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Toxic influence of money on Nigerian elections – Punch

By The Citizen
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Nigeria faces tremendous pressure to scale down the toxic influence of money on her electoral system, after it emerged the 2015 elections that ushered in the current President, Muhammadu Buhari, and effectively ended 16 years of the Peoples Democratic Party's dominance of the country's politics were the most expensive in the country's history. The exercise, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission, gulped between $1.5 billion and $2 billion, a huge sum which tends to project the notion of the preeminent role of money, above anything else, in the electoral process. It should not be so.

Most Nigerians will probably flinch at the sheer quantum of money that goes into electing political office holders in the country, as revealed recently by Bolanle Eyinla, the INEC's Chairman Technical Adviser. Presenting a breakdown of the cost of the last elections at a two-day conference on Regional Cost of Politics, Eyinla said, while INEC spent $547 million on what he described as 'the most expensive elections that we have ever seen,' the political parties and their candidates brought the overall expenditure to 'between $1.5 billion and $2 billion.'

This is quite a fortune to invest in a process that has so far failed to deliver the required dividends to the Nigerian citizenry. Eighteen years after the enthronement of civil rule, good governance remains a mirage. As a matter of fact, it has always been the habit here to make the contest of elections as prohibitive as possible, which explains why politics has become the preoccupation, primarily, of moneybags and their hirelings.

Quite often, people of dubious character, with questionable sources of wealth, have managed to emerge as the front-runners in Nigerian politics. They either stand for elections themselves or pose as godfathers who determine who vies for what post or who gets what. In effect, they take charge of decision-making even when they are not directly in government. In the end, the choice of the electorate matters less; it is the choice of the moneybags that gets 'elected.'

But this is an aberration that should be bucked if Nigerians are desirous of getting quality representation and deriving value from democracy. As the French philosopher and writer, Joseph de Maistre, once said, 'Every nation gets the government it deserves.' But, with moneybags running the show here, the electorate only ends up with the government that is imposed, not elected.

Many Nigerians will readily recall the bizarre situation in Anambra State, where the then governor, Chris Ngige, had to fight for his dear life after he was kidnapped and forced to resign his position for failing to do the bidding of his benefactor, Chris Uba. A similar ugly scenario was reenacted in Oyo State, where Rasheed Ladoja was removed as the governor for failing to share his security vote with his godfather, Lamidi Adedibu.

Such ugly incidents, without doubt, partly account for why democracy in Nigeria has not always come with all the intended benefits. It is easy to align with the position of Anthonia Simbine, a professor of Political Science and International Relations, who believes that the poor quality of governance in the country is a direct product of the commercialisation of the political process. 'If you make an investment, you would want to reap from that,' said Simbine, also an INEC commissioner.

Commercialisation of politics has been fingered in the high incidence of political assassination in the country. The reward for victory is so mouth-watering that people are ready to kill to occupy public office.

In advanced democracies, election spending is strictly regulated to ensure that it is not abused. Since the essence of contesting is to offer service, the system ensures that competent candidates are not shut out by the high cost of vying for an office. For example, compared to the $547 million it cost INEC to organise the 2015 elections, it reportedly cost the United Kingdom £113.2 million of public money to conduct elections in 2010.

While donations are allowed - and only from credible sources - and there is no cap to what could be donated, there is however a limit to what political parties can spend. Grants are also received from the electoral commission, just as loans and credit facilities could be taken. At the end of the elections, parties are also entitled to some money for each seat won.

In the United States, candidates are entitled to state sponsorship, which has a ceiling, or they could opt for private funding for their campaign. The then Senator Barack Obama was the first candidate of a major political party to forgo public financing for his election bid in 2008, insisting that the system, created in 1976, had collapsed. But there are also rules and regulations to moderate donations. Following a 2014 Supreme Court ruling, the CNN reported that the limit on how much an individual could donate in a single election was lifted but the ceiling of a maximum of $5,200 to a single candidate remained.

For Nigeria to bring sanity back to the electoral process and prevent it from being tainted with excess money, there is the need to ensure a strict enforcement of the rules for campaign spending as contained in the Electoral Act 2010. For instance, Section 91 (2) of the Act stipulates N1 billion as the maximum a presidential candidate could spend on election. A governorship candidate under the Act is not permitted to spend more than N200 million, while candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives are allowed N40 million and N20 million respectively. Except there is an amendment to the law, the existing provisions should be enforced.

Given past experiences, it is to be expected that future elections will be even more expensive if something urgent is not done. For example, Debowale Olorunmola, the Country Representative of Westminster Foundation for Democracy, noted that it cost all the opposition parties about N2.04 billion to participate in the elections of 2011, but the PDP alone spent N5.01 billion, sums some pundits say may be grossly understated. 'In 2015, all the opposition parties spent N2.91 billion while the PDP spent N8.74 billion,' he said.

For a country currently mired in recession and faced with huge infrastructural gap, the show of profligacy in elections should not be allowed to continue.