AS preparations for the November 2019 off-cycle governorship elections in Bayelsa and Kogi states pick up, the vexed matter of prohibitive and non-refundable expression of interest and nomination fees in the major two political parties – the All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP – come back into focus.
In September last year, the two parties announced the fees amidst a flurry of murmurings from aspirants that these non-refundable fees were exorbitant, more so as in most cases, party leaders collect these huge sums of money from unsuspecting aspirants though they have no intention of allowing all the candidates a free and fair contest.
In the case of APC Kogi State governorship aspirants, the party was able to rake in N360 million from 16 aspirants, though it disqualified 12 of them (including two sons of the late former Governor Abubakar Audu) after they had each paid the non-refundable N22.5 million for the expression of interest and nomination fees.
The grumbling that goes with this process was reflected in the angry tweets of the wife of the President, Hajiya Aisha Buhari, directed at the Chairman of the APC, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, after her brother, Dr. Mahmood Halilu, was disqualified to make way for a primary contest eventually won by former governor, Jibrilla Bindow.
Many people believe that taking huge sums of money from aspirants and for any reason failing to allow them contest the primaries amounts to unfairness and impunity. Calls have been made that those disqualified should be given back part of their money after deducting administrative costs.
Party leaders usually defend themselves by saying that such calls for refund do not arise since it was clearly indicated before hand that the fees are non-refundable. They insist that aspirants ought to know that out of a field of contestants in a primary election, only one candidate will emerge.
Political parties resort to the shylock exploitation of aspirants because they need funds in their kitties to fund the secretariat, party activities as well as campaigns. They strive to raise these funds to minimise the influence of governors whose financial clout enables them to seek control of the parties and thus rob them of their independence and supremacy over their members.
This exploitation of aspirants must stop. It encourages corruption among election winners and bitterness among those who fail. To some, it is actually a scam to collect money from someone for a contest and refuse to refund the money if the person is disqualified from that contest.
Over 20 years into our third democratic experiment, political parties should return to the age-old culture of raising funds from their members for their operations. Squeezing political candidates and governors with impunity seriously corrupts our democracy.