Is N5 billion enough for a presidential campaign?

The 2023 Nigerian general election will be the seventh consecutive election to be held in Nigeria since the start of the Fourth Republic in 1999. It will also mark the longest reign of the electoral process in Nigeria without interruption.

The candidates of the respective political parties are now starting the preparations, mobilizing their structures, financing campaign councils and lining up the demonstrations of all the support groups that arise in different states of the country. Coupled with simultaneously running TV, radio, newspaper, and social media ads, among others, the costs never stop.

An essential component of every election is campaign finance. This is a way that candidates and political parties come together and request the necessary funds to win an election. Funding can come from large donors or from crowdfunding, a method reportedly employed by the hugely popular Labor Party and the ruling APC party.

Campaign finance is legal in most democratic countries around the world, and this is usually done within the confines of some set rules, to maintain order and prevent the process from being bogged down due to irregularities.

For the presidential election, the 2022 electoral law increased the amount of spending by presidential candidates during an election to N5 billion from N1 billion. Section 88(2) of the Act states:

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  • (2) the maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate in a presidential election shall not exceed N5,000,000,000.

Compare this with other countries like the United States of America and African neighbors like Ghana. In the 2-year election period between 2019 and 2020 in the US, presidential candidates reportedly raised and spent $4.1 billion. Similarly, the presidential campaign cost $100 million per candidate in Ghana during the last elections held in the country.

The cost of electoral campaigns in Nigeria has been debated and seen as costly by citizens, civil society groups and non-governmental organizations. The main question among pessimists is where the money comes from. Will the money be “repaid” from the public purse when the candidate is elected? There have been stories of campaign funds coming from bank loans, sponsors and, in most cases, coffers from the incumbent running again.

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With the new spending cap and a look at past presidential campaign spending, is N5 billion really enough or too high?

Let’s dive into the details of where the money is spent.

Primaries: This is the first step for any candidate. The cost of the forms for partial primaries varies according to the respective political parties.

According to reports, these are some of the form costs based on the different political parties competing in the upcoming elections: Ruling party APC – N100 million, PDP – N40 million, NNPP – N30 million, YPP – 20 million, SDP -35 million.

Some of the political parties revealed that their presidential form was free. Notably, most parties give 50% discounts to women and the disabled interested in running for political office.

In addition to this, the candidates also spend money according to the mode of election adopted within the party, to poll and get people on their side. After which the winner is declared as the standard-bearer of the match. Indirect primaries are the most expensive, and the costs of direct primaries supposedly involve putting money into a few hands.

advertisements: The ads are used to build awareness and sell the candidate to gain massive support and votes on Election Day. In Nigeria, there is usually a period of 5 months or more before election day to campaign. A check on the advertising fees of one of Nigeria’s largest newspapers shows that it charges around N2.2 million for a political ad with color in the center of the page per day.

Interestingly, a 30 second jingle on a radio station costs around N50,000. On television, a station could charge up to 300,000 naira for advertisements on one of its political programmes. Social media is not left out and influencers can reportedly charge N700,000 to N2M for advertising on pages based on followers and reach.

Although, as of today, social media is heavily weighted towards one candidate. It is a losing battleground for any party outside of Labor. Therefore, all advertising media cost hundreds of millions.

Mobilizations and Marches: Depending on the location, most candidates fly by private plane to the campaign grounds. Renting a private jet by the hour can cost between $4,500 and $6,000. At the current exchange rate, this is around the N2 million-N3 million mark. This does not include the amount that would be spent on the venue, decoration, security, merchandise and musicians, among others.

This process is repeated in all 36 states, including the FCT. This alone could cost billions of naira. Jerseys, caps and venues for all the fans in the country could also represent a significant part of the costs. Rented crowds eat up most presidential election budgets. As crowds represent or reflect the strength and popularity of a political candidate. Empty stadiums could mean unpopularity, and most candidates would pay big bucks to avoid such a misstep.

Election day: In Nigeria, there are 176,846 voting units set up by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). INEC also recommends and allows only one registered agent per voting unit in the country. Agents reportedly earn an average of N10,000.

This means that a candidate will spend more than N1.7 billion on agents alone. This does not include other ‘unsung’ agents, and some earn more than that. Door-to-door activists and mobilisers are paid to help attract people to vote for their party. The total amount could gobble up almost all the money allocated for the elections.

Obtaining funds for candidates: Most political parties get their funds from donations, crowdfunding, and profits from sold candidate forms. However, there are limits to this. INEC has an embargo on foreign funding for political parties and also places a limit on donations.

According to INEC, political parties can only receive N50m from an individual or organization as a donation. INEC also penalizes political parties and individuals when it exceeds this stipulated amount. This has also been seen as unrealistic by politicians who believe they should get more as it is the main source of funding for them.

Over the years, political parties and candidates have not adhered to the stipulated amount to spend on elections. According to the INEC findings, the top two candidates in the 2019 election spent more than the stipulated 1 billion naira. APC spent N4.6 billion while PDP spent N3.3 billion. Furthermore, the findings revealed that the money was spent on billboards, electronic media, political ads and campaign rallies.

In most cases in Nigeria, there are often additional costs after the election, which are legal fees, as electoral malpractice cases often end up in court.

Considering the above and the rising cost in the country beyond the 2019 elections, the jury is still N5 billion is enough for a presidential campaign in the country.

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