Nigeria: Want to be president? Here is how much it will cost you…

By Akin Irede
Posted on Monday, 21 March 2022 16:07

Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, of the APC party, arrives to speaks with his supporters as he was declared the winner of the just concluded presidential election in Abuja, Nigeria Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019.
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari, of the APC party, arrives to speaks with his supporters as he was declared the winner of the just concluded presidential election in Abuja, Nigeria Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019. (Nigeria State House via AP)

Ahead of the 2023 elections, major political parties in Nigeria are selling their Presidential forms at very high prices that can only be afforded by wealthy individuals like former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar or Lagos godfather, Bola Tinubu. However, there are some who seek to break the influence of money in politics by raising funds from members of the public through crowdfunding. Can they make a difference? And how do candidates spend their money?

How much does it cost to win a Presidential election in Africa’s largest nation? Guesses vary wildly, some estimates reaching as high as $2bn.

With the 2023 elections expected to be keenly contested, the stakes will be high and so will be the spending. Ironically, Nigerian law, until last month, said the maximum amount to be spent by a Presidential candidate should not exceed N1bn ($2.4m) although it has now increased to N5bn ($12m).

“No Nigerian President in the last 20 years has spent less than $100m to be President. It is now upwards of $300m. I know this because I am an insider,” says Doyin Okupe, a former Presidential Spokesman who also plans to run for the Presidency on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

“But there is no Nigerian President who has through his sheer wealth alone put himself in office whether Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua or Goodluck Jonathan…if people believe in you, they will give you money. About 80% of your funds will be spent at the primaries,” Okupe adds.

Campaign donations that come from these ‘sponsors’ are often paid back through inflated government contracts or stolen public funds which further entrenches corruption, say campaigners.

The funds needed to win a Presidential election surpasses the N305bn ($733m) budget set aside by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to conduct the elections across the 176,846 polling units in the 774 local governments in the country next year.

So why does a candidate need to spend more than the organiser of the election to secure victory at the polls?

Expensive primaries

For aspirants seeking to contest on the platform of the APC or the PDP, they must first cross the big hurdle of winning the primaries.

The PDP is selling its Presidential form for N40m ($96, 153), over a thousand times higher than the national minimum wage in a country where nearly half of the population lives below the poverty line on $2 a day and unemployment is over 33%.

The APC, the ruling party, will reportedly peg its Presidential form at the cost of N50m ($120, 192).

A former chairman of the APC, Chief John Oyegun, once explained that the prices are set so high in order to “separate the men from the boys”.  Next comes the bribing of delegates at primaries that reports say can cost between $15m and $20m with 3,000 to 4,000 voting delegates receiving as high as $5,000 each to vote for a preferred candidate.

Already, Atiku has obtained the N40m Presidential form of the PDP although he claims his friends purchased it for him just as some groups claimed to have purchased one for President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019.

The main elections

Political analysts say because Nigerian elections have been marred by fraud so many times, there is mutual suspicion among the big parties and candidates and this forces both sides to engage in one form of electoral malpractice or the other. Elections in many occasions turn out to be won by the “smarter rigger”.

Apart from setting aside bribes for electoral officers and vote buying, candidates also have to hire agents that will monitor elections at each of the 176, 846 polling units. The agents are paid not less than N10,000 ($24) each, bringing it to a total of at least $4.2m. Parties that fail to have agents at polling units risk their votes being stolen.

Funds are also earmarked for campaigns across the country, advertisement, logistics, transportation, legal fees and several other expenses. These huge financial demands have made it difficult for candidates from smaller parties to “break the glass ceiling”.

However, popular candidates from the two biggest political parties – APC and PDP– which have access to state funds, are able to withdraw money from the state treasury to fund elections.

For instance, a former oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, was accused of distributing $115m to PDP leaders across the states during the 2015 elections. Over 200 electoral officers were suspended in 2017 for allegedly receiving part of the loot while some have since been convicted.

Tinubu, the Lagos godfather who has not held public office since 2007, also had two cash laden trucks on his premises on the eve of the 2019 Presidential election from which he doled out money to supporters in order to boost the chances of the APC’s success.

Can crowdfunding turn the tide?

Desperate to break the stronghold of big money in politics, some politicians – mostly underdogs – are now looking to raise funds through crowdfunding.

Presidential hopeful and veteran journalist, Dele Momodu, has taken to social media seeking funds from his over 2.5 million followers. He further states that he hopes to defeat wealthier candidates through such funding.

A smaller party, the African Democratic Congress (ADC), has also been sending text messages to Nigerians, asking them to crowdfund upcoming campaigns.

I had a positive experience. It was an innovative strategy that covered the local and the Diaspora community at the same time. I think crowdfunding can generate huge sums and it is transparent. – Omoyele Sowore

How much can be raised through this strategy?

Activist Omoyele Sowore, who was the candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC) in the last Presidential election, tells The Africa Report that he believes crowdfunding is a transparent form of raising donations and it promotes accountability.

Sowore, who was the first Presidential candidate in Nigeria to raise election funds through a Gofundme page, said he generated about N160m ($384,615) through this channel as well as his personal bank account in 2019. He would, however, come 10th in that election, garnering just 33,953 votes in that poll.

“I had a positive experience. It was an innovative strategy that covered the local and the Diaspora community at the same time. I think crowdfunding can generate huge sums and it is transparent. I believe it is a game-changer. I raised about 160 million naira through Gofundme and my local bank account. It is not only a game-changer for public participation but also for transparency and election funding,” he told The Africa Report.

So, Nigeria needs a system that decentralises campaign financing. Until this is done, funds will continue to be sourced from dark spaces and that is the danger of our current democracy.

Sowore, however, believes it could be manipulated by wealthy individuals who could donate to their own campaigns using proxies.

Activist, Seun Onigbinde, who co-founded BudgIT, a civic organisation, proposed that the youths on social media endorse one candidate and crowdfund him. He believes that this could break the hold of cabals on Nigerian politics.

Onigbinde tells The Africa Report that this has worked several times in the United States and Nigeria can replicate this.

“We have a situation where we have ceded the space to moneybags who have the capabilities to win elections. So, Nigeria needs a system that decentralises campaign financing. Until this is done, funds will continue to be sourced from dark spaces and that is the danger of our current democracy.

“If you like a candidate and you believe in him, raise a crowdfunding for him. This will boost accountability because if someone raises funds in an illicit manner which has been the norm, and is trying to pay back his benefactors, then definitely, there will be a challenge because the public treasury will be under threat,” he adds.

Nigeria’s limiting laws

But Nigeria’s existing laws do not promote crowdfunding. Crowdfunding platforms like Gofundme, allow people from all over the world to donate to a cause or a campaign. However, Section 85(b) of the Nigerian constitution says any political party that retains any fund or other asset remitted to it from outside Nigeria commits an offence and shall on conviction forfeit the funds and would pay a fine.

We must be able to tweak Nigeria’s laws. The laws are too limiting. We set limits for campaign financing but there are no checks.

Section 90 of the new Electoral Act also says a political party shall not accept or keep in its possession any anonymous monetary or other contributions, gifts or property, from any source while the name and address of anyone who contributes over N1m ($2, 403)

A former Head of the Legal Department at INEC, Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, tells The Africa Report that these laws would impede the success of crowdfunding.

“Crowdfunding in Nigeria doesn’t really involve large sums of money, but I think it is a good tool for raising funds. No association is allowed to donate funds to a political party. Section 221 of the constitution states that ‘no association other than a political party shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any election or contribute to the funds of any political party or to the election expenses of any candidate at an election,” says Osaze-Uzzi.

“The Companies and Allied Matters Act also prohibits registered companies from donating funds to political candidates. So, those who will crowdfund need to take this into consideration,” he adds.

But Onigbinde believes that Nigeria must be able to do away with such hindrances to crowdfunding.

“We must be able to tweak Nigeria’s laws. The laws are too limiting. We set limits for campaign financing but there are no checks. In the US there are no limits but there is transparency,” the BudgIT co-founder argues.

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