Let us perish this thought or belief, as it is not true. The time is ripe for an urgent review of the minimum educational qualification of candidates, among others. Or how does one explain the academic requirement of HND or BSc to qualify for employment as a teller in a bank and ordinary school certificate or its equivalent to become a governor of a whole state? Which job requires greater knowledge, competence and altruism between being a teller in a bank or a receptionist in a law firm and being the chief executive officer of a state or nation?
That explains the level of importance we attach to governance by which a single political or economic error of decision can send millions into the poverty trap. This is not to suggest that educational qualification is all that is the key to the challenge; I readily admit that experience and exposure equally count. They are all complimentary in the determination of best candidates for us. Beyond this is the relegation of the pedigree of candidates to the background. It is important that those who seek to be our leaders must be above board in a lot of regards. Most of the people falling into that category are still largely analogue while the world is at the digital age. Here lies the obvious disconnect that urgently needs to be remedied in order to have leaders that can engender good governance for us.
I once sat in a meeting involving World Bank officials and five local government chairmen in my state, Lagos, the acclaimed Centre of Excellence, years back over funding for slum regeneration. To my amazement and of interest to you is that only one out of the five chairmen was able to follow the discussion on urban regeneration of their areas under consideration. The rest of them only partook by way of laughter whenever we laughed. This was at the local government level. Now imagine at other levels where more serious deliberations take place on the development of the states and the nation in general, considering that people occupying such higher offices in many cases do not boast of greater qualification, knowledge or exposure.
How informed are the policymakers that are making policies for us? It is equally common knowledge that some of them even forged certificates. We never even bother about the criminal antecedents of some of them. Are these the role models for good governance? I remember that there was a period in our history that the Electoral Commission had power of disqualification but, as usual in our DNA, it was abused and this led to the eventual removal of the power. We threw away the baby and the bath water for partisan and unintelligent considerations. One would have thought, as in other progressive climes, that we would fashion out safeguards against the abuse or the potential abuse thereof. Here again we got it wrong.
I believe we need to reinstate this power of disqualification, with necessary safeguards, particularly with the courts as the supervisor. The good news is that, under the Fourth Amendment to the Nigerian Constitution, there is now a time limitation to the determination of issues bordering on this, regarded as pre-election matters. Again, if thoroughly unbiased umpires are appointed as discussed above, it would equally minimise potential abuse. Ancillary to this is the reality that sponsoring such disqualified candidates can even lead to the ultimate loss of the seats by the political parties concerned.
The recent judicial trend attests to this. This imposes additional duty on the parties, beyond the monetary fines as currently obtainable in the Electoral Act, to exercise due diligence in the screening and sponsoring of candidates for election.
Funding of campaign in Nigeria is another worrisome area impeding the realisation of our objective of good governance. This commences with the arbitrarily high fees for procurement of expression of interest form and the nomination fees by the various political parties. The amount is so exorbitant as to exclude mostly genuine and potential good leaders. In my view, it is usually beyond the reach of an average Nigerian with lawful means of livelihood. Recall that even President Buhari could not afford the demanded nomination fees despite being a former Head of State and sitting President during the second term electioneering process. Mostly, those to whom it was conveniently affordable were crooks or those in the business of politics as investment. In this vein, they go borrowing against the eventual loot from the public office they occupy.
Several Nigerians that could have been assets to the country’s governance are by this means technically excluded from the race. I am aware that some cases of this nature have gone to our courts without justice being done on technical grounds. The basis of the decisions in most cases of denial of justice is that, because they could not afford the money to buy the form in order to qualify as aspirants, they cannot approach the courts for any reliefs based on the rules. I think there is a need for some measure of judicial activism in this regard and possible amendment of the relevant laws to allow people desirous of contesting in that regard but deprived by this undue imposition of fees to challenge the devilish act. This must be premised on Chapter 2 of the Constitution that imposes responsibility on all to further the Fundamental Objectives and the Directive Principles of State Policy, particularly as it relates to good governance in this context. This astronomical fee frustrates the emergence of good leaders and further accounts for where we are as a country today.
Beyond this issue of nomination fees is the amount expended on political campaigns and elections. This is prohibitive and scandalous. Apart from the amount spent on campaign materials including publicity, the expenditure on “stomach infrastructure” is usually staggering. It is often referred to as mobilisation fees. A lot is also incurred on security, both legal and illegal ones. It is no news that each party, by extension, each candidate, makes provisions for all security agencies that participate in election coverage. The assumption, which is more often than not correct, is that government or the commission cannot make enough provision for the security agencies, assuming such financial provision was even made. Thugs and other vigilance groups form the other layer of security for which funding is usually provided. In the latter case, those are often used to harass opponents and pervert the electoral process.
If I may digress a bit into the activities of these thugs, the country needs to address the issue seriously and decisively. First, it is another source of apathy in elections. Most innocent potential voters, out of fear of danger to their lives, fail to turn up at voting centres. Some equally believe that even if they go and vote, the thugs will eventually alter the course of the election. Thugs are often also engaged to disrupt elections, particularly in areas of popularity of opponents. They operate substantially with impunity, as they are hardly accosted by any security official, whom they claim mostly are already ‘settled’ by their sponsors, or where even arrested, they are released virtually immediately. To my mind, even where the security officials are up and doing, they are too negligible for proper coverage of the areas on election day.
I think the way to go is to, through surveillance, identify their sponsors and kingpins ahead of the elections, with stern warning and/or prior arrest of the characters before election day. I must, however, not lose sight of the potential abuse of this, but this can be discussed further towards addressing this genuine concern of abuse.
Now back to the funding issue, beyond these various expenses are the polling agents’ fees. Political parties are expected to position at least a representative at each of the polling booth to protect their interest. Ordinarily, where the political parties function the way they should, patriotic party members do this as a matter of duty and gratuitously.
Even where they are to be paid stipends, it ought to come from contributions of party members over time. This is, however, not the case, they are appropriately expected to be remunerated and where sums offered by parties are not competitive, the political parties risk their agents being bought over by way of compromise by the rival political parties with superior financial power. In fact, from experience in the past, provisions are actually made for the compromise of other political parties’ agents in order to rig or manipulate the result of the elections. The agents’ payments cover all the levels of voting, collation and return processes.
The import of al the above is that by the time you cumulate all the expenses, it becomes a huge investment capable of only being made by such person that is a political merchant. The consequence is that the dividends of the investment ultimately come from the state treasury. Again, such expenses are only affordable to the renegades that do not mean well for the system. They are mostly political merchants. The result of this is the emergence of fake leaders that cannot give the country good governance.
This explains again how we got to where we are. Thus, the half-hearted attempts to address this campaign expenditure both under the Electoral Act and the recent amendment to the Nigerian Constitution are not that helpful. Beyond legislation, we require high degree of surveillance and monitoring. Enforcement is key as most times, these regulations are often more honoured in the breach than observance. Let me conclude this segment that high electoral expense is equally responsible for the level of desperation in the polity. Politicians always want to recoup their investments by all means.
This is unlike other countries. For example, I recall my experience few years ago when the then Prime Minister of Britain, Theresa May, assumed office and called for general elections. I was dazed and, therefore, asked my friend that are British why would she do that when their tenure had not expired. Would they not have lost out so much in terms of their entitlements and campaign expenses? The response to me was instructive in this regard. They said, there the candidates hardly spend anything as expenses as the best they do are handbills and visits to some outlets or clubs to engage the people. This is simply why they don’t seem to have desperate politicians. This further explains why we must contain campaign spending in our country too.
The last area of interest and concern to me in terms of delivering credible elections that will give us good leaders are the quality of the electoral officials. We have migrated from one set of staff to another over time and the current is the use of National Youth Service Corps members. Apart from the fact that the quality of education received by some of these people is questionable, the degree of training they are subjected to is too limited. It may well be because of logistics that the number of days assigned to their training is so short. My observation in a lot of instances, both during the conduct of election or during the conduct of election petitions at the tribunal, is that they commit too many hazardous and unpardonable mistakes. I sincerely want to believe that most of the mistakes are innocent exempting some few cases of compromise. The latter is the worrisome aspect.
Finally, some of them under threat have had to compromise their wishes, though against their conscience. One hardly will blame them, as the security of their lives is not guaranteed while on the field. We have cases or instances of some of them that have even lost their lives in the process. All these affect the outcome of the elections in some cases and throw up bad leaders for us.