AUTHORED BY ADEBANKE ILORI OYENIYI
Elections in Nigeria have been ranked to be among the most expensive elections in the world with the country outspending big countries and economies like India, The United Kingdom and Canada. According to data prepared by the National Institute for Legislative Studies in 2015, Nigeria with 67 million registered voters spent $625 million during the 2015 elections while India with 815 million registered voters spent $600 million. Interestingly, this expenditure did not include expenses incurred by other stakeholders.
Factors influencing the high cost of Nigerian elections are including but not limited to technical and security expenses and unregulated financial spending by candidates. Although the Electoral Act provides for how much candidates can expend on their campaigns, candidates in Nigerian elections and their parties regularly disregard the provisions with no consequences.
As a politically active young Nigerian, I have spent the past 5 years of my life being in and serving KOWA Party and working to make the political space inclusive for all. I have first-hand experiences of how important money is in Nigerian politics. No candidate, no matter how perfectly suited for leadership (s)he is in Nigeria will win elective offices without spending huge sums of money.
In fact, it is my belief that the inability of women, persons with disabilities and youth politicians to access as much resources as their older and male counterparts is a major barrier to increased participation of these groups. An anomaly I believe can swiftly be addressed by electoral reforms and affirmative action (that’s a conversation for another day).
Following the historic constitutional amendment reducing the ages to run for office led by YIAGA Africa and supported by young Nigerians in May 2018, Nigeria’s political space was opened for more young people. In August 2018 and with the support of our partners, Raising New Voices Initiative commenced its activities with the launch of our first campaign tagged #BreakTheHold to support 25 young Nigerians into parliament in furtherance of our aim to promote a legislative agenda that is geared towards specific reforms in the sectors affecting Nigerian youths – Education, Economy, Technology and Innovation and Governance.
When Jude Feranmi, the convener spoke to me about raising funds for young people to run for office, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. Nigerians traditionally give to causes we believe in such as religious institutions, supporting extended families (i.e, black tax) and taking huge gambling risks by participating in ponzi schemes and betting. We also raise funds to provide healthcare interventions, security and other forms of infrastructural development for ourselves. I opine that a more sustainable and cost effective approach to promoting infrastructural development is for us to channel our resources towards good governance, and fund the emergence of the leaders who will get the job done.
We got to work at New Voices with the ambition to #BreakTheHold that older politicians have on our polity by starting a nationwide crowdfunding campaign. Our goal during the campaign was to raise 1 billion naira for our candidates from 200,000 Nigerians at 5,000 each (audacious right? Sorry we don’t know how to dream little dreams).
It’s been almost a year since #BreakTheHold 2019 ended and we have continued to focus on the core aspects of our work; inclusive governance and legislative reforms by supporting reforms in key sectors and supporting the leadership capacities of young Nigerians in Osun State through the New Voices Citizens Fellowship. We have also had the opportunity to reflect on our work with numerous lessons on how we can do better in subsequent elections.
As the supervising officer for the campaign, I engaged with over 300 young Nigerians who are members of the New Voices Movement and 25 inspiring young people who were predominantly from smaller parties but maximized their resources to run the best campaigns they could have. One emerged victorious and I believe more winners would have emerged if the election wasn’t fraught with numerous illegalities and irregularities.
One of the major lessons that stuck with me was that for Nigerians to get the right people into office, we have to pay for it in CASH and KIND. We will not get the Nigeria we want if we don’t give trustworthy bright young people; women and men, irrespective of their physical disabilities our money.
The truth is that when politicians steal for us, they will steal from us. If we want someone we can hold accountable then we should get involved in the person’s journey to public office. Play the financial piper and dictate the leadership tune.
My conversations with people as to financially supporting candidates have been dominated by how so much money is needed. While it is true that so much money is needed, that money doesn’t have to come from one person, in fact it is better if that money does not come from one person. During the #BreakTheHold Campaign, we were unable to reach our target but we did get some donations and strengthened the dialogue around the possibilities of a citizens funded election. We have continued to raise awareness as to the importance of a citizen driven and funded political revolution.
As an individual, you do not need to have a lot of money to support a candidate. You can mobilize other people in your community and circle to raise adequate money to support young candidates of your choice. You can request the campaign budget of the candidates and select the campaign activities you want to work towards funding or help execute. For example, we had campaign events with as low as #5,000 by organizing drinks for youths in a ward while they saw a football match. One of the other things we did with #BreakTheHold was to request that people donate as low as #1,000 to support candidates’ mobilization activities with fliers and face caps.
If you don’t have any money at all you can volunteer your time to promoting smaller candidates and smaller parties. As the Acting National Publicity Secretary of Kowa Party, I hear a lot of remarks about how smaller parties are unserious and wait till time for elections to be active, this is surprising because most of the people saying this are not doing anything about fixing the system. Smaller parties can’t compete with bigger parties because we don’t have MONEY, perhaps if you gave us money and freely promoted our content you’d hear more from us.
There’s a lot to be done to build the Nigeria of our dreams because the journey to Nigeria as it is did not start in one day. The journey to the Nigeria of our dreams will definitely take a longer while and the earlier we start the better for us.
Believing in Nigeria is extreme sports, it’s very hard. We can’t however wish Nigeria to greatness. We must commit to the hard work that nation building is.
Will I see the Nigeria of my dreams in my lifetime? Quite frankly I don’t know, in fact I highly doubt it because there’s so much to be done. I however believe in this country and the boundless potentials she holds and if there’s the slightest chance that we can get a country better than the one we have right now, I am willing to take it because quite frankly I am one tired Nigerian.
I hope you will rise to be counted as part of those who stood to fight for Nigeria, through it all. Hopefully one day we’d have a country to be proud of.
Adebanke Ilori- Oyeniyi is a lawyer and politician. When she’s not leading the team at @NewVoicesNg, she’s serving @Kowa_Ngr in her capacity as the Acting National Publicity Secretary. She also runs her law practice in Abuja, Nigeria.