Election campaign financing has witnessed a progressive increase in the past two decades following the return of civil rule in most African states. While some of the election expenses in Africa are statutory, others are extra-legal and often culminate in undue monetisation of politics. The implications of this inordinate monetisation of politics include contemptuous disregard for the competence of aspirants and the values they stand for, the exclusion of visionary politicians with a lean financial base, state capture by the wealthy elite, the relegation of issues of critical national concern, voter apathy, and a lack of accountability in Africa’s body politic.
The monetisation of politics refers to the degeneration of political struggle into an enterprise in which money determines the extent of participation at all levels of the political process, mostly electoral contests. Notably, the quantum of resources deployed for elections in Africa has increased with each succeeding election, thereby not only making money the very essence of politics but also converting politics into a business where electoral victory often goes to the highest bidder. Ahead of the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, for instance, the nomination processes of the two major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have clearly shown that the influence of money in electoral competition has not waned.
In outright contempt for extant electoral rules, contestants often expend humongous sums of money to induce party delegates in order to outdo each other during party primaries. Thus, Nigeria’s (delegate) elections are among the most expensive in the world. This is mainly attributed to the culture of transactional politics that continues to feature prominently in each succeeding election. Davies notes that the 1979 and 1983 presidential primaries in Nigeria witnessed so much display of affluence by the wealthy contractors and the mercantile class, as those who won at the conventions and the primaries of some of the political parties belonged to the business-managerial group. Almost 40 years later, the outcome of elections in Nigeria is still defined mainly by transactional politics of vote-buying as widely reported in the recently concluded 2022 presidential primaries of the APC and the PDP.
Transactional politics in African elections is an inevitable hangover of the colonial history and Americanising influence of elections on the continent. In the United States which is widely regarded as the birthplace of liberal democracy, for instance, a large part of campaign fundraising and expenditure does not involve the candidates and their political parties but Political Action Committees whose campaign activities are less regulated than those of the political parties and candidates. Given how these practices contribute to the crisis of democracy in the United States, it is not surprising that their effects will be similarly negative for African countries that choose to adopt them.
The implications of these obscene deployments of largely ill-acquired wealth during elections for democratic governance are not farfetched. Elsewhere, leaders are chosen mainly based on their ability to connect with electors through their manifestoes, vision, integrity, intellect, charisma and competence. Contrariwise, leadership selection processes in Nigeria and other largely Americanised electoral systems in Africa continue to be oriented towards money-bag politicking.
Moreover, it is evident that the increasing desperation for power by money-bag politicians is to allow them access to the enormous spoils and paraphernalia that are attached to political positions at all levels of governance in Nigeria. As a consequence, both the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP have relegated robust discussion around the critical issues bedevilling Nigeria, such as insecurity, the Niger Delta question, Biafra separatism, economic recession, rising debt profile, internal population displacement, ASUU strike and energy crisis, to the background. Nigerians are being killed daily in different parts of the country by various criminal gangs, with rural communities (especially in the north) being overrun by bandits who kill, maim, rape and impose ‘taxes’ on the people. Instead of addressing these issues that are critical from the perspective of the people, the struggle for state power is the main focus for the elite because of the unlimited access it grants politicians and their patrons and cronies for the pursuit of their private ends.
Further, the monetisation of politics interacts with other unethical electoral behaviour to enthrone voter apathy, especially among young people with a lean financial base. Compared to the average voter turnout of 65-70 per cent in other regions, a report from Nigeria’s election management body―the Independent National Electoral Commission―shows that in the last two electoral cycles, including off-season elections, voter turnout across Nigeria hovered around 30–35 per cent. The progressive decline in voter participation stems principally from low public trust in state institutions arising from unfulfilled promises by elected officials who bulldozed their way to public offices through their heavy financial war chest. Hence, public accountability easily gets compromised the moment state capture exists because political power becomes mere prebends to be parcelled out in line with the cravings of political patrons and other neo-patrimonial interests.
There is an urgent need to have a conversation around the minimal expectation of governance and the values that should drive public office in Nigeria and other African states where the ethos of liberal democracy is being entrenched. This conversation is unnegotiable if African democracies must be extricated from the prevailing culture of transactional politics. The bazaars and financial shoot-outs under the guise of party primaries in which the highest bidders secure their parties’ tickets should be reconsidered because a compromised candidate selection process cannot guarantee the election of credible leaders. In all, the Americanised delegate electoral system in Nigeria and some other African countries should be rethought because of its susceptibility to transactional politics and state capture.