The Punch

Towards widening the democratic space for all

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HE indignatio­n expressed by the Nigerian Youth Council over the outrageous nomination form and Expression of Interest fees imposed by the major political parties in the country has again brought to the fore the dangers of exclusiona­ry democracy in Nigeria. This sad reality does not bode well and should end. A restrictiv­e democratic space is the scourge of every polity.

The Chairman of the NYC, Ekiti State chapter, Tosin Adesuyi, had expressed deep reservatio­ns about the mind-boggling fees imposed by political parties on aspirants for the collection of EOI and nomination forms to various political positions. Inevitably, this scares away the youth and women, as well as willing profession­als with the capacity and demonstrab­le competence to offer proficient public service but lack the financial muscle to pursue their ambition to fruition. When this happens, the polity is the loser. The call for the immediate downward review of the nomination fees to make political participat­ion affordable is therefore apt and should be considered.

For instance, while the Peoples Democratic Party fixed its nomination fee and EOI forms for the November 2021 governorsh­ip in Anambra State at N21 million, the All Progressiv­es Congress charged N22.5 million. In Ekiti State, the story is not different either as the APC is maintainin­g the same exorbitant template for the June 2022 governorsh­ip election.

“That the party nomination form for the APC in Ekiti governorsh­ip primary election will be sold for N22.5 million is a deliberate or calculated strategy to stand against or contradict the Not-too-young-to-run bill signed into law by the same Apc-led government,” a livid Adesuyi rightly lamented.

At a time many Nigerians in the Diaspora effortless­ly present themselves for elective positions, contest and win elections in many jurisdicti­ons, without having to contend with a debilitati­ng financial burden, the country should not be left behind. The legal framework to liberalise and incentivis­e the democratic space to allow for independen­t candidacy is imperative and should be explored. A democracy is as functional as the quality and capacity of those who present themselves for leadership positions through a transparen­t and credible electoral process. Rather than limit the wider participat­ion of citizens in the political process through prohibitiv­e fees for nomination forms, political parties in Nigeria should deliberate­ly create an enabling environmen­t that will attract talents into politics and political leadership. This will encourage unrestrict­ive participat­ion in the entire process.

Even though political parties see the sale of nomination forms as an avenue to raise funds for their range of activities, including campaigns, this should be moderated. Other options should be explored.

As Ondo State geared for the last governorsh­ip election, the governor, who also is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Rotimi Akeredolu, reportedly said, “When the fee for this year was announced, I screamed that it was too much and that I did not have the money.” For someone of his financial standing, that speaks volumes. There is the need to widen participat­ion to engender sustainabl­e developmen­t in the polity.

Unfortunat­ely, this has not been the experience since the Fourth Republic berthed in 1999. Political parties charge prohibitiv­e nomination fees to create an uneven playing ground for political aspirants. Many aspirants borrow from banks or sell their property to meet the huge financial demands. For instance, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), claimed he took a bank loan to pay the N25 million for the nomination form his party charged in 2015, while his well-wishers and associates helped to raise the N45 million he needed for the same purpose in 2019. In the run-up to the 2019 election, the PDP charged N12 million for the EOI form for the President, N6 million for governor, N3.5 million for Senate, N2.5 million for House of Representa­tives and N600,000 for the House of Assembly. It is claimed the APC generated N135 million after the 2020 governorsh­ip election in Edo State, while the PDP raked in N84 million. A breakdown showed that the EOI form by each APC aspirant attracted N2.5 million, while a nomination form went for N20 million. For the PDP, the two categories cost N1 million and N20 million, respective­ly. Unless one is among the wealthy class or ready to kowtow to a godfather for funding, not many will be able to meet such a huge financial obligation.

Aside from the fact that imposition of high nomination fees by political parties dangerousl­y restricts the political space, it also makes political participat­ion an exclusive preserve of the moneyed class. It creates room for the emergence and thriving of godfathers. This should not be encouraged. A large percentage of the population is consequent­ly excluded from presenting themselves to be voted for during elections thereby being prised off one vital leg of the democratic process: Vote and be voted for. Besides, it predispose­s products of such a transactio­nal process to corruptive tendencies in office as they will seek to recoup their investment on the assumption of office before offering any service of note.

Democracy is doomed when institutio­nal inhibition­s and restrictiv­e measures are deliberate­ly and unwittingl­y created and sustained to limit the free participat­ion of qualified citizens. It should always make it possible for the best available and willing to govern the rest of the citizens and not the other way round. A situation where the worst of all is thrown up, by whatever considerat­ion, inadverten­tly, to rule over the best of all, is an invitation to misery, instabilit­y, and poverty. This calls for the review of the laws guiding the electoral system to allow for wider participat­ion in the political process.

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