Why is Nigeria’s ruling party charging $240,000 for its presidential form?

By Akin Irede
Posted on Monday, 25 April 2022 16:11

Men ride on a transport wrapped with a banner campaigning for All Progressives Congress (APC) outside a campaign rally in Yaba district in Lagos
Men ride on a transport wrapped with a banner campaigning for All Progressives Congress (APC) outside a campaign rally in Yaba district in Lagos February 5, 2015. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

Nigeria’s ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), has set the sale of its Presidential nomination forms at N100m ($240,884), a new record for the country. Insiders at the APC say this to ensure the candidate is rich enough to outspend the opposition PDP. But critics point to the opaque 'funding groups' that have sprung up to 'help' aspirant candidates.

The form itself is just a booklet which could not have cost more than N4, 160 ($10) to print. But to complete this form will cost you N100m. That is how much anyone who wishes to contest the presidential election on the platform of the ruling APC must be willing to part with.

Before the price was announced, at least 11 people had announced their intention to contest. They are Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu; Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State, Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello; former Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, fiery Lagos pastor, Tunde Bakare; the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige; former Senate President Ken Nnamani; IT expert, Adamu Garba; and oil magnate, Jack Rich.

Others like Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, businessman, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu and former Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun are expected to announce their candidacy in the coming weeks along with several others which could bring the number of presidential aspirants in the APC to over 30.

In a bid to separate the “pretenders from the contenders”, the APC decided to raise the bar by imposing a huge cost on its presidential form, a move that has set not only social media on fire but has dominated discourse in both broadcast and the print media in the country.

“If we don’t come together and use our collective power to save this country from strangulation of the moneybags, we are doing a great disservice to our generation and that of the future. We cannot continue to buy political offices in Nigeria, we need competent leaders come 2023,” Adamu Garba, one of the youngest presidential aspirants in the party, lamented on Twitter.

High stakes

APC insiders told The Africa Report that the party was trying not only to reduce the number of aspirants but also to ensure that a serious candidate who has the resources emerges as the presidential candidate of the party.

Such a person must be able to outspend the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has the wealthy ex-Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, the governor of the oil-rich Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, and other rich politicians as potential presidential candidates.

A chieftain of the APC and appointee of the president, Osita Okechukwu, said unlike previous leaders, President Muhammadu Buhari will not be releasing government funds for elections. Hence, the party would only be able to raise funds through the sale of forms.

Okechukwu argues that if the cost of the form is not set very high, the party could have up to 1,000 Presidential aspirants and this could upset the system.

“If the cost of the form is too low, the APC could have as many as 1,000 aspirants. How would you be able to separate the serious aspirants from the jokers? The APC is the ruling party, a brand and you should also note that whoever wins the APC ticket is most likely the next president of Nigeria,” he told The Africa Report.

The National Woman Leader, Betty Edu, who had earlier promised to ensure that women were given forms for free, made a U-turn, defending the decision of the party to peg the price of the form at N100m. Edu, however, explained that women had been given a discount of at least 70%.

“Everywhere around the world, running for elections has never been cheap and the party must be able to have a means to guard several other issues that may arise. You find people who are not interested in running for elections just standing up, picking up forms and just waiting to constitute a kind of barrier or put a stud in the entire process as it goes on. These are not things that we want to see as a party,” she argued.

Also, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, who is also running for President, said on Channels Television that he had set aside N50m ($120, 442) for the presidential form and he would be looking to supporters to raise the remaining sum for him.

Ngige, however, defended the decision of the APC to sell its forms at a high price, adding that in the past, once a candidate emerges, he stops spending money and becomes a liability to the party which sometimes causes the party to lose elections. He said pegging the price of forms at N100m would ensure that only the most serious and committed candidate emerges.

Groups to the rescue

With the cost of forms now higher than ever, politicians have created an opaque way of purchasing the forms such that allegations of public funds being used in buying the forms would not arise. Rather than buy the forms by themselves, support groups claim to contribute money to buy the nomination forms for them.

The first to adopt this method was President Buhari in 2018 when he lamented that he could not afford the presidential forms of the APC pegged at N40m ($95, 153) at the time.

Some youth groups subsequently purchased it on his behalf and presented it to him publicly, claiming that Buhari was “too poor” as president to afford it because he had not stolen public funds.

This has now become a trend in the country as nine of the 17 Presidential aspirants in the PDP have now obtained N40m forms, claiming to have been purchased for them by support groups. Some who have received nomination forms from such support groups include former Vice-President Atiku, Governor Wike, former Senate President Bukola Saraki, former Governor Peter Obi, Governor Udom Emmanuel, Governor Bala Mohammed, Governor Aminu Tambuwal; and former Senate President Anyim Pius.

With the APC Presidential forms more than double the cost of the PDP’s, some groups have already begun showing the willingness to buy the forms for their preferred aspirants. Even before the price was announced, a group known as Businessmen for Osinbajo (BFO) said it had raised N95m ($228, 365) to purchase a nomination form for Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.

And although the Lagos godfather, Bola Tinubu, has shown through his generous donations in several states that he is more than capable of purchasing the form, the Tinubu Support Group has already expressed the willingness to buy the form for him.

Shadow financing and corruption

But some political analysts believe this new form of “shadow financing” could only deepen corruption in Nigeria where public officials use taxpayers’ funds to execute elections.

They argue that by using proxies and faceless and unregistered groups to fund campaigns and buy forms, it would become difficult to trace the source of money.

There are also fears that such displays of wealth could deepen the problem of vote-buying as poor Nigerians see election day as an opportunity to make free money, selling their votes to the highest bidder.

Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, the Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Transparency International’s chapter in Nigeria, told The Africa Report that it was obvious that public funds were being funnelled through these unknown support groups to buy forms for aspirants.

“These are illicit financial flows. Public funds are being funnelled through these so-called groups to buy forms for aspirants. It is shadow financing. We know some of these things are arranged… It is a sad development. Clearly, the financing of campaigns will be done in that way,” he said.

Youth and women marginalised

Analysts also argue that the decision to jack up the cost of forms would only deepen the marginalisation of women and youth who still constitute less than seven per cent of the total number of elected officials. YIAGA Africa, one of the leading groups that fought for the amendment of the Nigerian constitution in 2018 to reduce the age limit for political positions, argues that pegging the cost of presidential forms at N100m and governorship forms at N50m would only prevent youth and women participation.

Samson Itodo, the Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, says the high cost of forms has made the elections only for a select few thereby making it difficult for new entrants in a space already dominated by wealthy candidates and past leaders.

And even though the party is offering a 50% discount for youth and a 70% discount for women, Itodo argues that the price is too high in a country where the unemployment rate is still 33.3% and the minimum wage is just N30,000 ($72.1)

The highest bidder is?

According to INEC, the country’s electoral body, Nigeria alone accounts for more than 53% of the total number of voters in West Africa.

“In effect, the task of conducting a general election in Nigeria is more than that for conducting elections in all other 14 ECOWAS countries combined,” says INEC.

And winning a presidential election in the largest democracy in Africa is no child’s play either. An earlier investigation by The Africa Report revealed that the cost of executing a successful presidential campaign could range from $300m and $2bn.

This is because apart from purchasing forms, an aspirant will also spend funds on bribing delegates at presidential primaries which could cost between $5,000 and $10,000 per delegate depending on how high the stakes are.

“With the party pegging its presidential form at N100m, you can be sure that delegates will expect a lot of money from these aspirants. There will be 7,800 delegates at the primary next month. You will see a scenario where $80m (N33.2bn) could be spent on the presidential primary alone if care is not taken”, a high-level official in the ruling APC said anonymously.

“Campaigns will last from May this year till February next year. That is nine months of spending. Monies would be spent on bribing voters on election day which usually goes for N5,000 per head. These poor voters believe you’re rich since you bought the form for N100m. You will bribe electoral officials, security personnel and also station your own polling agents across all the 176, 846 polling units. This election may likely go to the highest bidder,” they said.

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