2023 elections: The economics of politics in Nigeria

The drum beats of politics have begun to sway the Nigerian political atmosphere ahead of the 2023 general elections for elective positions from the federal, state and local government areas, including internal party politics for most political parties.

Hidden and quieter candidates have begun to creep out from their abodes. While some would rely on grassroots strategies, some are reliant on godfathers. Existing and potential political office holders have started returning to electorates with several enticing, juicy, and supposed “empowerments” to gain popularity and ensure they have the needed support ahead of next year’s election. These moves are not without cost implications and the flow of funds. The test of financial might and strength in Nigeria’s election cannot be overemphasised, with those who control large amounts of wealth and influence running the show.

Little funds at the face of the electorates could sway them to the highest bidder. A tactic adopted by power brokers and political makers in Nigeria.

In 2019 alone, figures released by Nigeria’s political umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) showed that N189 billion was spent on conducting elections consisting of presidential, national assembly, governorship, state houses of assembly, and the FCT area councils. This translates to N2,249 ($6.24) per eligible voter. This is the most expensive election in the history of Nigeria. Although the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) said an increased number of political parties and voters warranted such expenses while arguing that the figures were within international acceptable standards.

In the forthcoming 2023 elections, these figures are projected to be higher. Political players, those who jostle for political positions are equally in the business of spending without transparency.

According to the Electoral Act, as amended, presidential and governorship aspirants were given a spending benchmark of N5 billion and N1 billion respectively, from the period of notice to the day of the election proper.

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In reality, these benchmarks only exist on papers, as the most notable political parties spend far more than these benchmarks from the period of expression of interest, campaign expenses, advertisement, and the highly condemned case of vote-buying.

Statistics for the expenditures of these political parties are nearly impossible to get because of the secret nature of the sources, funders, and disbursement of these funds. There are technically no spending budgets for most political parties even though by law, all political parties are expected to make a financial disclosure of their expenditure or contribution to the INEC three months after the elections.

Periods preceding an election year, there is a high amount of transfer and flow of public funds, mostly from a region of higher financial temperature to a region of lower financial temperature. In other words, funds are spent by aspiring political candidates to the masses in varying forms, most of which are intended to woo electorates to their favour.

Most of these “periodic shows of love” close to elections are deceitful, especially funds that were amassed, stolen only to spend a crumb of it on electorates rather than projects that will improve the human development index of the citizens. Those who control economic power, control the soul of the voter through financial inducement before, during, and after the electioneering process.

The cost of funding an election in Nigeria is very outrageous for a new entrant with no strong financial base or financier. While those with high spending power or financiers who emerge recoup these funds after the elections.

While some resort to bank loans, the lending houses only grant the request of those with a high propensity of emerging victorious or high networth individuals. Those with no funding source technically have no business in the corridors of power due to their inability to match the giant spenders.

The economic dynamics of power play in Nigeria show a systemic failure that is characterised by corruption, an undemocratic practice where a few control and influence the majority. A nation that strives to attain development would not allow the fate of its elections to be decided at the altar of unaccounted funds, particularly for a nation experiencing revenue drops and plunged with heavy domestic and foreign debts. There is no transparency in the financial process of political parties in Nigeria. The recent electoral act is expected to address just a few of these challenges but would not make the needed changes. Institutions like the INEC,

Anti-graft agencies, the judiciary, civil society groups, and non-governmental organisations must be strengthened to address the self-consuming economics of politics in Nigeria.

The process of leadership transition for a nation that has been characterised by past failures and abuse of power must be transparent and honest, having finance as the least deciding factor that determines the process and result.

Alikor Victor is a development & health economist

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