parties as provided for in Section 90 (4) of the Electoral Act is to, “within three months after the announcement of the results of the election, file a report of the contributions made by individuals and entities to the Commission.”
Political parties have consistently violated this provision in the nation’s electoral laws, with no punitive actions by the electoral umpire over the years. Electoral transparency remains the bedrock of a transparent and accountable public sector. The INEC must wake up to its responsibilities as a regulatory and enforcement agency, and it should begin with tracking and monitoring elections spending ahead of 2023.
Stakeholders must begin to interrogate wastages that we have recorded through the conduct of elections over the years; a situation where more than half of the money budgeted for the last three elections was reportedly wasted as a result of low voter turnout should be part of the discussion around cutting the cost of elections. It also brings to the fore the issue of electronic voting which would automate the process, and considerably reduce the personnel and election material costs.
Beyond the rhetoric, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other anti-graft agencies must work with INEC in monitoring and investigating electoral spending, while culprits are properly prosecuted.