The National Assembly is presently in the process of making alterations to the 1999 constitution ostensibly to adapt it to present realities.
One of the laws the federal lawmakers are attempting to amend is the law guiding elections in Nigeria, the Electoral Act. Already, the work of the lawmakers is generating a lot of interest among Nigerians who have expressed reservations about some of the provisions added or omitted.
One of the aspects that has raised eyebrows is Clause 88 of the draft bill which proposes to hike, on a massive scale, the spending cap for aspirants seeking to vie for political offices in the country.
The draft bill increased the money a presidential candidate could spend on an election campaign from N5 billion to N15 billion while that of governorship candidates was increased from N1 billion to N5 billion.
For a senatorial election, a candidate could spend up to N1.5 billion, up from N100 million while a House of Representatives candidate could spend up to N500 million, up from N70 million.
There are many reasons why discerning Nigerians are uneasy about this provision. First of all, there is no demonstrable reason to show that increasing the spending limit for aspirants for political offices would improve the country’s polity and the electoral system.
Even more poignant is that such a move would encourage the exclusion of a wide spectrum of persons from such an important national exercise and restrict the field to moneybags.
Already, the role of money in the country’s electoral system had been identified as one of its banes, with aberrations such as vote buying and vote selling, bribing of security and electoral officials, and hiring of thugs and hoodlums being areas desperate politicians have poured in money to try to manipulate the process in their favour, often increasing electoral violence and undermining the development of democracy.
Also, encouraging politicians to spend more in an election will increase their desperation to win the election at all costs, and subsequently lead to the subversion of the governance system. In Nigeria’s nascent brand of politics which is not underpinned by any discernible ideology – the politicians are united in their quest to make as much financial gain from government as possible, legally or otherwise – it is a given the first preoccupation of any such public office holder would be to recoup his investment many times over, and that will significantly reduce his capacity to deliver the dividends of democracy to the generality of Nigerians.
Moreover, political appointees who may want to contest for elective offices will be preoccupied with trying to take advantage of their current positions to corner enough resources from the offices they occupy in order to match their rivals. In the end governance will suffer.
It is the opinion of this newspaper that this provision, if accepted, would also limit the chances of women, youths and persons living with disabilities – who constitute biggest segment of population – to contribute to governance. Since the Beijing Conference when affirmation action was birthed which seeks to encourage more women participation in governance, there has been a clamour to mainstream more of the female folk into the political system. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, as the contest for power became grimmer and grimmer, the number of elected women have continued to dwindle. Women are generally less financially endowed than men, and this works against them during elections. We are compelled to argue that raising the spending cap will further alienate them from being in position to contribute their quota to the nation’s development.
It is the same with youths. Though they are being encouraged to bring their youthful energy and inventiveness to public office, however, they cannot always get into elective offices as they cannot match the old brigade in financial resources. As a result, they only get party tickets to contest on the platforms of smaller parties which stand little or no chance of winning elections.
As a newspaper, we align with those who say the dominance of money in Nigeria’s elections is detrimental to the political evolution as it hinders the inclusion of marginalised groups like women, youths and persons living with disabilities. So, in the end, this particular provision is tantamount to shrinking the political space.
We also hold that increasing campaign funding will not only increase desperation and violence in the electoral system, it will also reduce political campaign from a contest of ideas to a case of financial doping with the concomitant danger of increasing the avenues for corrupting the system.
We urge the lawmakers to reconsider this bill as going ahead to pass it will send the wrong signal. In fact, they should enact a law that allows more people with bright ideas to come on board. That is one possible way of improving the nation’s democracy and governance.