As last week ended, the House of Representatives was reported to have invited INEC Chairman Prof Mahmoud Yakubu to brief it on the estimated cost of holding direct political party primary elections ahead of the 2023 polls. MPs were irked by the figure of N500 billion being bandied about in the media as the estimated cost of direct primaries, which is mandatory under the amended Electoral Act.
N500 billion looks huge, more than a quarter of the amount being spent this year to subsidise petrol. But, is this the estimated cost to INEC alone, or does it include the cost to political parties, to aspirants, to security agencies, to the media, to election observers, to party members who will vote, and to other citizens who may not vote but must still bear some costs on the days of the primaries?
Each one of these is a cost. If National Assembly wants to calculate the total cost to the nation of holding direct primaries, it must disaggregate them, calculate each cost, and then get an IBM computer to add them all up.
Maybe it wouldn’t cost INEC all that much. After it deregistered 74 political parties in February last year, there are now only 16 left, down from 90 during the 2019 election. INEC must monitor the primaries of all of them. Even if each party restricts its direct primary to the wards, we are talking of 16 parties multiplied by 9,000 wards, which is 144,000 centres.
Assuming INEC deploys two monitors per each centre during each party primary, that means 288,000 monitors. Multiply that by the amount of money the commission will give to each monitor and the cost of transporting them to their respective centres, plus the supervisors. There aren’t enough Youth Corpers in Nigeria to be drafted for this task.
If, instead of wards, some parties decide to hold direct primaries in each polling unit, 176,846 of them, then INEC needs even more monitors. The good news is that only two parties are likely to hold primary elections in all the wards in the country. A few more parties will be able to hold primaries in some states, those too not in all the local governments, not to mention the wards or polling units.
Things get more complicated for political parties. First of all, a party needs a register of members. Producing an authentic register of party members is as involving as INEC registration of voters. Ideally, a party must open a registration center in every polling station or ward, over several days or weeks, and must transport, feed, equip and secure the registration officers. APC attempted to produce such a register earlier this year. Some APC members said the register it compiled was analogue, not digital; that it still leaves room for manipulation by party officials and it is difficult to continuously update. It is still better than nothing.
To organize direct primaries, a party must recruit, train, equip and deploy two or three party officials in every ward or polling unit, provide them with food, transportation and some stipend. Its ward level officials could do this, but Nigerian parties prefer to send independent teams to conduct primaries in order to reduce the possibility of bias.
What happens when a registered political party is unable to conduct direct primaries in such a manner? It could then be excluded from the elections, which is unfair because some registered political parties are made up of as many as one person. There was this Nigerian businessman who said he is the CEO, Accountant, Auditor, Operations Manager, Admin Officer and Security Officer of his firm. “If you see me talking to myself, I am holding a management meeting.” INEC, if you see a Nigerian party leader sitting alone in his house and shouting at himself, he could be holding direct primaries.
Things get trickier for aspirants, who are in tens of thousands all over the country. An aspirant must provide at least one observer at every polling centre. Observers hardly do this work for God, so you must provide for their transport and food, plus a stipend for his not plying his trade that day.
That is only a small part of it. An aspirant must mobilise his or her supporters at each polling centre. You need many posters per polling centre, to paste at the centre and in all the approaches to the polling centre, lest voters forget you.
Especially in urban areas, you must transport your supporters to the polling centre. In Nigeria, “supporters” are very uncommitted, as the NRC chairman for Ondo Local Government told me in 1992. He said, “Your supporter will say, what is my gain if I take my own money to join vehicle just because I want to vote for somebody?”
An aspirant must properly motivate his or her election agent, otherwise your opponent could motivate him to look the other way while figures are being padded. A serious aspirant must settle party officials at every level, even if not to rig for you, at least to prevent them from conniving with your opponent to rig you out.
If you are a serious aspirant, you need thugs to guard every polling centre. You cannot afford to take chances because your opponent could deploy thugs to scatter the crowd where you are most popular. Malam Adamu Ciroma once said that “election rigging is a self-fulfilling prophecy. You believe that your opponent will try to rig you out, so you take steps to prevent him from rigging you out and you end up rigging him out.”
You must settle the DPO so that his men will look the other way while your thugs roam the streets. If properly motivated, DPO’s men could fire tear gas and chase away voters suspected to be sympathetic to your opponent. An aspirant must also find ways to ensure that media reporters and NGO observers do not report negative things about the places where he won.
Voters do not just enter the polling station unmotivated to vote for you. Never mind the authorities’ alleged drive to end vote buying. If you are serious about winning an election in this clime, your agent will tell you that you must bring kayan aiki, that is, working materials. These include rice, salt, sugar and soap for the voters before they go into the polling booth. In 1999 senatorial election, my reporter at New Nigerian told me that one candidate had a woman mobiliser called Hajiya Tasallah, who set up her own booth adjacent to the NDA polling unit in Kaduna. She apparently bought over the presiding officer and all the security agents. Whenever a person came up to vote, the presiding officer will ask him if he had seen Hajiya Tasallah. He will be directed to her booth and emerge minutes later with a polythene bag, before the presiding officer will give him a ballot paper.
Factor in the cost for security agencies. INEC, which is on First Line charge, has more money than the police, which is expected to secure every polling centre when each and every party is holding direct primaries. There aren’t enough policemen to post one cop to each centre, and several policemen are needed to provide a measure of security at each centre. Meanwhile, police have insurgents, bandits, rustlers and secessionists to worry about.
The mass media too will incur a lot of costs. Media houses do not have to cover every single polling centre, so an editor usually ignores the small parties and concentrates on the big ones. The danger there is that you do not know where a good story will break, such as the man who was caught with a live tortoise strapped to his belly at a UPN state congress in 1983. NGO election monitors too will incur a lot of costs, even if they do only a random sample of polling centres.
Then there is the cost to the voters. Millions of party members will have to abandon their jobs for the day and go and line up to vote in party primaries. Other citizens who are not interested in voting will still keep away from the streets because of the high possibility of trouble. Even now, with a year to the primaries, we have seen intra-party fighting with the burning of rivals’ offices in Kano.
An IBM computer should kindly add figures to all these costs and arrive at the total cost of direct primaries. What is the gain? So that individual party members will vote, when they are no better than convention delegates.