Friday, October 31, 2014

The controversy over the party nomination fees in Nigeria

It’s once again harvest time for political parties in Nigeria. With the October 1 publication of Notice of Election by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the commencement of party primaries from October 2 to December 11, 2014, it is that season again when registered political parties sell nomination forms to aspirants willing to contest on their respective platforms. Though there are 26 or thereabout of them officially recognised by the INEC, with the current realignment of forces through decampment, mergers and alliance formations, it would not be out of place to say that though we have a de jure multiparty system in Nigeria, however, we have a de facto two party state.  The two dominant parties at this time is the old war-horse, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the new bride All Progressives Party (APC) .

A lot of furore has been generated by the recent publications of nomination fees by the PDP and APC. A lot of persons including some aspirants have complained about the high nomination fees of their political parties. Before I go on to analyse the complaints, here is what the political parties have resolved to charge aspirants. Starting with PDP, the party fixed the presidential nomination fee at N20 million with a N2 million fee for Expression of Interest; the governorship nomination form is fixed at N10 million with the Expression of Interest Form to be obtained at N1 million. The nomination fee for the Senate is fixed at N4million and N2 million for the House of Representatives. The Expression of Interest Form is fixed at N400,000 for Senate and House of Representatives aspirants.  The nomination fee for the state House of Assembly members is N1 million, while the Expression of Interest Form is fixed at N200,000. Though female nomination fee is free, but they are to pay for the Expression of Interest form.

For the APC, those aspiring for the presidential ticket of the party are expected to pay N27.5 million for both forms (expression and nomination).  Incumbent governors, who wish to run for a second term will pay N10.5 million, while fresh aspirants will pay N5.5 million.  For the upper chamber of the National Assembly, sitting senators will pay N5.3 million; fresh aspirants will cough out N3.3 million. Members of the House of Representatives, who intend to return, will pay N3.2 million, while fresh aspirants will pay N2.2 million.  In the 36 States, sitting lawmakers of Houses of Assembly are expected to pay N800, 000, while fresh aspirants will pay N550, 000.

The curious thing is that apart from this sum paid to the parties’ headquarters, the secretariats of the parties at the state also charge another nomination fees for aspirants. For instance, in the Ogun State PDP, governorship aspirants pay additional N2.5 million Expression of Interest form, N200,000 Senatorial fee and N100,000 administrative charge making a total of N2.8 million. In Oyo State, the sum of N5 million is paid into the party coffers by PDP governorship aspirants. This has made Prof. Taoheed Adedoja, a governorship aspirant in the state, to cry out that the sum is capable of scaring away people with great developmental ideas but with limited resources from contesting elections. Similarly, General Muhammadu Buhari  (Retd.) who was a former Head of State and a presidential aspirant under the All Progressives Congress also expressed his displeasure with the nomination fee of APC when he went to pick his nomination form on Thursday, October 16, 2014. He was quoted as saying that “It’s a pity I couldn’t influence this amount to be reviewed downward.” In reaction to Buhari’s concern, the APC national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun said, “The N27.5m is to separate the men from the boys.” (See The PUNCH, Friday, October 17, 2014).

Indeed, in an election, there are two broad categories of contestants; they are the contenders and the pretenders. The contenders are the real contestants who have all it takes to vie for elective positions. They have the financial muscle, the requisite academic qualifications, the experience, the networks, the charisma, the oratorical prowess, and the goodwill. The pretenders however are just ‘also-ran’, bench-warmers, light-weight politicians who are mostly contesting for the purpose of name recognition, ego, and financial inducement during political negotiations. These set of pretenders are always in the majority. They are sometimes surrogates of contestants from the big parties who are funded by proxy to forestall election boycott or play sinister role in the event of the need for election petition. Whether lightweight or heavyweight, pretenders or contenders, both camps have equal basis in law and are treated equally by the electoral management bodies.

Failure to accord equal respect and treatment to the so-called pretenders has been costly to INEC in the past. For instance, elections have been nullified by simple reason of political party legally nominating candidates and such unlawfully excluded by INEC either by error of omission or commission e.g. non-inclusion of the logo and name of the political parties on the ballot.

As earlier mentioned the political parties charge huge nomination fees to prevent the electoral contest from being crowded by pretenders. Secondly, the fees also provide resources for the political parties to organise party primaries and other running cost for the parties. My only passionate appeal is that as political parties commence their party nomination process, the procedures will be free, fair, and transparent and follow high ethical standard such that even the losers will commend the process and the outcome.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult Ltd, Abuja