Huge fees for Nigerian election hopefuls under fire

Nigeria's two main political parties are asking election hopefuls to pay huge fees for the chance to stand at next year's general election, in a move criticised as favouring the rich and well-connected.

At the last nationwide vote in 2015, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of then-president Goodluck Jonathan charged 22 million naira per nomination form.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) of the eventual winner Muhammadu Buhari asked for 27.5 million naira just to stand in the party's presidential primary.

Now, as both parties prepare for polling in February next year, the APC wants an eye-watering 45 million naira ($125 500) per presidential primary candidate, according to newspaper adverts on Wednesday.

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Individuals wanting to be selected to run for a governorship post have to pay 22.5 million naira, up from 10 million naira last time round.

The PDP has reduced the cost of its presidential candidate forms to 12 million naira and the selection for a tilt at a governorship from 11 million naira to six million naira.

But both are still significant sums in a country of more than 180 million where some 87 million live in extreme poverty, according to the World Poverty Clock.

The APC has offered a half-price discount for women and the disabled, while the PDP has made forms free for female candidates, in a move designed to widen representation.

Political patronage

Nigeria is not alone in imposing high election fees.

Lawmakers in neighbouring Benin this week voted to increase the deposit for presidential candidates to 250 million CFA francs ($441 000).

The country of 11 million people has more than 200 political parties and the increase has been seen as a way of reducing the numbers.

In Nigeria, the Not Too Young to Run group, which successfully campaigned for a reduction in the lower age limit for elected representatives, said the fees were still "exorbitant" and would disqualify potential candidates.

It claimed the main parties had reneged on a promise to cap the cost of nomination forms for all elected posts.

Kassim Afegbua, former military ruler Ibrahim Babangida's spokesperson, wrote in the New Telegraph newspaper on Tuesday that the process should be more affordable.

Debo Adeniran, of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership lobby group, said the high costs was an example of how the two main parties had "monetised the political environment".

The system favoured the wealthy and fostered cronyism and corruption, as sponsors who often pay for a candidate's forms expect pay-back once they are in power, he added.

Buhari was elected partly on a platform to tackle endemic corruption in government.

'Serious business'

Clement Nwankwo, head of the Situation Room of Nigeria civil society groups that promote good governance, said the system was intended to exclude all but the wealthiest and those who had previously benefited from patronage.

But APC spokesperson Yekini Nabena told AFP the amounts were a reflection of the cost of campaigning and a way of ensuring the party was not in thrall to a handful of wealthy donors.

"We want the party itself to take care of the elections so that nobody will say because he gave money to the party he wants to dictate to the party what to do," he told AFP.

He added: "Politics is a very serious business. We shouldn't be petty about it. Even though you are financially handicapped, if you are the man of the people, your supporters can contribute money for you."

Party primaries are expected in the coming weeks, with Buhari, who in 2015 was said to have taken out a bank loan to cover his nomination costs, set to secure the APC ticket unopposed.

All eyes will instead be on the PDP, with an increasingly crowded field of hopefuls including former vice-president Atiku Abubakar and Senate leader Bukola Saraki.