The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, has become a renowned hostage of some sort. Recently, he informed whoever cared to listen that he had budgeted N50 million to set himself free from the prison camp of his own political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Another N50 million, he said, would come from his supporters. Ngige wants to be President of Nigeria. But he must first pay N100 million, which is the amount his party charged for nomination and expression of interest forms for presidential aspirants.
This same man, as governor of Anambra State between 2003 and 2006, was intimidated and even kidnapped by his godfathers because he refused to mortgage the resources of his state to them as ransom for his freedom. Now that some people will help him to purchase the presidential forms, are we to experience another kidnap incident, if he becomes President? The APC, even when it was in opposition, always sells its forms higher than the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). This year, the expression of interest and nomination forms for presidential aspirants for the PDP is N40 million.
In 2014, the party sold the forms for N22 million, while the then opposition APC sold its own for N27.5 million. In 2019, the APC sold the forms for N45 million while the PDP pegged its own at N12 million. The same trend occurs for the Governorship, Senatorial and House of Representatives/ Assembly positions. Incidentally, President Muhammadu Buhari, who had sworn to fight corruption at inception of office and who decried the high cost of N27.5 million APC forms in 2014, fully participated in fixing the current outrageous fee of N100m for presidential aspirants. Although the ruling party claimed that it was reducing the nomination fees for youths by 50 per cent, how many youths or average Nigerians can afford the socalled 50 per cent reduction? The party says women and persons living with disabilities will only pay for the expression of interest forms.
How many of these people can afford that? How many middle-class people with integrity can afford our parties’ forms? If aspirants spend this much for forms, how much do they have in stock for the real campaigns? Must one be a billionaire to be able to serve the country as President or even governor? In fact, how many of the presidential aspirants, especially public servants, can genuinely afford APC’s humongous fees for forms? Many of them claim their support groups purchased the forms for them. But, as former President Olusegun Obasanjo noted recently, Nigerians should vote out all those making these claims because they lied to Nigerians and did not deserve to be voted into office. It is pertinent to note that the salary of the President of Nigeria is N14.058 million per year or N1.171 million per month.
That of the Vice-President is N12.126 million per year or N1.01 million per month. A minister or governor takes home about N7.8 million annually. This means it will take the President of Nigeria about seven years to garner the N100 million for the APC’s presidential forms and over eight years for a Vice-President like Professor Yemi Osinbajo. For ministers like Ngige, Rotimi Amaechi and Emeka Nwajiuba or governors like Yahaya Bello of Kogi and Dave Umahi of Ebonyi, it will take them over 12 years to be able to pay for the fees. These aspirants, who are still in government, need to further convince Nigerians that they are not corrupt.
Bola Tinubu is another riddle that needs to be unravelled. A former governor of Lagos State, Tinubu is currently known as the ‘National Leader’ of the APC. But does this title come with any salary? Or is it his pension as ex-governor that he is using to foot his political bills? Pardon my ignorance, as I am not aware of any multimillion naira business he is currently running to be able to afford such a nomination fee. The director-general, Tinubu Support Organisation, Aminu Suleiman, reportedly signed a cheque to purchase the form for Tinubu a few hours after the N100m nomination announcement was made. But latest reports indicate that the former governor eventually paid for the forms himself. It was delivered to him last week by some of his acolytes.
The ruling party has reportedly justified the huge amount it charged for various political positions. Its spokesman, Felix Morka, was reported to have said that the party’s decision reflected the country’s current situation. He added that the APC believed the values placed on the forms were justified because the party had little or no funding sources and it needed to raise funds to cover party expenses for the forthcoming elections. I see! It is ironical that this is a party that mesmerized Nigerians with the ‘change’ mantra in 2014. It had also professed its determination to fight corruption. But from what is happening now, I am getting more confused. No doubt, the taproot of most of our problems as a country is corruption. Political parties fuel this problem when they encourage politicians, by commission or omission, to siphon public funds for self-enrichment.
After spending huge sums of money to obtain forms and run their campaigns, politicians become desperate to recoup their investment. Hence, they engage in a looting spree. Those who have sponsors or godfathers become slaves to those sponsors as they need to repay their political debt. Many sane countries start from the top to fight corruption. But in Nigeria, the reverse is the case. Even, some of the top politicians who were unfortunate to be convicted in the past were pardoned after a few years in prison. Former governors of Plateau and Taraba States, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame, come to mind here. We must resolve as a people to vote out all corrupt politicians in the 2023 general election. We know them. And we must ask them questions when they start campaigning.
Any aspirant who cannot convincingly explain how he got the money to purchase this form must be given the red card. This same thing goes for governorship aspirants and other positions. We borrowed this expensive presidential system from the United States of America. But not even the U.S. spends half of what we spend to purchase forms. Next year will be a critical one for Nigeria. So many things are wrong with our system. Insecurity is high. The rate of inflation and unemployment is very high. Poverty is endemic. If we make the mistake of electing the wrong persons into positions of authority this time, the country is doomed. We must begin to push for serious political and electoral reforms in Nigeria. We have a newly amended Electoral Act.
There are clauses, which are aimed at curbing outrageous electioneering expenses. But judging from what is happening, we still have a long way to go. As individuals, parties and as a country, what we spend just to elect those who will govern us is too much. We must collectively say ‘No’ to bullion-van democracy in Nigeria.
• Mr. Casmir Igbokwe is the Publisher/Editor-in-chief, NewsProbe Online Newspaper