Few days ago, a friend of mine, who is aspiring for an elective post in the country, raised an alarm that the cost of nomination and expression of interest form in her political party was too exorbitant. According to her, such ridiculous amounts would not only drive away genuine aspirants, it would also limit the chances of many women to be elected into offices under the current political dispensation. This unfortunate situation would not only affect female aspirants but other promising contestants, most especially youths and young persons.
An analysis of the recently released cost of expression of interest and nomination forms of the three main political parties for the House of Assembly, House of Representatives, Senate, Governor and President showed that they are terribly expensive. For the All Progressives Congress (APC), they are respectively: N1.1m, N3.8m, N8.5m, N22m and N55m; Peoples Democratic Party (PDP): N600,000, N1.5m, N3.5m, N6m and N12m; while the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) are: N1m, N2.5m, N5m, N10m and N25m. Women are allowed to pay half in some of the parties while the newly-registered and unpopular parties offer far lower fees than those quoted above.
The major conclusion that any close observer would draw from the ridiculously high fees charged by the political parties is that, only rich candidates or those with affluent supporters or godfathers, can aspire and get to elective positions in the next general elections. The truth is that, whether we like it or not, aspirants from the three parties of APC, PDP and APGA are most likely to dominate the political scene because of their existing and strong structures that new parties do not have. Over the years, the nation has suffered from bad governance, largely attributed to leadership failure, fuelled by the recycling of the same set of old politicians that had been steering the affairs of the country since independence.
What do we expect? Under this situation, it is natural to feel that nothing tangible can be achieved in terms of good governance until the enabling environment is created and sustained that would allow fresh, young and committed persons the golden opportunity to prove their mettle by assuming leadership positions. Apart from rigging, vote-buying, snatching of ballot boxes and other forms of electoral violence, which often discourage decent people from engaging in active partisan politics, another impediment now is the high cost of securing party tickets.
To begin with, how do we expect an honest and serious-minded aspirant from public service background; whose salary is based on the paltry minimum wage of N18,000, be able to generate such huge amounts of money just for nomination? This is exclusive of campaign and other administrative expenses that would be incurred in the course of electioneering. This development makes it practically impossible for such aspirants to go far, except when there are other avenues of making money by such aspirants, as there is no way a retired public servant can afford to join politics and win any post, as the present arrangement suggests in the country. Workers in the private sector may not even do better, except for few companies that pay their staff very well; the high cost of living makes it herculean for many salary earners to save anything from their meager salaries; whether in the public or private sector of the economy.
What are the options left for genuine aspirants? It is either they forget about vying for positions for now, or to look for available money-bags that could bank-roll their electoral expenses. When this happens, the orientation of such aspirants changes completely from good to bad. The initial passion for selfless service is taken over by how to satisfy their sponsors and godfathers in a bid to recoup their investments on electoral activities. Compromises, deals and agreements would have to be made and in most cases, signed out and documented by the parties, to ensure that contracts, appointments and important political decisions taken are in line with the dictates of godfathers and moneybags in place of meritorious service to the citizenry and ones fatherland.
Rather than serving the people by adhering to party manifestos and fulfilling personal passion to make a difference in government and public affairs, compromised politicians’ parochial interests take precedence, as dictated by their sponsors. At the end, the same problems plaguing the nation keep reoccurring and the cycle of mystery, poverty and leadership failure continue to be the lot of Nigeria. Our political parties are not helping in the country’s democratisation process. What I would have expected them to do is to put in place, a solid mechanism that would encourage the emergence of quality candidates, not necessary those with strong financial muscles.
Political parties should not use nomination fees to generate income. At the end of the day when they do this, the parties would be at the receiving end when they lose control and grip of their parties to moneybags. This practice is nothing but corruption, financial inducement and precursor to do-or-die politics; all in the bid to recuperate heavy spending, despite the subsisting court judgment prohibiting such payment in Nigeria. Excessive monetisation of the electoral process constitute grave danger to our evolving democracy and the emergence of true, patriotic and qualitative leaders across board. This ugly trend may continue until corrective measures are put in place to strengthen our electoral system.
To begin with, independent candidacy should be allowed through constitutional amendment. Presently, no one can assume elective positions in the country without first belonging to a political party. This should not be. It is because of this constitutional burden that makes political parties dictate what become the fate of politicians. In other democracies of the world such as the United States of America, Germany, Iceland, Canada, Italy and Malaysia; independent candidates are allowed to aspire and get into elective positions. Secondly, the proposed bill on electoral offences commission should be made operational without further delay, to sanitise the excessive monetisation of politics in the nation.
The quest for young people to get into elective offices is further hampered by this development of high nomination fees. Rather than joining the three major parties with exorbitant fees, they should look for alternatives through mergers and alliances with like minds by forgetting personal ambitions, if they truly intend to be relevant in the scheme of things. Furthermore, President Muhammadu Buhari, who initially condemned the ridiculous nomination fees reeled out by his party, but later benefited from it. He should assent the amendment to the Electoral Act (2010), which has prescribed the abolition of arbitrary fees for nomination forms fixed by political parties. Not only that, passage of the bill would improve the nation’s electoral process.
On a final note, there is need for attitudinal change on the part of political actors. The quest for good governance is a patriotic desire that should benefit all Nigerians; both the rich and poor. It would not only stimulate equitable distribution of wealth, state institutions are bound to be strengthened and function properly and there should be remarkable improvement in the life of the people. Ultimately, our nation would be better off when there is robust, fair, participatory, transparent and credible electoral process without the imposition of exorbitant nomination fees by parties, as currently obtainable.