For the Nigerian youth to have a real shot at the polls in 2019, INEC as the electoral umpire needs to step up and diligently play its role of ensuring that the campaign funding available to all candidates is governed by financial fair play. Starting from party primaries up to campaigns proper, INEC needs to be there ensuring fairness to all.

Through their unrelenting advocacy for the reduction of the age limit on elective political positions in Nigeria last year, the campaigners for the #NotTooYoungToRun bill have written their names in the annals of Nigeria’s political history. The success of their advocacy at the National Assembly is undoubtedly one of the the greatest political achievements of the Year 2017. If ratified by the 36 state assemblies and given presidential assent, the amendment will open up the Nigerian political space. However, asides age limitation, there are other obstacles standing in the way of the Nigerian youth, ahead of the 2019 general elections.

The influence of big money in Nigerian politics should be a great cause of concern for every Nigerian youth having a political ambition requiring expression in the next elections. Even in these harsh economic times, one would certainly be shocked at the amount of cash that will come into circulation once the campaign and election season sets in. The same set of politicians who complain today about the unavailability of funds to run government business will in the next few months come out dolling out huge sums of money to grease the wheels of their political ambitions.

The absence of financial fair play in the Nigerian political space will continue to hinder many young people with bright ideas from contributing their quota to nation building. Take away the influence of big money from the system and see how the contest of ideas would take centre stage in Nigerian politics. A friend, Mohammed Dahiru Aminu, once said: “The major problem with Nigeria is that those who have power have no ideas, and those who have ideas have no power.”

Some Nigerians were shocked when a former minister of works, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe came on Channels Television’s “Politics Today” programme a few weeks ago saying: “….a poor man has no business being in politics. A poor man cannot win elections in Nigeria; how will you campaign? If you are a poor man, stay in your house!” In my view, the remark by the former minister was deemed inappropriate by many Nigerians only because it came from someone of the political class; in reality, what he said is exactly what obtains in our politics. The confidence with which he spoke those words gives a glimpse into the mind of an average Nigerian politician regarding the place of money in politics. The central role money plays in our politics will only guarantee one thing − the eventual collapse of the Nigerian state. So long as money dictates the outcome of our leadership recruitment process, the leadership deficit we suffer today will remain with us for a long time to come.

Despite the fact that the Nigerian Electoral Act has placed a maximum limit on campaign spending by candidates running for elective positions, no Nigerian politician has ever been sanctioned for such infractions; even though we know most aspirants running for political offices spend sums of money during party primaries and election campaigns, which often exceeds those limits by huge margins.

As stated on the official website of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Section 91 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) provides that:

1. A presidential candidate can spend a maximum amount of N1,000,000,000 (one billion naira);
2. A governorship candidate can spend a maximum amount of N200,000,000 (two hundred million naira);
3. A senatorial candidate can spend a maximum amount of N40,000,000 (forty million naira);
4. A House of Representative candidate can spend a maximum amount of N20,000,000 (twenty million naira);
5. For the State Assembly election, a candidate can spend a maximum amount of N10,000,000 (ten million naira);
6. Chairmanship election to an Area Council, the maximum a candidate can spend is N10,000,00 (ten million naira);
7. A councillorship candidate can spend a maximum amount of N1,000,000 (one million naira).


Going by the provision of the Electoral Act above, it is clear that there are laws in place to check spending by candidates running for all elective offices in the land. Whether those spending limits are too much (or not) is a debate for another day. The question that begs to be answered is: What mechanism does INEC have in place to monitor campaign spending by all candidates running for elective positions? In a paper presented by Moses T. Alauigba, PhD, at a two-day national conference (“The 2015 General Elections in Nigeria: The Real Issues”), organised by The Electoral Institute in Abuja on July 27 to 28, 2015, the following concerns were raised:

“One of the prominent obstacles facing attempts by the INEC to monitor the finances of political parties in Nigeria is lack of capacity by the electoral body itself. The INEC lacks adequate manpower and skilled staff who will practically track the expenditures of the 28 political parties considering that all the parties are expected to have offices in all the 36 states of the country plus the Federal Capital Territory and the 774 local government areas. This problem is further compounded during electioneering periods when all the parties engage in political activities at local, state and national levels simultaneously. This demands a large pool of personnel (which the INEC presently lacks) to sufficiently watch how political parties raise their funds and the ways they spend them at all levels.”

Looking retrospectively at the 2105 general elections, if INEC had truly monitored the campaign spending of both President Goodluck Jonathan and the then General Muhammadu Buhari (Rtd.), I believe both candidates would have been sanctioned for spending funds beyond the stipulated maximum limits. If we are to take into account the cost of ‘settling’ delegates at party primaries; running campaign jingles on television and radio stations; chattering of flights for campaigns across the nation and mobilisation of local supporters to such venues; cost of LIVE Television broadcast of campaigns; production of billboards; allowances of party agents at polling stations etc., we will all come to an agreement that both the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s presidential campaign teams spent sums of money above the one billion naira maximum limit during the 2015 campaign season.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) appears to be powerless in the monitoring and enforcement of financial fair play in the Nigerian political space. Political parties and candidates with huge campaign war chests can easily falsify or keep back information regarding their financial dealings, thereby giving themselves unfair financial advantages over other candidates. The sad thing is that even where such infractions are to be found, the sanction such an offence attracts is a fine of N500,000 (five hundred thousand naira), which is a mere slap on the wrist.

For the Nigerian youth to have a real shot at the polls in 2019, INEC as the electoral umpire needs to step up and diligently play its role of ensuring that the campaign funding available to all candidates is governed by financial fair play. Starting from party primaries up to campaigns proper, INEC needs to be there ensuring fairness to all.

Corporate entities that donate huge sums of money to the campaigns of the major political parties are not helping matters. Pumping in money into the political system by those corporate entities will continue tilting the balance in favour of the major political parties.

Nigerian electronic and print media outfits (both the government owned and private ones) have an important role to play in ensuring a level playing field for all candidates participating in the 2019 general elections. Since the majority of Nigerian youth hoping to run for political offices in 2019 do not have huge campaign war chests at their disposal, the cost of running campaign jingles on radio and television needs to be heavily subsidised for young Nigerians. Print media outfits can also assist the cause of the Nigerian youth by creating space in their dailies for free campaign advertorials for young people running for political offices, even if it is to be twice weekly. In addition to their passion for the profession, we know all media outfits are in business for profit making, but there is no sacrifice too big to make in nation building.

Nigerian youth themselves need to help each other by volunteering their time and intellect in the smooth running of campaign teams of fellow young people running for political offices. Young Nigerians need to know that there is great honour in volunteering ones’ service to a noble political cause, rather than working their hearts out for a political bigwig, only to be discarded after electoral victory is secured.

Yohanna Bwala is a Lagos-based environmental geologist.