6th November, 2014
By Akido Agenro
Many things happen in this country which range from the strange to the absurd and from the weird to the ridiculous. Nigeria is a place where the citizens will often be seen engaged in acts that are prejudicial to the peaceful cohabitation of the diverse and mutually antagonistic people and interests in the country one moment only to appear the next moment at another public forum where the same person will be seen mounting the rostrum to remonstrate and condemn in strong terms the pervading ogre of violence in the society then pontificate and moralize on ways necessary to enthrone peace in the land. Certainly, the sermon would not be brought to a conclusion without a long prayer session where he entreats the Almighty to bring peace to a troubled nation. Hypocrisy means nothing in this part of the world. God help us.
Those who exhort the people to live a modest lifestyle live ostentatiously themselves. Fanatics, puritans, unrepentant tribalists and ethnic chauvinists parade themselves in high places as peace ambassadors. A Ghanaian proverb says that when a naked person promises you cloth look at what he is wearing. This inclination reminds one of the observation of the British philosopher and mathematician, Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970): “We have, in fact, two kinds of morality side by side; one which we preach but do not practise, and another which we practise but seldom preach”.
A recent example in the act or policy that has the prospect to predispose the society to calamity in the aftermath of the forthcoming general elections apart from the fact that it’s an open endorsement of corruption by elected officials is the exorbitant price which political parties in Nigeria placed on their nomination forms. The prices range from N27.5 million for presidential aspirants in APC, N22.5 million in PDP to N10.5 million for sitting governors aspiring for a second term and N5.5 million for fresh governorship aspirants. Sitting Senate aspirants N5.3 million, fresh Senate aspirants N3.3 million. Sitting House of Representative aspirants N3.2 million, fresh House of Representative aspirants N2.2 million, etc. down the line.
Responding to the avalanche of criticisms trailing the policy the chairman of APC, Chief John Oyegun was reported to have justified the high cost on the premise that it will differentiate the men from the boys. This is a warped logic that is totally unacceptable to all decent human beings and needs to be corrected without delay before it does grievous harm to the tenuous peace and security that remains in the country and erode confidence in Nigerians because of its danger of misleading the youth and the inherent potential to project us all before the international community as a nation of rogue mercenaries. Money does not make a man. What make a man are his character, learning and attitude. This is the position of African culture and that of the great religions. I stand to be corrected. On the religious angle, a clergyman, Kelvin Stewart has noted that “What makes a man is not money but mercy; not gold but the glory of His grace”. Can anyone fault his argument? Public service is a selfless service hence those who offer themselves for public service at any level should not for any reason be made to pay through the nose. What do the political parties need so much money for? To organise rallies throughout the federation falls within the purview of the political parties which seek fund from members of the public through fund-raising campaigns. Is it to buy cars to be given to a select influential individuals in the society including traditional, community and opinion leaders to woo the electorate in their favour as any political parties in Nigeria would wont to or is it meant to raise war chest? Both acts are a circumvention of the Electoral Law.
Too much money can have adverse effect on the entire political system. It is for this reason that a ceiling is placed on how much fund political office aspirants and parties receive from the public as donation in more ordered societies. Considering this negative development, it’s about time the National Assembly revisited the issue of the maximum amount that should be allowed by individual politicians and the parties as not to render politics in Nigeria the exclusive preserve of moneybags. For instance, whereas Gen Muhammadu Buhari had to rack his brain and run from pillar to post to raise the N27.5 million for the presidential nomination form of the APC, President Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP already had N100 million donated by individuals and groups across Nigeria to enable him obtain that of PDP which sells for N22 million.
When the cost of procuring the expression of interest and that for the nomination forms are added to what is stipulated in section 91 of the Electoral Law 2010 as amended, which prescribes the highest amount that can be expended by an individual on campaign – N1 billion for presidential aspirants, N200 million for gubernatorial, N40 million for position at the National Assembly and N20 million allowed for aspirants to State House of Assembly, the figure arrived at is still on the high side.
The cost of contesting an elective position in Nigeria places a huge financial burden on the candidates and need to be scaled down drastically to encourage all who possess those salient leadership attributes required to move the nation forward at whatever level they choose to operate from to come forward. The other day the media was awash with the reports of a House of Representatives aspirant in Lagos State caught vandalizing petroleum pipeline at Ifote Village in Obafemi/Owode Local Government Area of Ogun State. The 59 year-old suspect, Wahab Junaid confessed to the police that he was pushed to crime because he needed money to actualize his political ambition having been favoured to contest the Ibeju Lekki Federal Constituency in the 2015 elections. A system that breeds scoundrels to occupy public offices is in dire need of overhaul.
Concerns over money influence on the electoral process in the US, the model of democracy across the globe, led to the enactment of the Federal Election Campaign Act [FECA] of 1971 and its subsequent amendments. This law places strict restriction on the amount individuals and groups could contribute to candidates for office put at $2000. A full time bipartisan Federal Election Commission was established in 1975 to enforce FECA. Further to these regulatory instruments and to underscore the imperative to rid the electoral system of corrupt influences, Congress sought to strictly deal with the problem of soft money by enacting the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, commonly referred to as the McCain-Feingold Act. The main provision of this act is found in section 232 which prohibits political parties from raising and spending unregulated funds.
Those prominent Nigerians who have indicated interest to pilot the affairs of the nation at the highest level are household names across the country. Same goes for those vying for positions at the state, constituency and ward levels as the case may be. It has been said that a popular product sells itself. Where then will the huge money be spent if not to circumvent the electoral process one way or the other? However, the point at issue is that nobody in Nigeria or any other place in the world will mortgage his future by spending a fabulous amount that runs into the billions to contest an election then accept defeat without a fight, hence the do-or-die philosophy with which politicians attend to elections in Nigeria considering the fact that politics is a zero-sum game [the winner takes all]. Woe betides anyone who dares to approach the vanquished at the end of voting and counsel him to accept defeat in the spirit of sportsmanship.
The political parties in Nigeria should explore ways to reduce cost of running for an elective post in the country. Volunteers can be engaged to man polling stations as party agents at the time of elections. This writer functioned as an agent to the defunct Democratic Peoples Party [DPP] at Iju-Ishaga when Jimmy Agbaje contested the Lagos State governorship position in the 2011 general elections and did not demand for payment and was not given a dime. It’s about time we taught the youth to act as volunteers and elections offer an ideal avenue for young people to acquire, consolidate or showcase their capacity to act as volunteers. If the youth can be found working as volunteers during cultural fairs, religious ceremonies, local and international sports festivals, then why can’t they do the same at election periods when it matters most?
The manner that the entire system is being corrupted without attracting condemnation from the relevant quarters and adequate reprimand from the authorities is disgusting. Nowadays whenever one makes a business trip to a public institution, the first request on contact with the official after the usual formality of the exchange of compliments [which the public servant is not interested in anyway] is the demand for gratification before service can be rendered to the visitor and if he happens to be the idealist type and insist that the request bothers on the unethical conduct then the officer reminds you at that point that he is not out for charity work since he was forced to pay a handsome amount before he was able to secure the job. You look left and right and read no sympathy on anybody’s face then you realize you are on your own and you just have to pay. [Apology to Buhari].
With the current state of anomie continuing unabated, soon nobody should be surprised if the operatives from some government agency get so desperate as to accost members of the public on the road and in the street like highwaymen to demand payment for some repair work done on the infrastructure if not for the air they breath as Nigeria continues the slide down the path of moral abyss.
An African adage has it that when you see your neighbour eating a rat and you fail to caution him insisting its none of your business, when he begins to cough at night you will no be able to sleep yourself. The time for all to rise and in one voice demand an end to the unbridled corruption of the system is now.
•Agenro wrote from Lagos.