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Criticism of Higher Candidate Fees for Nigeria's Ruling Party

A lady carries placard at St. Leo Catholic church in Lagos, 09 Sept. 2010
A lady carries placard at St. Leo Catholic church in Lagos, 09 Sept. 2010

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Prospective ruling-party candidates for next year's nationwide elections in Nigeria are paying far higher nomination fees than the last vote. Some party members say the higher fees could encourage corruption.

Ruling Party's stand

Nigeria's ruling People's Democratic Party says higher nomination fees are meant to demonstrate a prospective candidates' seriousness while helping to fund nationwide campaigns.

In the first week alone, the party raised more than $33-million. But some party members say the increases are undemocratic and unfairly favor incumbents.

Nigerian House of Assembly candidates three years ago paid about $650 to run for the ruling-party nomination. This year they are paying more than $6,500. Gubernatorial candidates three years ago paid more than $13,000. Now they are paying more than $32,000.

Even if first-time candidates come up with the nomination fee, ruling party member Ovie Joseph wonders how they would ever be able to afford to campaign.

"If you paid one million Naira or two million or five million Naira in regards to the nomination form alone, where do you find the money for the election? So it's unfair," Joseph said.

Higher fees means excluding freshers with new ideas

While it is common for political parties to charge nomination fees, Delta State University political science professor Isitoah Ozoemene says the higher charges will be counter productive for the ruling party if they end up excluding fresher candidates with new ideas.

"What they are trying to do is to deprive a lot of persons who have genuine interest of the masses at heart, people who think they can go into the system and affect changes," said Ozoemene. "The only people who can afford this amount of money are those who are already within the system. The normal man on the street, the average person is going to be excluded."

Ozoemene says prospective candidates who can not afford to pay the nomination fee may end up beholden to those who put up the money to start their campaigns.

"What we are creating is room for Godfather politics," he added. "Which we are all against. Which we are all complaining about. This is the reason why our system has not been functional. But what we are doing now is to give an opportunity to the rich and famous among us to hijack the party by sponsoring candidates."

Making money may take precedence over serving constituents

There is also the risk that higher fees could put some candidates so far in debt that they will do anything to get themselves elected. Once they are in office, political analyst Ignatius Onwuemele says those leaders may be more interested in making money than serving their constituents.

"By the time somebody is able to get such funds from wherever, he may want to recoup that money before he even thinks of doing good for the people," Onwuemele said.

For all the criticism of the higher nomination fees, there has been little mention of the $64,000 required to stand as a presidential candidate, mostly because the power of the office draws so many more contributors and the fee itself is a relatively small amount considering the overall cost of running to lead a country of more than 150 million people.

President Goodluck Jonathan, for example, had his nomination fee paid by ruling-party governors in a show of their support for his candidacy.

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