Last month, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari announced that the country’s 2019 polls will cost the country N242.4 billion ($671.4 million), up from N108.8 billion spent in 2015. This cost is state spending on the election process, from funding the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) activities to providing security during the elections. However, more money is spent in the build up to elections than the widely reported state funds. Generally, money plays a big role in elections, and it is not a Nigerian or African thing. Everywhere in the world, elections are expensive.
In the United States of America, candidates for offices, political parties, and independent groups spent a total of $5.3 billion on federal elections in 2008.
Although, election funding is structured in the United States, with regulations put in place to limit election spending, more money is still being spent on elections. The lie that money has no influence on American politics has been found out by many, including Thomas Ferguson, Paul Jorgensen and Jie Chen, who in a paper for the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) noted that there is a strong, direct link between what the major political parties spend and the percentage of votes they win.
Everywhere in the world, corporations donate to political parties and candidates running for office, usually to buy political access and ensure favourable consideration in policy development and legislation.
In Africa, how money is raised and spent by political parties for election campaigns is still shrouded in secrecy. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in a 2016 paper titled The state of political finance regulations in Africa highlighted the main problems with African political finance. Of the seven points listed by the organisation, a few ones stand out: evidence of vote buying; [lack of] access to funds for all relevant actors, in particular the uneven playing field between the government party and all other political parties; abuse of state resources, whereby the incumbent political party uses resources belonging to the public sector to strengthen their grip on power and increase the chances of re-election.
Magnus Ohman, who authored the paper was right.
Ahead of the 2015 elections, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari raised campaign funds from the public. Many who believed in his incorruptibility and ability to ‘change’ Nigeria donated to his cause. By December 2014, he had raised more than N50 million ($138, 494) and as the election drew closer, he raised more.
“My strength mainly are the ordinary people and the N100 they are contributing. It is a lot of money for them but I know they will make the sacrifice especially when I said I am not going to sign the cheque to get even a kobo out of that account,” he said then, at a press briefing in Abuja.
“That is why I depend on them. We are taking this idea from what we have seen in the United States when Barack Obama came out to contest, he was a coloured person, the big companies were not for him and so on.
“But he knew he had foot soldiers, so when he came up with this idea, he was able to finance his campaign without looking for moneybags or anybody influential. So, he remained independent and was not held hostage by anybody. And this is what I want to achieve.”
Of course, a lot more went into winning the 2015 presidential election for Buhari than was raised from the ordinary people, but identifying with them sure helped his cause. It’s about six months to the next elections and Buhari has not requested the help of ‘the ordinary people’; but why should he? He’s the president!
While Nigerians contemplate who to vote for in 2019, other presidential candidates in Nigeria have followed in Buhari’s footsteps, hoping to curry favour with ‘the ordinary people’. Fela Durotoye, Omoyele Sowore, Chike Ukaegbu, Eunice Uche Atuejide, Enyinnaya Nnaemeka Nwosu and Kingsley Moghalu are all on crowdfunding platform GoFundMe to raise funds for their campaigns. Fela wants $3 million, Eunice £150,000, Chike $250,000, Enyinnaya £500,000, Omoyele $2 million and Kingsley $5 million. So far, only Omoyele Sowoore has achieved more than 1 percent of his goal. In fact, as at 8:00 WAT on August 23, he has raised 3.32 percent of the $2 million goal he set. The closest to Sowoore is Ukaegbu who has raised 0.4 percent of $250,000.
None of the presidential candidates on GoFundMe may seem equipped enough or ready to win the Nigerian presidential election, but the percentage of their GoFundMe goal they are able to achieve will be a significant metric for knowing how popular they are, at least, in comparison with other candidates on the fundraising platform.
Nigerians have other political veterans who have shown interest in running for the highest office in the country, including a former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. While many are displeased with the current president and are scared to give him a further four-year mandate, several others are wary of his opponents, who they believe are corrupt and will set Africa’s largest economy back several steps. Sadly, for every achievement Buhari seems to have, there are several other issues he could have handled better, that make the voices of those who want him out louder. At the end of the day, choices will have to be made and Nigerians will have to decide who is right to take them to the next stage in the country’s developmental journey. So far, more than 80 million Nigerians have registered to vote in the 2019 elections.