By Samson Itodo
IIt is clear from the high cost of nomination fees charged by Nigerian political parties that the commercialization of politics is fast becoming an indelible feature of Nigeria’s political culture.
The exorbitant cost of nomination forms reinforces three axiomatic propositions. First, the way political parties raise the cost of nomination forms with sybaritic excitement reinforces political parties as rent-seeking enterprises with no regard for inclusive democratic participation. Second, it affirms the absence of ideological variations among Nigerian political parties. In other words, virtually all parties subscribe to the idea that money, being “the mother’s milk of politics”, should define leadership recruitment. And finally, the antidote to the evolution of a plutocratic state rests squarely on comprehensive and meaningful political finance reform that encompasses political party finance and campaign finance.
Fair competition is the hallmark of candidate recruitment in political parties. Imposing high costs on nomination forms limits accessibility to political entrepreneurs with deep pockets and large patronage networks, thereby shrinking political space. When money shapes politics, it attacks the democratic right of citizens to run for public office, especially when it determines who is qualified to participate in politics.
Involvement is the evolution of a state that is governed and exists to serve wealthy elites at the expense of popular participation. Voter turnout inertia is a ripple effect of a commercialized political process that most politicians tend to ignore. As long as money, and not skill, character or popular appeal, functions as a fundamental variable in the recruitment of political party leaders, voters will abstain from voting because commercialized political processes are more likely to produce unpopular, irresponsible and incompetent candidates.
Needless to say, a highly monetized process hampers the political aspirations of young people and women and violates the spirit behind the Not Too Young To Run Act.
To a large extent, the justification advanced by political parties for the high cost of nomination forms is implausible. They claim that the high monetary value given to the nomination forms is a due diligence measure to distinguish suitors from suitors. For the parties, it is a parameter for measuring the interest, the seriousness and the commitment to stand for election. In the absence of public party funding, parties derive revenue from the sale of forms to finance their activities.
The reliance on the high cost of nomination forms as a due diligence measure accuses political parties of failing to invest in the recruitment, development, retention and long-term transition of leaders. If parties maintain consistent, inclusive and structured engagements with their members on politics, leadership and governance, this will answer the question of leadership recruitment. Through strategic engagement opportunities, the leadership philosophy and values of political parties can be embraced and instilled in party members ahead of the election season. Potential candidates can be identified, prepared and empowered to compete for party nominations. It is counterproductive for political parties to wait for the electoral commission to ring the election bell before engaging in the recruitment of leaders. The true test of a party’s commitment to decommercializing politics is its approach and strategy to recruiting long-term leaders.
Furthermore, the overreliance on revenue from the sale of nomination forms to manage party affairs exposes the poor health of political parties. Ideally, political parties fund candidates, but the reverse is true in Nigeria, where candidates fund political parties. Political parties cannot generate income through membership fees, levies and donations, hence the high cost. The removal of public funding from political parties in 2010 sanitized the political funding ecosystem; however, the introduction of private funding such as membership fees and in-kind donations has not been explored effectively by political parties for a plethora of reasons. First, most parties do not maintain accurate, credible and up-to-date membership registers, which makes it impossible to collect membership dues and levies. In the past, parties were funded by membership dues and levies, but in contemporary Nigerian politics, the preference of party leaders is to generate “quick money” during party primaries. This condition serves the interests of the godfathers and moneybags because it makes party leaders enslaved and captive to entrenched interests or party financiers, leading to “political capture” of the electoral process – second, mechanisms of weak internal control and poor organizational culture in parties. Political parties have been repeatedly charged by the electoral commission for failing to keep financial records, record fixed assets and perform periodic audits of accounts. Without an appropriate financial management system, political parties cannot mobilize, manage and withdraw private funding with a high degree of transparency, accountability and compliance with political funding regulations.
The current political finance funding model creates unfair competition and shrinks political space to the detriment of capable leaders, youth and women. Political finance reform is urgently needed to ensure that political space is accessible to all people, regardless of age, economic class, tribe and creed. Any meaningful reform of party finance or campaign finance should produce the following four key results; first, to limit the flow of unregulated money into the political process; second, to build the capacity of political parties to mobilize resources and maintain proper accounting of financial transactions and register of assets; third, to strengthen INEC’s capacity to monitor and ensure compliance with political finance regulations; fourth, to explore new avenues of candidate selection that minimize the place of money and economic power on competence, ability and character. The net effect of these results will be improved guarantees for political space, party supremacy and candidate recruitment.
Itodo is the executive director of Yiaga Africa