As the countdown to the 2023 general election intensifies, stakeholders argue that the high costs of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) expression of interest and nomination forms violate Sections 40, 106, and 107 of the 1999 Constitution, as well as article 13(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights. They also told CHIJIOKE IREMEKA that the two largest political parties’ dispositions, as indicated by the cost of their nomination forms, will drive up the cost of holding elections in Nigeria.
The expense of holding elections in Nigeria has risen at an exponential rate in recent years, with no signs of abating. While political parties continue to increase the cost of expressions of interest and nomination papers for candidates, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is adopting innovative technology that is not cheap but helps it administer credible elections.
Direct Data Capturing Machines (DDCMs), Permanent Voter Card (PVC), Smart Card Reader (SCR), and Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) are just a few of the advances.
Unfortunately, while the adoption of these technologies is motivated by the country’s unique needs and devised by the Commission’s engineers, they are made outside of the country.
This is occurring as more political parties emerge, forcing the Commission to boost its expenses in order to capture them on ballot sheets and other crucial election materials.
In the 2019 general election, 73 political parties competed against the three major political parties that fought in the 1999 general election. According to sources, despite the fact that INEC has recognized 18 political parties to run in the upcoming general election, over 100 organizations have filed to register as political parties.
All of these factors have combined to push up the cost of elections in Nigeria, arguably making it the most expensive in the world, with costs rising from just over N1 billion in 1999 to over N100 billion in 2015.
According to Nick Dazang, INEC’s former Director of Media and Public Enlightenment, an exponential increase in the number of political parties leads to an increase in the number of election materials such as ballot papers, results in sheets, cubicles, and vote boxes, among other things.
He confirmed that these were either printed or made in another country, stating that such sensitive items, such as ballot papers and results in sheets, are normally colour-coded and include watermarks and other security elements, similar to the rules for printing currency.
He explained that these supplies are purchased in dollars and that the rise in the dollar exchange rate has had a disproportionate influence on the country’s mounting election costs.
The naira exchanged at 119 to the dollar during the 2015 general election, according to the Guardian. Today, however, it is worth N570 per dollar. It is expected that when the naira depreciates against the dollar, the country will spend more money on elections.
It was also discovered that the number of ad-hoc and permanent employees deployed by INEC for the conduct of a general election in the country, who must be paid, exceeds the total number of soldiers in the West African sub-region
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According to Dazang, with the current 176, 846 Polling Units (PUs), the country needed four ad-hoc personnel per PU (based on the template used in the 2019 elections), totalling 707, 384 ad-hoc staff.
He claims that this number does not include collation officers, returning officers, or supervising officers and that the government would need at least two security agents to man each of the PUs, bringing the total number of employees to 53, 692.
“A number of Super RACs are normally constructed out of the 8, 809 Wards or Registration Area Centres (RACs) around the country to assist the massing of personnel and security agents who would fan out to the relevant PUs and set up for the early opening of polls at first light on Election Day,” he said.
“The Commission provides mattresses, mats, water, and electricity (through generators) at these Super RACs in addition to election materials.” These expenditures are also accounted for by air freighting sensitive commodities from their various destinations abroad to our international airports and subsequently to our local airports for distribution to the Central Bank vaults in the states.”
He also mentioned other expenses such as voter education, advertising, and lawsuits.
“In addition, security personnel would be stationed at the ward level and at state borders, forming an outside security cordon.” These employees and security personnel must be trained, fed, transported, and compensated for their time on the job.
“It is ineluctable from the above that the expense of elections, in which INEC provides practically everything,” Dazang remarked.
President Muhammadu Buhari presented an N242 billion election budget in 2019, requesting the legislature to give N164 billion through virement from the 2018 budget, with the 2019 budget covering the remaining N78 billion.
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It was claimed that cash donated to INEC for elections over the years has remained unaccounted for to this day. The cost of expressing interest and filing nomination paperwork for political parties has risen dramatically, prompting complaints from well-intentioned Nigerians.
In 2007, presidential candidates running on the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) platform had to pay N10,000 for an expression of interest form and N5 million for a nomination form.
Candidates for the same position had to pay N2 million for expressions of interest and N20 million for nomination forms in 2015, a 300 per cent increase in the cost.
The entire expenditures connected to the PDP campaign in 2011 were supposedly just over N5 billion. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) reportedly spent just over N2 billion on campaigning that year.
The PDP reportedly spent N9 billion on its campaign in 2015, a 74.75 per cent increase over its 2011 campaign spending. The APC allegedly spent about N3 billion in the same year, nearly a billion naira more than the three main opposition parties spent in the 2011 election and a 42.86 per cent increase.
The ruling party, the APC, has set the price of presidential expressions of interest and nomination forms at N100 million for the 2023 general election, while the PDP has set the price at N40 million for the same category of aspirants.
Nigerians who were outraged by the expense of the firms claimed it was a ruse by elderly politicians to keep power rather than letting the new generation, whom they think will be the leaders of tomorrow, take the stage.
They contended that the fee set for the forms was not only excessive and discriminatory but also effectively disenfranchised over 90 million poor Nigerians who may never receive such a sum in their lifetime. According to them, no genuine Nigerian with true and selfless leadership qualities could pay such a large sum of money only to buy ballot forms, which do not guarantee election victory.
They said that by doing so, the parties were depriving Nigerians of the opportunity to elect a good leader from a diverse range of candidates, forcing the entire public to choose from a slew of inept and self-proclaimed leaders.
However, some legal experts told The Guardian that political parties are unable to impose limits on candidate eligibility outside of the Constitution’s provisions. As a result, they believe that the APC and PDP’s high nomination costs are illegal and unconstitutional.
They further claimed that the fees are a clear violation of the Constitution’s Sections 40, 106, and 107, as well as Article 13(1) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights Act.
No individual or other entity may donate more than N50 million to a candidate, according to Section 88(8) of the Electoral Act, while Section 90(3) forbids a political party from taking more than N50 million in monetary or other contributions unless it can identify the source of money to INEC
Femi Falana, a human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), condemned the nomination fees as immoral, callous, and illegal in response to the circumstances. He claimed that the fees were in violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Nigerian Constitution, claiming that Section 42 of the Nigerian Constitution states that no one shall be subjected to any restriction or discrimination based on class, or fortune, sex, or anything else.
“No restriction can be erected to prevent you from participating in the politics of the country. You are now saying that the politics of the country is for moneybags or fat cats. That is against the spirit and the letters of the constitution.
“The immorality of it is that we have over 90 million Nigerians that have been classified poor. In a country where the minimum wage is about N30, 000 and it is not paid by some states, you can’t say you are collecting N100 million or N40 million to purchase a form,” Falana said in a statement.
He argued that since the national minimum wage is N30, 000 per month, the deposit of N100 million or N40 million has excluded millions of workers from contesting the presidential election in Nigeria.
“Ironically, Nigeria houses the second largest population of poor people in the world, but the nomination fees collected from aspirants by APC and PDP are the highest in the world,” he added.
While noting that in Canada, candidates were no longer required to pay a deposit for federal elections, Falana said since the Nigerian constitution is the basic law of the land, any policy inconsistent with it should be struck out.
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“Thus, the payment of outrageous nomination fees, which is not one of the conditions for contesting elections under the current democratic dispensation, is illegal and unconstitutional on grounds of inconsistency with the Constitution.
“In the case of the National Conscience Party & 23 Ors v Independent National Electoral Commission (Suit No FHC/ABJ/CS/ 42/2003), the Plaintiffs challenged the announcement of the defendant to charge as ‘processing fees’ amounts ranging from N500, 000 for presidential candidates to N25, 000 for those seeking election as local government councillors.
“The presiding Judge, the Honourable Justice Binta Murtala-Nyako, agreed with the submissions of the Plaintiffs’ counsel, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN) and said, ‘Going through the constitution and the Electoral Act 2002, I fail to see where INEC was empowered to prescribe and demand such processing fees… I, therefore, declare the processing fees charged by the defendant illegal and unconstitutional.’
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“It is submitted that if the electoral bodies that are vested with the power to conduct elections are prohibited from collecting meagre nomination fees from candidates, what is the legal basis for collecting billions of naira from aspirants by political parties?”
Falana added that while political parties cannot charge outrageous nomination fees, they might be permitted to request nominal fees for administrative expenses.
Reacting further, a former Governor of Oyo State, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, while speaking with journalists in Ibadan, recently, said making presidential aspirants pay N100 million for N56 million salaries in four years and governorship aspirants to purchase N50 million forms for an N28 million job would increase corruption.
He tasked the electorate to vote for candidates based on their competence and character, not the depth of their pockets, urging smaller political parties to compete favourably with the two leading political parties in the country. He said: “N100 million nomination form for president and N50 for governors show the arrogance of the two leading political parties. As a presidential aspirant, you are asked to come and purchase a form of N100 million to seek a job of N56 million while as a governor your salary is about N7 million in a year.
“This means you are going to earn N28 million for the four years and you are asked to pay N50 million to seek a job of N28 million. If other parties can also win elections in some states, the arrogance of the two major political parties will reduce.”
Saddened by the development in the country, a mother of two, Mrs Bukola Ajogun, said it was the height of irresponsibility and insensitivity for the ruling party and the leading opposition party, the PDP, to be collecting outrageous nomination fees from aspirants while university students remain at home as a result of the strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
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“Our children are at home roaming around the streets, indulging in one form of criminality or the other due to the Federal Government’s refusal to look into the ASUU strike with a view to addressing the reasons for the incessant strike once and for all. What is the APC doing with this money? Is it to rig the elections again and go to court?
“So, there is such an amount of money in the hands of politicians yet Buhari is jumping from one country to the other borrowing money and mortgaging the future of our children and generations yet to come. I don’t know how we got to this position. I have never seen Nigeria in this situation.
“It is sad. We used to believe and hope that Nigeria would be good again, but the reality staring us in our faces is the contrary. At my age, I never thought of leaving the shores of this country before but it has become an agenda for me. So sad!
“Killings every day, destruction of properties every day, maiming and starving the masses to death. Yet our politicians are busy raising billions of naira just for the purpose of one week of elections or so.”
When asked how the country could get out of the situation, Lawrence Ndukwe and Co’s Principal Partner, Emeka Ndukwe, said that when policymakers domesticate the Electoral Amendment Act 2022 and ensure compliance with the prescribed spending limits, the lavish spending on Nigeria’s elections would be curtailed.
The first step, he added, was to guarantee that political parties in the country behave responsibly by abiding by the Nigerian Constitution, the Electoral Act, their own constitutions and manifestos, as well as following due process during primary elections.
He claimed that once candidates are given to INEC as the result of lawful primaries, there will be no need for court-ordered polls after the general election, saving billions of naira in court costs cases
“The law must be amended such that not all registered parties can contest elections. Only parties, which meet certain benchmarks or cross certain thresholds set by law, should be on the ballot papers. This would substantially reduce the number of election materials and drastically bring down costs,” he said.
On his part, Dazang said: “Some of the amendments being canvassed by the Commission and civil society such as the electronic transmission of results will cut down on manual collation of results, remove at least three layers of collation (at Ward, Local Government Area and State for the presidential election) and associated costs and risks.
“The Federal Government should as a matter of urgency and in national interest put the Nigeria Security Printing and Minting Company (NSPMC) in fine fettle by equipping it with state-of-the-art machines.
“That way, sensitive election materials can be printed locally, hard currency can be saved, more Nigerians will be employed and the perennial logistics nightmare INEC faces can be history. INEC must continue to improve on its reverse logistics and retrieval of election materials.
“Nigerians and all stakeholders in the electoral process should be educated to understand that INEC equipment and properties are investments from their tax and they owe an obligation and duty to protect and safeguard them.”