One of the landmarks anyone coming into Edo State from Lagos cannot miss easily is the gate arc on the left side of the road at Okada, emblazoned with “Welcome to Igbinedion University”. So as I drove in from Lagos looking expectantly for that arc, a sign that my journey was almost over, it wasn’t the gate that caught my attention this time but the Edo State gubernatorial election campaign posters and sign boards. Getting to Ugbowo, any alien would have quickly gotten the message, election is near—very near.
However a tougher thing to decipher would have been, is it just Godwin Obaseki contesting for this election? His posters and banners and stickers and signboards (and merchandise really), are everywhere! You can’t turn a corner without you having his face stuck so close before your nose. That is not even an exaggeration. Its advertising psychology 101 in overdrive; bombard the people with a deluge of your product, let it be all they see, then they have it embedded in their minds just long enough for you to be able to influence their thinking patterns and choices. Nothing wrong there I guess. I mean that’s why the Marketing and Advertising industry is a billion dollar one. It therefore begs the question: where is the money to drive this capital-intensive campaign coming from?
Baring a very extravagant person lacking in financial discipline, it is a general principle to spend money or rather invest money in what one expects would generate maximum return on investment, or at least good value for money spent. Now, just to give a little perspective on monetary nitty-gritty involved in sign board advertising. A 3m X 6m sign board at Third Junction would cost upwards of ₦100,000 per day. But for you to really appreciate or begin to mentally compute the size of budget needed to drive a media campaign of the scale that is Mr. Obaseki’s, you really need to be in Benin to see for yourself. I reckon at the very least a hundred million naira would be a modest budget he is working with. Now Remuneration Package for Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders’ prepared by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) in effect since 2009, estimates the annual basic salary of a seating governor to ₦2,223,705. Their bogus and ridiculous allowances brings the total annual remuneration to ₦11,540,896. The mathematics involved is simple: if you are making an investment of over a hundred million naira, on expected returns of ₦11,540,896 per annum, your ROI is only mature in about 10 years. Of course we all know that a typical term is four years, and if reelected you get eight years in office. Barring any dramatic salary increment in an economy in recession, there are still two years more needed to just break even. I will ask it for you: where is return on investment going to come from?
Your guess is as good as mine. Let me consider the ongoing U.S. presidential election. Donald Trump is a Billionaire in USD. His campaign has been able to raise about $127.6M. 98% of that are donations with about 37% in there self-funding, and about 2% is Super Political Action Committees (Super PACs). Hillary Clinton’s campaign funding is in excess of $435.3M, 72% are donations with less than 2% of her money in there and 28% is Super PACs. When you visit the websites of these candidates, one of the most conspicuous thing is the donation section. In fact Hillary Clinton had to get of the campaign trail for two weeks just to organize fund raising events for her campaign. These events where done publicly and to the knowledge of the American people. As always we have our own peculiar ways of doing things in this country. Candidates come, overload us with their propaganda—some even go as far as sharing food commodities— financed by ghost sponsors who really are ‘Godfathers’ and or individuals with vested interests in government, yet we go out and vote for the most popular one. No questions asked about the source of their funding, or the motive behind their spending (besides their epic campaign promises of course). Then we wonder why projects get abandoned, or not even commissioned at all, or why pubic funds go missing.
The repercussions of zero transparency in election finance in Nigeria is the root cause of corruption. Corruption is just a symptom of the pathogenic disease of ignorance and lethargy on our part as Nigerians about asking questions and demanding answers to seemingly trivial matters that are in fact impact drivers to the entire system of governance. This behavior is endemic. You cannot have fair governance from candidates bought over by the largesse of society’s elite, who act as the king makers, seeking the candidate most susceptible to compromise to install in leadership, while they play the puppet masters behind the scenes. Neither can you get fair governance from a candidate who has immersed so much personal money in his campaign, that it is no more a campaign but a business venture. If elected, compromise is inevitable, looting of public funds, nepotism, and the list is endless. Why? Because any business venture must yield profit, one way or the other.
Now, my earlier assertions that Godwin Obaseki’s campaign budget may be in excess of hundreds of a million naira may be far-fetched or erroneous. But can you blame me? I am walking in the dark here as are you. I do not know how much his campaign has raised in terms of funding, or how he raised the money; which is exactly my point! We can continue to speculate, or conveniently assume that he is a wealthy man. Is he wealthier than Donald Trump, who still solicits the public for funds? This goes for all candidates. Forget phony declarations of assets after assuming office positions, those are rehearsed farces. Campaign funding transparency is the hallmark or precursor to a transparent government. When we get there, then we would have made a giant leap in achieving fair and unbiased governance.