BusinessDay

The cost of nomination forms and our democracy

At the moment, the stratospheric cost of nomination forms has continued to engage the attention Nigerians from various walks of life. Almost without exception, these various Nigerians have condemned what amounts to a tragic attempt to consign our democracy to the limbo of cash and carry syndrome.

We believe that it is immoral and illegal for the All Progressives Congress (APC) to peg its presidential nomination form at N100 million when Nigerians are collecting a meagre N30,000 monthly as minimum wage. We are also in agreement with Femi Falana, an activist lawyer, who noted that politics is now for money bags.

Most Nigerians have also noted that the prices of nomination forms have further created a gulf between the rulers and the ruled, with the youths cynically and callously sidelined

Speaking recently on Channels TV, Falana also berated the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for pegging its own presidential nomination form at N40 million, and said it was insensitive and illegal for the APC and the PDP to fix such prices for their respective, presidential nomination forms.

Such outrageous fees are against Nigeria’s constitutional provisions, he noted.

According to Falana , “Those outrageous nomination fees are immoral, insensitive, and illegal.”

He continued further, “If these parties are saying they want to exclude unserious people, that if you cannot mobilise N100 million or N40 million, you cannot attain some positions in your country, that is discriminatory and illegal.

“You are now saying that the politics of the country is for moneybags or fat cats. 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.”

In the same tone, Tola Adeniyi, a veteran journalist in a speech titled, Nomination forms and looters’ ticket to national treasury, said, “I really no longer consider it worthwhile for me to waste my time writing, talking or thinking about Nigeria.

“It is not helpful to my sanity to dwell in or on a building about to collapse, even though I am worried stiff about the calamity knocking at the door.

“Nigeria is irredeemably in ruins; it is only those who are benefiting from the cracks and crumbs that are still living in self-denial.”

Since the expression of interest by politicians and the purchase of nomination forms started, Nigeria’s two major political parties have not stopped receiving knocks due to the price tag on their nomination forms.

Most Nigerians have also noted that the prices of nomination forms have further created a gulf between the rulers and the ruled, with the youths cynically and callously sidelined.

In fact, another article by David Hundeyin, ‘Nigeria’s N100m party nomination forms: Feudalism with extra steps,’ went further to condemn this by going historical.

On this note, he contended that, Ancient Athens, which is often credited with being the birthplace of modern democratic governance, did not in fact practise democracy as we understand it today. For one thing, to actually have a vote, much less exercise it, one needed to be an Athenian citizen and a man. Foreign-born residents, slaves and women had no place in what was the world’s first known successful democratic experiment.

But today, with this high price for nomination form, many Nigerians are already disenfranchised.

The article went further to say, if you can’t participate, it isn’t democracy, noting this is Nigeria’s own attempt at revising the system of governance introduced to the world by the Athenians. While the Athenian concept of democracy was “government for the people, of the people and by the people,” the Nigerian version of this lofty idea is basically “Government of the subjects for the wealthy and connected, and by the election winners.”

Whereas, the point of true democracy is to be a system of governance that allows total participation in governance by everyone defined as a citizen, and accountability of those in government to the people. Therefore, democracy is about participation and accountability, and not elections. Elections are unavoidably a part of democracy, but that is all they are – a part. Not the entire point of everything.

In a country whose per capita income barely surpasses $2,000/year, the democratic processes if they are to fit the true essence of democracy, must reflect a much inclusive reality, which takes on board everybody. When the world headquarters of people living in extreme poverty has its two major political formations selling entry slots to access the giant election casino for the equivalent of $200,000 a head, then is the goal sincerely to help or encourage participation by the citizens of that country?

Clearly, that is not the case. It does not take a genius to work out that the purpose of such decisions is in fact, to place barriers and hurdles to participation that will wilfully and deliberately exclude 99.9 percent of Nigeria’s population from any meaningful participation in its electoral processes.

According to Dakuku Peterside, a politician, in an article, ‘Party nomination cost; tickets for sale?, in advanced democracies, all efforts are made to, structurally and procedurally, create an enabling environment and easy access for many, irrespective of their social and economic background, to aspire for power and to serve. Based on this principle, most countries limit the cost of electioneering campaigns and the electoral process. Although it has been challenging to implement such financial restrictions, there have also been attempts to limit campaign costs in Nigeria.

Read also: Nomination forms: APC, PDP cash in on INEC loophole

But the recent cost of expression of interests and nomination forms have not followed the reality of economic conditions in the country nor the basic principles of financial restriction in elections. In the views of many, the costs are prohibitively exorbitant and only affordable by the wealthy, thereby shutting out average Nigerians who have the capacity and ability to serve in various capacities but could not afford the party’s nomination form to participate in the primaries.

The APC charge has resulted in a 370 percent increase from the cost in the 2019 elections. The APC publicity secretary, Felix Morka, on national television, posited that though the cost of N100 million may seem high, it was vital to charge that much to raise funds to cover party expenses for the forthcoming elections because the party has little or no funding sources. He further argued that the capacity to raise funds, overall, is a critical measure of acceptability and viability of aspirants for office. As noble as this idea seems, N100 million for nomination form has a psychological tipping edge for most Nigerians who see that amount as huge and outrageous, especially in a country where as already pointed out, the minimum wage is N30,000 per month, and still people are not even paid for months.

Automatically, this cost bars the already battered middle-class and working-class Nigerians who have something to offer from participating in the electoral process.

The argument that aspirants from less privileged financial backgrounds should solicit funds from party members or family and friends to raise money to buy nomination forms and fund elections is not tenable and goes against the spirit of democratic service. Aspirants should not be indebted or beholding to anyone or persons to avoid problems of the rich and powerful hijacking the election process and, ultimately, the political leaders that will emerge.

It should be noted that the prohibitive cost of securing party tickets and conducting elections fuel corruption and in the process undermines democratic values. Felix Morka has since countered this by contending that there is no direct correlation between cost of fees and the tendency for corrupt enrichment.

However, it is clear that Nigeria is at a crossroads. Only a credible general election in 2023 that ushers in the people’s choice as leaders, not rulers, in the true democratic sense will push the country in the right direction. We all should avoid anything that will inhibit popular participation. Structural hindrances to popular participation across all social strata and groups will be disastrous to our efforts to put in place a viable democracy.

Every political party, the APC and PDP in particular, should open up itself to allow for a more inclusive system. This can be done by allowing for popular participation, which will lower the cost of participating in the electoral process.

In order to meet up with the costs of running the parties, it is time for parties to operationalise the idea of membership dues and contributions by members. The current huge nomination fee structure discriminates between party members and party owners. The hope here is that, even if not in the 2023 elections, subsequent elections must benefit from lowering the cost of buying the party nomination forms for interested candidates. The above perspective from Peterside is worth taking note of if we want the country’s democracy to survive in the long term.

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