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High cost of accessing political power in Nigeria

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Members of the Nigerian senate at a plenary

As we continue to bemoan successive inept, ineffective and clueless political leadership here in Nigeria we must not lose sight of how most of our politicians got into power, in the first instance. Truth be told, the high cost of accessing political power is at the heart of the ever increasing incident of financial corruption as perpetrated by not a few politicians in the corridors of power.

They spend humongous sums of money, with some politicians having to sell some valuable physical assets, borrow money from banks, commit ritual murders or bend to the weird wishes of some powerful godfathers to get elected into office. Their allegiance, when they eventually succeed, would obviously be to their paymasters rather than the electorate who they lie to during sundry electioneering campaigns. The piper, as the wise ones say dictates the tune.

As a former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara once alluded to the fact that politics is more like business in Nigeria. You invest huge sums of money so as to reap bountifully, by way of fat pay packages, spurious allowances and inflated contracts. With all these firmly in place can that intelligent, patriotic but poor citizen ever get to the pedestal of political power? And will our type of democracy ever favour those on the lowest rung of the societal ladder? I have my doubts.

We must admit, however, that the political structure has always been skewed ab nitio in favour of the rotten rich, at the expense of the poor masses, for eons. Unfortunately, this is one aspect of the presidential system of government we have willy-nilly adopted from the United States. Hence, the clamour for a return to parliamentary system devoid of bicameral legislature by some concerned Nigerians.

According to Adebowale Olorunmola who has looked critically at this rather troubling issue, former United States President, Barrack
Obama in ‘The Audacity of Hope’ (2006), touched tellingly on the power of money in politics when he wrote that incumbent “Peter Fitzgerald had spent $19 million of his personal wealth to unseat his predecessor, Carol Mosley Braun”. Also, John C. Green (2006) highlighted the significance of money to party politics among other resources and factors which political parties utilize in the process of trying to control the levels of political power.

Though the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) specifies in Section 225 (1-6) the conditions and the scrutiny of the sources of funds and expenses of political parties these are never followed to the letters. For instance, Section 225 (3)(a) and (b) as well as 225 (4) forbid political parties from foreign funding of any kind. Section 226 (1-3) demands annual reports of account from political parties. Also significant is that the Electoral Act (2010) stipulates the ceiling of expenses by candidates and political parties for specific elective positions.

The maximum limits are pegged at: N1,000,000,000 for presidential candidates, N200,000,000 for governorship candidates, and N40,000,000 and N20,000,000 respectively for Senate and House of Representatives candidates. But what about the exorbitant sums of money they pay at the party level to pick nomination forms?

It is on record that the fund raising, as was carried out by both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) ahead of the 2015 elections was done with little or no regard to existing legal provisions. Campaign expenses, for both presidential candidates, Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP overshot the N1 billion limit.

Allegations were rife that cash was illegally used to buy votes and permanent voters cards. State administrative resources were used by incumbent officials to facilitate party activities. Yet, ‘the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the regulatory body, is yet to investigate, prosecute and sanction erring parties and candidates for infringements. This has been the case since the transition to democratic governance in 1999.’ This mentality of winning at all cost is injurious to the health of the Nigerian economy.

With regards to the academic exercise on campaign funding in Nigeria, (Falodi, 2016) stated that ‘the probe into the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) to former President Goodluck Jonathan revealed that public funds to the tune of US$2.1billion meant for equipping the Nigeria military were diverted to finance party activities for the 2015 general elections.’ In a similar vein, former Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State allegedly diverted state ecological funds to campaign activities of his party, the PDP.

As the 2019 general elections inch closer by the day, much has to done to redress the anomalies that have only those with the cash to throw around to buy their way into electoral offices. Much as we have tinkered with the Electoral Act 2002, 2006 and 2010 there are still some loopholes. For instance, though Section 91(9) states that “no individual or other entity shall donate more than one million naira (N1, 000,000.00) to any candidate”, Section 93(2)(b) gives political parties leverage to receive unlimited amounts above the threshold. This is contradictory.

Each party is required to record and keep “the name and address of any person or entity that contributes any money or assets which exceeds N1,000,000.00.” Some candidates latched on the lacuna to technically overshoot the limit by transferring the extra cash to their party. Other donors also took advantage of the provision to donate funds running into billions of Naira, on behalf of several unnamed friends.

The way forward is for INEC to prosecute anyone found wanting for infringing on political finance regulations. The gross lack of deterrence is a huge factor contributing to the rising cost of elections in Nigeria. Besides, Nigerians should emphasize more on the content of character, ability to deliver on the promises made during campaigns and the unfailing element of trust of the candidates than how much money each can dole out. Political posts should not go to the highest bidder.

Now is the time to de-emphasize money politics and push for clear-cut party manifestoes that seek lasting solutions to the people’s most pressing needs.



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