As election season gets into full swing with the sale of nomination forms by some parties, and the emergence of delegates who will chose their party’s flagbearers, leading political columnist and analyst Jide Ojo was our guest on today’s programme to examine some of the IDEAs issues raised.
Ayo noted that Jide had expressed a different viewpoint about the high cost of forms to enter the race in some parties, and whether it was morally or legally right for parties to charge high amounts for their aspirants’ forms. She asked how he saw the idea of measuring the cost of such forms against the minimum wage, or the amount one might earn as salary. Was it right to see the matter only through the prism of an aspirant who could afford the cost from their own personal resources, and not from the standpoint that a serious candidate with sufficient support should be able to raise the money for the cost of the forms?
Jide said that he chose to throw a different light on the issue of the high cost of the forms in some parties because a lot of Nigerians were playing the ostrich over the issue of politics and elections and that the reality was that things had changed: “All things” are never equal. As regards the dominant parties, the high cost of forms was a reflection of their desire to thin out the field and ensure that only those who were really serious would press ahead with their political ambitions. He pointed out that as we don’t have independent candidacy, an aspirant had to run on the platform of a political party, or a ‘special purpose vehicle’.
If people are not happy with the high cost of APC or PDP forms, there are other parties that they could go to. It was the choice of the aspirants, and in response to Ayo’s observation that an aspirant might not get the same from some of the other parties, he said that people have to pay for that quality, and pointed out that despite public criticism, none of those who were seriously in the race had complained about the cost of the forms because they knew that the effect would be to reduce the number of aspirants. .
Ayo suggested that it was possible that we had not heard from those who had been edged out, and went on to ask Jide’s view about the idea of relating the cost of forms to the minimum wage or the president’s salary, and whether this tended to assume that the aspirants themselves should put their hands into their own pockets, that there didn’t seem to be any concept of fundraising and showing that one had enough support to raise money.
Jide said that it depended on who the aspirant was, because some of them could self-fund their campaigns. He gave the example of the Vice President whose 2015 Declaration of Assets showed that he was worth more than N1 billion and so could afford the forms by himself, that many of the aspirants in both APC and PDP are billionaires who could afford the forms. He agreed that this was discrimination, but said life is never balanced. However, he referred to his column in The Punch in which he had cited the presidential campaign of Barack Obama in the US which was funded with many small donations.
Ayo wondered whether the assumption by Nigerians that aspirants were using their own money tended to raise the expectation that they would want to be refunded, which raised issues about the Integrity and Accountability of their campaigns.
Jide said that one size does not fit all, but also noted that the major parties had given concessions to youths, women and persons with disabilities.
When Jide referred to “the main candidates”, Ayo interrupted him, speaking about the impression that Nigerians should narrow their focus to just two major parties, to just one or two major aspirants, and asked how this fitted with efforts to broaden our democracy and make the candidates feel Accountable?
Jide said that such was the norm globally, giving the examples of Ghana, the US and the UK. He said that it was always like that because it was about the clout and structures, and it was those structures that people were paying for. If the cost of the forms had been just N10 million there would have been as many as 200 aspirants for the presidency!
Ayo asked why, if women and others were being given special consideration, the number of such candidates was so low. Did that say something about the cost of forms relative to the overall cost of campaigns? Jide agreed and said that the cost of nomination forms was infinitesimal to what aspirants spend. He gave the example of the Minister of Transportation who had been travelling around. Ayo interrupted to say (tongue in cheek) that she thought he was visiting railways, but Jide said that he was visiting traditional rulers and delegates, despite being a sitting Minister, and that the cost of such visits was bigger than the cost of the forms. He concluded by pointing out that members of political parties do not pay membership fees, and as such, the parties should not be blamed for the admittedly exorbitant cost of forms.
Ayo asked how Jide saw the issue of parties selecting their candidates by delegates, particularly when even party members would have been surprised to find out that the delegates had already been elected, or were already known.
Jide said that selection by delegate was prone to corruption. He said that nobody knows how those delegates came about, and that it was very easy to corrupt delegates because they were just a handful, for example, APC says it has 40 million members nationwide, but just 7,800 delegates whose emergence was shrouded in opacity. Yet these people would determine who the next president of Nigeria would be! These small numbers are a reason why one would see dollars and pounds sterling changing hands at party conventions, referring to media reports about such practices in previous cases where delegates were used, e.g. APC in 2014 and PDP in 2019.
Ayo asked whether, if the delegates and the candidates emerge by processes that are opaque, there was any way for voters to regain charge of the democratic process at the elections and insist on some accountability from the parties?
Jide said that ironically the voters would be compelled to choose among those candidates who may have emerged through an opaque and corrupt system. He said that the remedy was for party members to be more proactive, to pay their membership dues – likening it to taxation which spurs taxpayers to demand accountability. For now, because party members don’t pay membership fees, they don’t know and are not consulted about some of these decisions.
Ayo wondered whether the parties themselves make any effort to collect membership dues to encourage that accountability?
Jide said that if one had to show evidence of having paid membership dues to be able to vote in direct primaries, parties would gain a lot of resources, but as it is, nobody even knows who the delegates are!
Ayo ended by urging voters to keep their eyes peeled and reminded them that they weren’t obliged to be follow the attempt to channel them down the path of just one or two parties if they don’t like either of them.