Politics of Finance and Democracy


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Nigeria: Politics of Finance and Democracy


Ndubisi Obiorah

culled from THIS DAY of December 21, 2003

The term 'political finance' can be defined as the use of money or the use of other material resources for political activities. It embodies the sources or means through which political activities are sponsored in a given country. The concept of political finance has two broad connotation viz money used for electioneering (campaign funds) and money used for political party expenses (party funds). [PintoDuschinsky: 2001]

Nigeria's political history since independence from Britain in 1960 has been a cycle of authoritarian military regimes with episodic interregna of civilian governments. Rentier politics in Nigeria has been characterized over the years by the dominance of 'electoral machines' controlled by political entrepreneurs comprising largely of wealthy former military officers and their civilian business cronies. The major political parties in Nigerian politics today are little more than grand agglomerations of the respective electoral 'machines' of the leading political financiers. Most Nigerian politicians are 'sponsored' by local and regional power brokers cum political entrepreneurs who finance their campaigns for public office. The 'sponsorship' is effectively a business transaction in which the patron recovers the 'investment' in the form of public works and procurement contracts, prebendal appointments of cronies to public offices and other forms of prebendal activity by the 'client, politician on assuming public office. In some cases where the patron and client failed to define with sufficient precision, the dimensions of the return on investment or the client balks at delivering per the agreed terms, the fall out has led to mass violence and political destabilization.

During the 199899 transition following the sudden death of General Sani Abacha in June 1998, 'political entrepreneurs' comprising ex-military officers and their civilian business cronies effectively seized control of the Nigerian political scene. Although retired military officers have participated in Nigerian politics since the Second Republic in the 1980s, the 15 years of military dictatorship from 1984 -1999 decimated virtually every autonomous sector or institution in Nigeria from the trade unions to academia to the private sector. The military regimes led by Generals Ibrahim Babangida [1985 -'93], Sani Abacha [1993-'98] and Abubakar [1998 to 1999] regimes were the most corrupt and despotic in Nigeria's history. Nigeria under these three generals was routinely described by scholars of African political economy as a prebendal or patrimonial state. Public office and government patronage became 'the only game in town'. Retiring military officers deployed the massive wealth generated from the proceeds of grand corruption to creating and financing the political networks that formed the nuclei of several of the political associations that sought registration as political parties. The 1999 electoral campaign which brought the current civilian government in Nigeria to power in May 1999 was largely financed by ex-military political entrepreneurs as a form of political 'insurance'. Deploying their massive financial resources, they were able to install ex-military officers and their civilian business cronies in control of the two largest political parties and in high federal and state public offices.

Political movements representing the interests of the poor and the disadvantaged that could have served to moderate the influence of the dominant political parties have been systematically excluded from participation in the political arena by a combination of legal instruments and their relative paucity of resources as compared with the vast financial resources available to the dominant parties. A net result is the disempowerment of the generality of the Nigerian people. The dominance of unrepresentative 'machine' parties alienates the electorate and prevents the evolution of accountable governance in Nigeria.

Some of the factors which exacerbate the exclusion of alternative parties and which reinforce the popular disempowerment include electoral regulations that impose onerous financial burdens on political movements seeking to participate in electoral politics and the absence of an effective system to regulate political finance. These factors enhance the disproportionate influence of political entrepreneurs

Nigeria's history of political violence and instability' exacerbated by political mobilization on ethnic and sectarian lines, has led successive governments to impose legal guidelines for political party formation, registration and operation. These guidelines ostensibly seek to avoid the establishment of parties on sectarian, ethnic or geographical bases but rather to encourage the creation of cross cutting political alliances bridging regional, ethnic and sectarian divides. The electoral guidelines currently in force in Nigeria impose onerous obligations on citizens wishing to form and register political parties, purportedly in order to ensure nonsectarian and crosssectional politics. The 1999 constitution and electoral legislation in force stipulate that only political parties registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] may present candidates to stand for any elected office in Nigeria and there are no provisions for independent candidates. The guidelines require political movements to pay various large sums of money as registration and sundry administrative fees to the INEC and submit extensive documentation establishing:-

1. that their membership cuts across the entire country by providing membership rolls to INEC

2. that they have and maintain administrative offices in 24 out of Nigeria's 36 states as well as a national secretariat in Abuja, the nation's capital

3. that the national, regional and local party executive bodies are broadly representative of all interests or sections of the Nigerian population. These onerous legal and administrative requirements create major logistical and financial burdens for political movements seeking registration as political parties in order to participate in electoral office. The high costs associated with compliance with INEC guidelines serve to effectively bar the vast majority of Nigerians from participating in politics. The result is that political parties are formed and operated mostly by those Nigerians who possesses or can raise the enormous funds required to comply with INEC strictures. This in turn leads to the creation of political parties based mostly on alliances of convenience between wealthy "political entrepreneurs", rather than political parties based on 'ideological' lines or political platforms.

The cumulative result is that the political playing field in Nigeria is polluted by the proceeds of corruption that in turn leads to distortions in Nigeria's democratic development. Parties and candidates finance their activities and campaigns from funds provided by party bosses and political entrepreneurs in absolute secrecy. The Nigerian public has no information as to which entrepreneur has provided funds to any political party or candidate.


  • Ndubisi Obiorah is executive director of the Centre for Law and Social Action wrote from Lagos

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