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High cost of election: Bane of true democracy in Nigeria

By Chijioke Iremeka
14 May 2022   |   4:11 am
The cost of organising elections in Nigeria has been on exponential increase over the years without any sign of remediation. While the parties keep raising the cost of the expression of interest and nomination forms for aspirants...

Casting of vote during a Nigerian election. Photo The Guardian

As preparations for the 2023 general election heighten, stakeholders insist that the high cost of the expression of interest and nomination forms of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), violate Sections 40, 106 and 107 of the 1999 Constitution, as well as article 13(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. They also tell CHIJIOKE IREMEKA that the dispositions of the two dominant political parties as evidenced in the cost of their nomination forms will further jack up the cost of conducting elections in Nigeria

The cost of organising elections in Nigeria has been on exponential increase over the years without any sign of remediation. While the parties keep raising the cost of the expression of interest and nomination forms for aspirants, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is also embracing modern technologies that do not come cheap but which help it to conduct credible polls. 

Some of these innovations range from the Direct Data Capturing Machines (DDCMs) to Permanent Voter Card (PVC), Smart Card Reader (SCR) and Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), among others.
Unfortunately, while the adoption of these technologies are inspired by the country’s eccentric needs and designed by the Commission’s engineers, they are manufactured abroad.

This is happening as more political parties are springing up and thereby pushing the Commission to increase its expenditures, as they must be captured on the ballot papers and other sensitive election materials.

It is on record that from the three major political parties that locked horns in the 1999 general election, 73 political parties participated in the 2019 polls. And according reports, although INEC has approved 18 political parties for participation in the forthcoming general election, over 100 associations have applied to the Commission for registration as political parties.

All these have joined together to increase the cost of elections in Nigeria, arguably making it the most expensive in the world, as it soared from a little above N1 billion in 1999 to over N100 billion in 2015.
According to the immediate past Director of Media and Public Enlightenment of INEC, Nick Dazang, an exponential increase in the number of political parties upsurges the quantity of election materials such as ballot papers, results sheets, cubicles and ballot boxes, among others.
These, he confirmed, were either printed or manufactured abroad, noting that such sensitive materials, particularly the ballot papers and results sheets, are usually colour-coded with bear water marks and other security features just like the requirements for printing currencies.

He stated that these materials are procured in dollars, explaining that as such, the increase in the dollar exchange rate have comparatively impacted on the ever-rising cost of elections in the country.

The Guardian recalls that during the conduct of the 2015 general election, naira exchanged at 119 to a dollar. But today, it exchanges at N570 to a dollar. It is believed that the more the naira nose-dives against the dollar, the more the country will spend higher to conduct elections.
It was also learnt that the number of ad-hoc and permanent staff INEC deploys for the conduct of a general election in the country, who must be paid for their services, exceeds the total number of the whole army in the West African sub-region.

Dazang, who spoke in an earlier interview with The Guardian, said with the existing 176, 846 Polling Units (PUs), the country requires four ad-hoc staff per PU (going by the template used in the 2019 elections), which amounts to 707, 384 ad-hoc staff.
According to him, this number is exclusive of collation officers, returning officers and supervisory officers, adding that the country would require at least two security agents to man each of the PUs, putting the number of the personnel at 53, 692.
He said: “Out of 8, 809 Wards or Registration Area Centres (RACs) across the country, a number of Super RACs are usually created to facilitate the massing of staff and security agents who would at first light on Election Day fan out to the respective PUs and set up for early opening of polls.
“At these Super RACs, apart from election materials, mattresses, mats, water and electricity (using generators) are provided by the Commission. Air freighting sensitive materials from their various destinations abroad to our international airports and thence to our local airports for distribution to the vaults of the Central Bank in the states also accounts for these costs.”
He also said there are other costs related to voter education, publicity and litigations.

“Additionally, the country would have security agents stationed at the Ward level and at state boundaries, providing outer security cordon. These staff and security agents have to be trained, fed, transported and paid duty allowances.
“It is ineluctable from the foregoing that the cost of elections, in which INEC provides nearly everything, must be huge, if not ‘humongous’ as it is being alleged,” Dazang added.

In 2019, President Muhammadu Buhari presented a budget of N242 billion for the elections, asking the legislature to provide N164 billion through virement from the 2018 budget, while the balance of N78 billion was covered by the 2019 budget.
It was alleged that till date, funds given to INEC for the elections over the years remain unaccounted for. Just like the general cost of conducting elections in Nigeria is swelling, the cost of expression of interest and nomination forms of the political parties has drastically increased and has been eliciting criticisms from well-meaning Nigerians.

In 2007, presidential aspirants on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were required to pay N10, 000 for expression of interest form and N5 million for the nomination form.
In 2015, aspirants for the same position were required to pay N2 million for expression of interest and N20 million for nomination forms, a 300 per cent rise in the cost.

In 2011, the total expenses traced to the PDP campaign were allegedly a little above N5 billion. That year, the combined campaign spending of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) was reportedly just above N2 billion.
In 2015, a total of N9 billion was reportedly expended by the PDP, a 74.75 per cent increase when compared to its 2011 campaign spending. On the part of the APC, the party allegedly expended almost N3 billion that same year; approximately a billion naira above the amount expended by the three top opposition parties in the 2011 election and representing a 42.86 per cent increase. 

For the forthcoming 2023 general election, the ruling party, the APC has pegged its expression of interest and nomination forms for presidential hopefuls at N100 million while the PDP charged N40 million from aspirants on its platform for the same category of aspirants.

Nigerians who have expressed disgust at the cost of the forms said it was a ploy by old politicians to stay put in power instead of allowing the younger generation, whom they claim are the leaders of tomorrow, to come on stage.

They argued that the amount fixed for the forms was not only outrageous and discriminatory, but also practically leaves over 90 million poor Nigerians, who might not see such amount in their lifetime, disenfranchised. According to them, there was no decent Nigerian with true and selfless leadership skills that could afford such money just for the purchase of forms, which does not guarantee victory at the poll.

They held that by so doing, the parties were denying Nigerians the opportunity to choose a good leader from across board and consequently subject the entire citizenry to choose from a stream of incompetent and self-acclaimed leaders.
However, some legal practitioners told The Guardian that political parties are incapable of prescribing conditions for eligibility of candidates outside the provisions of the Constitution. They, therefore, argued that the exorbitant nomination fees collected by the APC and PDP are illegal and unconstitutional.

They further contended the fees constitute a flagrant violation of Sections 40, 106 and 107 of the Constitution, as well as Article 13(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act.

Section 88(8) of the Electoral Act provides that no individual or other entity shall donate more than N50 million to a candidate, while Section 90(3) prohibits a political party from accepting monetary or other contribution which is more than N50 million unless it can identify the source of the money to INEC.

Reacting to the situation, a human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Femi Falana, described the nomination fees as immoral, insensitive and illegal. He insisted that the fees violate the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Nigerian Constitution, positing that Section 42 of the Nigerian Constitution provides that nobody shall be subjected to any restriction or discrimination on the basis of class, fortune, sex or whatever.

“No restriction can be erected to prevent you from participating in the politics of the country. You are now saying that the politics of the country is for moneybags or fat cats. That is against the spirit and the letters of the constitution.
“The immorality of it is that we have over 90 million Nigerians that have been classified poor. In a country where the minimum wage is about N30, 000 and it is not paid by some states, you can’t say you are collecting N100 million or N40 million to purchase a form,” Falana said in a statement.
He argued that since the national minimum wage is N30, 000 per month, the deposit of N100 million or N40 million has excluded millions of workers from contesting the presidential election in Nigeria.
“Ironically, Nigeria houses the second largest population of poor people in the world, but the nomination fees collected from aspirants by APC and PDP are the highest in the world,” he added.
While noting that in Canada, candidates were no longer required to pay a deposit for federal elections, Falana said since the Nigerian constitution is the basic law of the land, any policy inconsistent with it should be struck out.

“Thus, the payment of outrageous nomination fees, which is not one of the conditions for contesting elections under the current democratic dispensation, is illegal and unconstitutional on grounds of inconsistency with the Constitution.

“In the case of the National Conscience Party & 23 Ors v Independent National Electoral Commission (Suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/ 42/2003), the Plaintiffs challenged the announcement of the defendant to charge as ‘processing fees’ amounts ranging from N500, 000 for presidential candidates to N25, 000 for those seeking election as local government councillors.
“The presiding Judge, the Honourable Justice Binta Murtala-Nyako, agreed with the submissions of the Plaintiffs’ counsel, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) and said, ‘Going through the constitution and the Electoral Act 2002, I fail to see where INEC was empowered to prescribe and demand such processing fees… I, therefore, declare the processing fees charged by the defendant illegal and unconstitutional.’
“It is submitted that if the electoral bodies that are vested with the power to conduct elections are prohibited from collecting meagre nomination fees from candidates, what is the legal basis for collecting billions of naira from aspirants by political parties?”
 Falana added that while political parties cannot charge outrageous nomination fees, they might be permitted to request nominal fees for administrative expenses.
Reacting further, a former Governor of Oyo State, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, while speaking with journalists in Ibadan, recently, said making presidential aspirants to pay N100 million for N56 million salaries in four years and governorship aspirants to purchase N50 million forms for a N28 million job would increase corruption.
He tasked the electorate to vote for candidates based on their competence and character not the depth of their pockets, urging smaller political parties to compete favourably with the two leading political parties in the country.
He said: “N100 million nomination form for president and N50 for governors show the arrogance of the two leading political parties. As a presidential aspirant, you are asked to come and purchase a form of N100 million to seek a job of N56 million while as a governor your salary is about N7 million in a year.
“This means you are going to earn N28 million for the four years and you are asked to pay N50 million to seek a job of N28 million. If other parties can also win elections in some states, the arrogance of the two major political parties will reduce.”
Saddened by the development in the country, a mother of two, Mrs. Bukola Ajogun, said it was the height of irresponsibility and insensitivity for the ruling party and the leading opposition party, the PDP, to be collecting outrageous nomination fees from aspirants while university students remain at home as a result of the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).

“Our children are at home roaming around the streets, indulging in one form of criminality or the other due to the Federal Government’s refusal to look into the ASUU strike with a view to addressing the reasons for the incessant strike once and for all. What is the APC doing with this money? Is it to rig the elections again and go to court?
“So, there is such an amount of money in the hands of politicians yet Buhari is jumping from one country to the other borrowing money and mortgaging the future of our children and generations yet to come. I don’t know how we got to this position. I have never seen Nigeria in this situation.
“It is sad. We used to believe and hope that Nigeria would be good again, but the reality staring us in our faces is to the contrary. At my age, I never thought of leaving the shores of this country before but it has become an agenda for me. So sad!
“Killings everyday, destruction of properties everyday, maiming and starving the masses to death. Yet our politicians are busy raising billions of naira just for the purpose of one week of elections or so.”

Speaking on how the country could wriggle out of the situation, the Principal Partner, Lawrence Ndukwe and Co, Emeka Ndukwe, said the lavish spending on Nigeria’s elections would be curbed when policymakers domesticate the Electoral Amendment Act 2022 and ensure compliance with the prescribed spending limits.

He said the first thing to do was to ensure that political parties in the country comport themselves responsibly by respecting the Nigerian Constitution, the Electoral Act, their constitutions and manifestoes as well as following due process during the conduct of primaries.
He argued that once candidates forwarded to INEC are products of valid primaries, there would not be court-ordered elections in the aftermath of a general election, thereby saving billions of naira that would be spent on court cases.
“The law must be amended such that not all registered parties can contest elections. Only parties, which meet certain benchmarks or cross certain thresholds set by law, should be on the ballot papers. This would substantially reduce the quantity of election materials and drastically bring down costs,” he said.

On his part, Dazang said: “Some of the amendments being canvassed by the Commission and civil society such as electronic transmission of results will cut down on manual collation of results, remove at least three layers of collation (at Ward, Local Government Area and State for presidential election) and associated costs and risks.

“The Federal Government should as a matter of urgency and in national interest put the Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC) in fine fettle by equipping it with state-of-the-art machines.
“That way, sensitive election materials can be printed locally, hard currency can be saved, more Nigerians will be employed and the perennial logistics nightmare INEC faces can be history. INEC must continue to improve on its reverse logistics and retrieval of election materials.
“Nigerians and all stakeholders in the electoral process should be educated to understand that INEC equipment and properties are investments from their tax and they owe an obligation and duty to protect and safeguard them.”