In the last several days, thanks to the Future Nigeria project and YNaija, there has been a discussion about how the youth should engage with government, and what form that engagement should take. The discussion has centered around firstly, whether or not to go into government/politics if one was so inclined, and secondly, how best to hold such government accountable at all levels.
In all the debate, there is an aspect that I feel is not talked about enough. In a democracy, politicians are elected. Elections cost money, and a lot of the time a candidate is not able to fund his own election, and has to be funded. Should you be funded by a ‘godfather’, naturally you have to do his bidding – and that of his associates – while in office, often to the detriment of the wider populace. I used to see the difference between Nigeria and other democratic countries as being that our own ‘godfathers’ are extremely myopic, but even that seems to be changing.
A very important sub text of the US elections season has been the issue of SuperPACs. PACs stand for ‘political action committees’ which rally round the candidates of their choice and put out adverts for them, volunteer and fundraise, among other things. The difference now is that a SuperPAC can donate infinite amounts of money to back a candidate, whereas there were limits on campaign donations from single individuals before. As a result, you have a scenario where a candidate can be largely sustained by a single individual, and it is a no-brainer that the interests of this single individual could trump the interests of the larger populace. He who plays the piper dictates the tune.
The rising inequality in the US and around the world has been linked to the increased influence of corporations in funding candidates for political office, which has resulted in policies that benefit the few who corner ever increasing amounts of national wealth. For example, oil companies have invested heavily in Republican candidates over the last couple of decades, to get them to first of all deny the existence if climate change, then to block legislation that tries to solve the problem.
Even in an advanced democracy like the US, the influence of money in their politics is substantial, and corrosive. In Nigeria, its effects are calamitous. Money enables candidates to bribe the poor electorate foodstuff, election officials, police, use the unemployed youth as thugs, and so on. On entering office, the first port of call is to recoup investments made trying to get elected. Woe betide you if your benefactor is the demanding type, and because like Einsten said: ‘an empty stomach is a bad political adviser’, these politicians are able to get elected despite the most egregious crimes.
What’s worse is that these elections are won using public funds: an inflated contract here and there, inflated subsidy payments, name it. It makes the barrier for entry into Nigerian politics quite high. Honest people have no way to compete. If the Nigerian people want to have leaders who put their needs and best interests before any other, if they want change, they must be prepared to campaign for it, and most importantly, to fund it.
The focus now should be on identifying candidates at all levels, in all states of the federation, to support for political office and to prepare to volunteer in their campaigns in large numbers. It is time to use the anger about all the things that are wrong with this country, and channel it to electing the people who will put them right.
There is no governance without finance.