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Obviously worried by the build-up to the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, stakeholders have fingered poverty and lack of ideologies as responsible for the heavy monetization of politics in the country.
This formed part of the many interventions at the most recent edition of the Toyin Falola Interview Series held on Sunday, May 22, 2023 across many online platforms and viewed by millions spread across Nigeria, Africa and the larger globe. The Toyin Falola Interview Series, chaired by one of Africa’s brightest historian, Professor Toyin Falola, based in the United States of America, has been at the forefront of amplifying African voices. The interview sessions have featured very key players in the African continuum.
Speakers during this edition were drawn from various sections of the Nigerian polity. They included: Dr Hussaini Jibrin, a senior lecturer in the Department of History and War Studies, Nigerian Defence Academy (NDA), Kaduna, Nigeria; Dr Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, chairperson, Transition Monitoring Group, a senior lecturer in the Department of Public Law, University of Lagos, and the founding Director of Women Advocates Research and Documentation Center (WARDC); Dr. Chido Onumah, a journalist, rights activist, and author, currently the coordinator of the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Abuja, Nigeria; Miriam Oke, representing youths, holds both B.A and M.A. degrees in English from the University of Ibadan, and currently an Associate Editor at the Pan-African University Press, among several others.
Opening the floor, Professor Falola raised the issue of the monetization of Nigerian politics, especially in the coming 2023 elections. According to him, “They have been mocking the APC’s 100 million naira form purchase; the 40 million naira form for the PDP. On the day of the presidential election, we have calculated that to man all the polling units to ensure that the votes count, you need a billion naira minimum. For an independent political party to set up a structure in order to compete with the two leading parties, it will require 200 billion naira.”
In his response, Dr. Onumah stated that politics in Nigeria has been more of a business investment than of service to the people. “The role of money in politics is one of the downsides of democracy if we want to describe it. Looking at Nigeria, there is a sense in which it is the aftermath that is of concern. I don’t want to say that politics is the only business in Nigeria. But politics is the major business in Nigeria.
For many people who are going into politics in Nigeria, it is basically an investment; you have to do anything and everything to get it knowing full well that once you are in it, through every means you can get whatever you want once you are in the political circle. It has to do with the way the state itself is structured in terms of the benefits of political victory. If you have a political system, for example, where legislators work part-time, you will see that not many people would want to invest hugely in terms of financial outlay in getting political office. Everything points out to the fact that at the end of the day, it is the end that justifies the means. If the end is going to be lucrative, you are a governor, you have access to unlimited amount of money whether in the name of security votes and billions of naira you won’t account for, you can afford to go to the banks to take more loans for elections knowing that once you get in, you would recoup your investment. That is on one hand.
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“On the other hand is the situation Nigerians have found themselves. The economy is in bad shape and because a lot of these political actors do not extend the dividends of democracy to their constituents, there is a sense in which people will want to grab whatever they can from you; what locally now has been referred to as stomach infrastructure. This means let us get what we can now knowing that after you get to office, we won’t see you again, unless in another four years if you try to run for election again,” he said.
For Dr Akiyode-Afolabi, the twin evil of poverty and lack of ideologies is at the forefront of the monetization of Nigerian politics. According to her, “The political class has actually monetized the electoral process in Nigeria. Politics in Nigeria is not issue-based; it is not ideological. There is nothing to offer; rather money is the only thing that can be offered. Because of the level of poverty in the land, people have become very vulnerable to the role of money in politics.
In other countries, if we have two big political parties, like we have in America, you know what they stand for ideologically.
Unfortunately, however, I don’t think we can speak of that, either the APC or PDP; and of course, you can see how they move from one party to the other.
One of the reasons money is thriving is also because we have not focused on what the ideologies are for these parties. The parties actually do not represent any ideologies; their campaigns have never been issue-based. What they can only do is to explore the vulnerabilities of the people and offer money. That is why the first time we heard about stomach infrastructure was when we were observing elections in Ekiti, Ondo, and it became full-scale when they got to Edo election. When you ask the people, they tell you that they know that their votes won’t count. ‘If they are going to give us rice, salt, etc, why don’t we take it?’ I think the political class knows this and they have nothing to offer.”
They, however, called for the restructuring of the nation’s constitution, more punitive measures against electoral violence, more empowerment of the voting population, improved security, and better youth participation.
Addressing youth participation, Oke expressed fears that the present make-up of the country may continue to hinder full participation of young people in politics. “At best, youth participation is very minimal. When you look at the different political parties, how many informed, educated youths are in these parties? Despite the passage of the not-too-young-to-contest bill into law, how many youths can afford to run in this presidential race? The idea of youth participation is unrealistic.
Aside from the streets of Twitter, Facebook, youth participation is still at the minimum. We need more awareness. Many youths are not informed; many do not have their PVCs. Many do not know what it takes to be an active participant. It goes beyond deliberating on Twitter,” she argued.
In the audience were prominent members of the intelligentsia.
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