Going by the way that the two major political parties in Nigeria namely the sitting All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have carried about lately, it is hard to not conclude that Nigerian politics –and, in turn both public office and public service have become ‘financialized’. This is to say that everything about political office has, now, a monetary value –meaning cost and benefit- attached to it. And this is not talking about just some money, or in popular parlance ‘chicken change’, ‘politics Nigeriana’ is now about big money in the millions and tens of millions. It is only reasonable to conclude that, under the APC government that, while in opposition only a few years ago, complained to high heavens about corruption in government, political office is now first, the exclusive preserve of the moneyed class and second, for sale to the highest bidders.
The APC, less than a decade old (some critics would insist it is not a party in the normal sense but merely a special purpose vehicle to gain power and access to the public treasury) is preparing for general elections in less than a year’s time. Party members who aspire to political office with the intention to serve their country or any part thereof – so it may be reasonably assumed – are expected to demonstrate their seriousness with the payment of a total of between a ‘lowly’ N2 million for the state house of assembly and a ‘presidential’ N100 million for so exalted an ambition. Aspirants to governorship pay N50 million, senator and representative ‘wannabes’ pay N20 million and N10 million respectively. These amounts are not yet part of campaigning which can cost many times the prices quoted above.
It needs to be noted that before the APC party came into government and the ‘benefits’ that accrue therefrom, the price for presidential aspirants in the 2015 elections was N27.5 million. There were only six aspirants. But time and fortune do change- for people and for political parties; which explains that an out-of-power and ‘in the cold’ PDP now puts its presidential price tag at ‘only’ N40 million, governorship N21 million, Senate N3.5 million, House of Representatives N2.5 million, and state House of Assembly N0.6 million. These figures in the context of the prevailing socio-economic conditions insult the sensibilities of the electorate. It does not look right, nor feel right to flaunt money as if it has lost value. If the political class has lost its sense of propriety and value, the Nigerian money has still some value, notwithstanding its bastardisation by, again, the political class.
Notwithstanding the (to an average citizen) the outrageous costs of nomination forms, there is what online medium The Cable terms a ‘gale of declaration’ in the APC where, at the latest count, about 30 persons, including a woman, have indicated interest to be president. More than half of them have reportedly paid the N100 million fees. In the PDP, 17 picked the N40 million nomination form.
A somewhat exasperated Chief Edwin Clark describes as ‘madness’ the scramble by Southern politicians for the nomination forms. But the somewhat absurd presidential aspiration by so many is fast turning to ‘madness’ of sorts. Or worse: a tragic-comedy of mischief.
Chief Clark may be right that among the scramblers, ‘‘there are some people who [are there] to play double game.’’
That, in principle, aspiration to public service can be made so exorbitant and even extortionate is for many reasons unconscionably disgraceful. First, the high price to merely aspire to elective public office is, in the appropriate words of legal practitioner and public affairs commentator, Jide Ojo, ‘‘prohibitive and discriminatory.’’ It is a deliberate weeding out of the well-intentioned but not rich enough (whatever the source of wealth) to serve one’s country.
Second, this financialisation of Nigerian politics has effectively established politics of the rich, by the rich, for the rich. Third, the argument can be made that if indeed the democratic system of government is practised in this country, obviously it is, in the words of Michael Parenti, ‘democracy for the few’ in the elite class of the Nigerian society.
Imperfect as the American system is, this is neither how democracy was conceived, nor is it how it is operated in that jurisdiction from which Nigeria borrowed the current system. No. By far and away, the political class plays politics with such considerations as sensitivity to the common good and public interest, the mood of the public, national ethics, in sum, with deeper sense of responsibility becoming of leadership.
Of course, leadership will always be a function of elitism of sorts; a combination of political, economic, military, even traditional and religious leaderships that control a disproportionate amount of power and influence on society for good or for ill. Elite theorist, James H. Meisel is quoted to say ‘the history of all societies, past and future is the history of its ruling classes…’.
The elite of Nigeria can chose to act in enlightened self-interest by pursuing the common good, and save itself, or, as it so arrogantly carries about, act parasitic, self-seeking, contemptuous of the prevailing conditions of the people, and set itself up for the justified anger of the growing swarm of the dispossessed. For now, it is not an exaggeration that obscenity is so thick in the air it can be cut with a machete.
Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics calculated that in 2019, 40 per cent or 83 million Nigerians lived in poverty; the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) said early this year that 91 million Nigerians now live below poverty line. The World Bank thinks the story is worse because 47.3 per cent or 98 million live in ‘multidimensional poverty’ calculated by income, access to health facilities, electricity, housing, among other basic necessities of a decent life.
Poverty line in Nigeria is calculated at living on about $32 a month. It is trite to say that provocative displays of filthy lucre by a few in the face of grinding poverty of the many are an invitation to reaction guaranteed to put the former in jeopardy. It is even more provocative if and when such wealth is stolen from the commonwealth. The prevalent ‘what-can –them –do’ attitude of the high and mighty is bound to have repercussions.
Comparisons have been made in the costs of nominations for political offices in the U.S. and Nigeria. This third world country emerges embarrassingly short of respectability. Tunji Ariyomo, National Coordinator of Nigeria Focus Group writes that ‘‘the average (filing and nomination fee for governorship in America is about) $2,000 (or N980,)’; the U.S. House of Representatives (Congress) ‘average in most state…$1,760 (about N850, 000). But even these requirements are not cast in stone. It is further reported, that an aspirant may ‘‘bypass these fees altogether by opting to submit a Petition (in a specified format) in place of a Filing Fee.’’
There appears, among Nigeria’s political class, a jostling to show off wealth; few are complaining; many are acting somewhat pleased to be counted among money-bag aspirants. Some aspirants even present themselves as so well and widely liked that groups are being formed to purchase nomination forms for them. In this respect, the point must be made directly that whosoever is too poor to pay for his nomination form, but must be beholden to donors with dubious ‘investment’ motives, is neither prepared nor fit for the high office of President of this Federal Republic.
To be continued tomorrow.