• Saturday, July 20, 2024
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BusinessDay

Must a nation borrow to fund democracy?

Between the US and Nigeria’s elections

At a virtual conference this year, a question was asked by a gentleman about what a sovereign state must do to be successful? A political scientist in the audience replied that two vital conditions must be satisfied for a nation to be categorized as successful. The two vital conditions are the health and happiness of its citizens. So, we took a glance at the 2021 Happiness Index which showed that Finland has been on top of the ladder of happiest people in the world for four years running.

Why is Finland the happiest country globally in the past four years, I asked curiously? Available report shows that Finland is one of the best places on earth with natural beauty, high standard of living, superb education system, low crime rate with a universal healthcare system, which is a significant factor in how the citizens feel.

Can our country ever be like Finland? This is a very tough question to answer. A country may be rich in crude oil and mineral resources in addition to being the most populous nation in a continent. But if many of the citizens are not happy and prosperous, can the country be regarded as successful? It is very doubtful. So, must a nation then borrow all the time in order to be successful? May be and maybe not.

The success of a nation we were told is also, determined by the values and happiness of its citizens. In other words, what we expect our nation to be is significantly determined by our value system. In a democracy, we live and vote by our value system, the political scientist continued. The personal value of an individual will determine largely where he or she will end up in life. And we were told that the value system of an individual will determine his or her choice of political leadership. That is at the personal level. At the national level, the value system determines what institutions are formed and how they perform. That is why some public policy analysts believe that the success of individuals and nations depend on the values the people adopt.

Why must a nation that has borrowed so much to improve infrastructural facilities with little to show for it contemplate borrowing for direct primary elections?

At the time of writing, Nigeria is the 116th happiest out of 155 countries in the UN-sponsored 2021 happiness ladder and 15th happiest people in Africa. The 2021 UN-sponsored report measures “subjective well-being” – how happy the people are and why. Today, events around the world are increasingly showing that it is challenging to sustain democracy if the values necessary and required to sustain it are not exhibited and respected at all. So, must borrowing be a value that we cherish as a people in order to improve our electoral process? The answer is simply negative. We all know the importance of the direct primaries in that it would transfer power to the electorate so that they can elect qualified politicians into elective positions to represent them from the ward level to the highest level of government.

Read also: Pandemic pushes Nigerians to borrow the most in 5yrs – IMF

Simply put, direct primaries will strengthen participatory democracy in the polity. We understood through the content of some newspaper reports that a few House of Reps members have expressed their willingness to approve a loan for the federal government to fund the 2023 elections should the budget be more than 500 billion Naira as speculated. Why must a nation that has borrowed so much to improve infrastructural facilities with little to show for it contemplate borrowing for direct primary elections? Is it not possible to conduct all the direct primary elections of political parties in Nigeria in one day without borrowing a dime?

Is it impossible to deploy technology for direct primaries? How has India, a nation of over 1.3 billion people, which is considered as the largest democracy in the world been conducting its elections? How is the United States of America with over 300 million people conducting its direct primary elections? Do these nations borrow funds to conduct direct primaries during elections? Why can’t we use other means short of borrowing to fund the conduct of direct primaries? We need not flatter ourselves, politicians should fund direct primaries in their political parties. Those who love Nigeria have expressed their views that the cost of governance in Africa’s most populous nation is high. Critics, on many occasions have appraised the cost of governance from both economic and business angles. And they have concluded that it is not profitable to run a country largely with borrowed funds with little consideration for future generations.

This writer is strongly of the view that the country should not borrow money to conduct elections. We do not think that it would be difficult for political party members to contribute money to fund their elections. If the trend of borrowing is not stemmed, we may find a situation where monies may be borrowed to finance imported goods from China and other parts of the world.

It is true that COVID-19 pandemic has affected negatively most poor economies. Reduction in revenues and foreign aids have affected most countries’ spending and thus, their inability to repay loans. Most of these poor economies are in Africa. I learnt that Uganda has joined the club of countries that have borrowed money from China but unable to pay back the loan. Uganda has been stuck in “debt trap” as a result of predatory conditions of Chinese loans. Uganda, according to media reports, is at the verge of losing a strategic physical infrastructure such as the Entebbe International Airport to China. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Pakistan, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia and Thailand among other countries are on the verge of suffering similar fate over debt failure under the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.

Out of 54 countries in Africa, 50 countries including Nigeria have taken loans from China worth $153.4 billion between 2009 and 2019, according to the China Africa Research Initiative report. What has happened to Uganda is an indication that many African countries may fall victim as a result of economic challenges occasioned by the impact of COVID-19. In case of loan defaults, some of these African countries may lose their strategic infrastructure to China.

Nigeria owes China about $3.402 billion, which represents about 3.94 percent of the nation’s total public debt, according to a Debt Management Office report. This amount is much considering the nation’s inability to generate sufficient revenue. While double-digit inflation, devaluation of our currency amid trade and budget deficits, and other economic indices are not impressive. So should a nation lose its sovereignty because politicians want to use borrowed funds to conduct direct primaries? Negative! We support all lovers of democracy who are of the view that the country should give direct primaries in political parties a chance. But we should not borrow funds to conduct direct primaries. Our politicians under the supervision of the Independent National Electoral Commission should consider other means and ways of conducting direct primaries without using state funds. Thank you