Nigeria: Tapping Into the Economic Opportunities of an Election Season

During the recently concluded party primaries in Nigeria, I posted a couple of comments on social media urging Nigerians residing in Port Harcourt, and its environs, to avail themselves of the opportunity of the PDP presidential primaries and make some money. Though many may have taken my comments as a joke, I believe that some who have experienced the manner money flows in these primaries did avail themselves of the opportunities presented thereby.

In any country in the world, but more so in Nigeria and other African countries, the election season, be it at local, state, or national level, is a time of increased money circulation, leading to a temporary boost in the economic activities of that nation. In developing nations like Nigeria, with very weak electoral laws and programs, elections and electioneering is an expensive process reserved only for the financially rich and powerful. From ward all the way to the national level, politicians do grease palms during every stage of the delegates’ selection process; and, by the time the candidates meet at the primary elections proper, millions of Naira may have trickled down to thousands of families.

To run a senatorial election in Nigeria costs an average of one billion Naira; to fund a governorship election will run you an estimated 5 billion Naira. For a presidential election, one must be looking at a whopping 100 billion Naira. Obviously, not every senatorial, gubernatorial or presidential candidate can afford these amounts of money, so the field is usual narrowed down to the parties and candidates who can afford these estimated amounts. The two political parties easily able to fund candidates for all political office are the ruling APC and the opposition PDP. There are 109 senate seats up for election, and about 30 governorship offices; it is expected that a conservative estimate of N518b will be spent by senatorial and gubernatorial candidates from just APC and PDP alone during this election season. Add N100b each from the two presidential candidates and you are looking at N718b pumped into the economy in less than 9 months. For the purpose of fairness, the rest of the 80, or so, political parties can be expected to spend another N50b on their candidates for various offices. Also, for the purpose of is article, the field is reduced to senate, governorship, and presidential candidates for the purpose of simplicity.

How The Money is absorbed Into the Economy

Delegates: As I alluded to earlier, delegates to the primary elections are the first beneficiaries of financial windfall of the election season; candidates compete to outspend each other to buy the votes of the delegates at all level; financial inducement, or rewards, increase from ward through state to national level. It has been alleged that delegates to the PDP national primaries in Port Harcourt were induced with upwards of $5000, or N1.7m per delegate by just one candidate. Given that there were over 7 candidates, though not with the same financial strength, even a $1000 inducement is a lot of expense for primaries alone. There were over 3000 delegates to that PDP national primaries, so even if one focuses on just securing half of the delegate votes, the successful candidate must have spent N2.6b in one night to secure the presidential nomination. My focus is on the PDP, because APC did not have a presidential primary; they adopted Buhari for a second term. All the same, there was a national convention and delegates were transported to Abuja to ratify the selection of Buhari as the presidential candidate. Financial emoluments were made to these delegates, and the hospitality industry benefited immensely form their convergence in Abuja for the weekend.

Imagine the same scenario as above replicated by the parties in 30 states and 109 senatorial zones, though at a lower expense rate than the presidential primaries. At the end of the exercise, delegates went back home with an average of N500k-N2m, which they invested in their families, businesses, and the local economies; thereby, positively impacting on their entire local government area.

Advertisements: Politicians invest heavily on publicity; they recruit musicians to write jingles for playing at radio and television stations. These stations, and advertising agencies expect revenue boosts during election cycles, and they prepare by hiring extra staff to accommodate the needs of politicians. Independent visual artists are not left out in the sharing of the political financial windfall; candidates commission posters for display on public and private buildings, roadsides, tree trunks, and public transportation vehicles; they also rent billboards, for the duration of the campaign season, to display their images and messages to the electorate; and, depending on location, one billboard can run into millions of Naira. A gubernatorial candidate intent on garnering statewide exposure could print as much as a million posters. Aside from the billboards and posters, there are pamphlets to hand out at rallies and for door-to-door distribution.

Hospitality: One industry that benefits immensely from national elections is the hospitality industry, even after the elections have been won and lost.  Candidates need hotel accommodations for themselves and their entourage during the campaign season; so, hoteliers always experience a spike in reservations, and some developers even venture as far as building new, or upgrading existing, hotels in cities with shortage of quality hotels. Not left out are public and private transportation providers. Even where public transportation systems exist, like in Lagos and Abuja, politicians prefer taxis, car rental agencies, and private car services at their disposal during campaign events. Civil servants avail themselves of the opportunity to make brisk businesses with their private vehicles, by providing affordable transportation services to visiting politicians, even if for a weekend.

Restaurants within and around the campaign environment, also, witness an increase in patronage during election period. Visiting politicians and their many supporters seek out corners restaurants where they request and taste the local culinary delicacies. For the duration of the event, the host community, or city, usually experience an upsurge in business revenue. Of course, every political event, be they rallies, conferences, or simple strategy retreats, requires planning and proper execution. This is where event planners come in; they will, in turn, reach out to canopy, furniture rental, and catering companies for needed supplies to successfully organize and execute an event for the candidate or the party.

Not entirely left out of the fray are prostitutes, or ladies of the night. A political campaign in any city is an opportunity for them to make brisk business. Though the candidates proper may not indulge in seeking the services of these ladies, and gents (for political correctness and equal representation), some of their many supporters and sponsors traveling with them, and almost always without their spouses, may do so. One must emphasize here that this is not particular to Nigerian, or African political environments, but an international phenomenon. It just seems to be more pronounced in African countries, because most of those who engage in the prostitution business are either breadwinners in their families, fending for themselves, their parents, and siblings; or, simply availing themselves of the prevailing opportunity to make some money to finance their education or hook up with a prominent personality. For the latter group, once the political season is over, their lives return to normalcy. When all is said and done, they would have garnered their share of the political money pot to solve some personal and family problems.

Manufacturing: The manufacturing sector is not left in the cold during Nigeria’s general elections. Some political parties have uniforms, and require their members and supporters to wear these uniforms during the campaign season; this provides an opportunity for textile manufactures, importers, and wholesalers to make some brisk business. When one throws in caps, fans, T-shirts with party symbols or candidates’ image, handkerchiefs, and many other gift items like pens, pins, key chains, shopping bags, and mugs, just to name a few, with the party or candidates’ logo on them, one is looking at a multi-million Naira windfall for some companies, which trickles down to many families through the employees and retailers.

Communication: Some candidates prefer to deliver their campaign speeches either from notes or teleprompters, because they are either clueless of their parties manifesto, or lack the requisite training and charisma to captivate their audience. So, they engage the services of speechwriters and journalists to craft a speech worthy of acceptance by the audience. Also, to benefit from this financial shot in the economic arm are videographers recruited by politicians and their parties for distribution to local communities which their campaign schedules could not allow them to visit. For some candidates, it is also cheaper to address their supporters via these professionally packaged video presentations in town hall settings than traveling there with a large entourage. Freelance photographers are not left out in this mad dash to make some money during the election season. A careful observer at every political gathering in an election season will easily spot photographers taking pictures of prominent politicians, their spouses, moneybags or godfathers who frequently grace these events. These photographers make brisk business by selling the best prints to their “victims”, or targeted audiences. Most of the determined ones travel to every location with popular candidates to cover their campaigns for the duration of the season.

Community Leaders: traditional rulers equally welcome the election season with open hearts and arms, because of the frequent flow of brown envelopes. Politicians on campaign trails often pay scheduled visits to prominent traditional rulers of their campaign host communities, Sometimes, these visits are made on individual basis; where that is time-consuming, the traditional rulers gather at the palace of the most prominent of the groups where “kola” is shared in solicitation for support. Not to be outdone, community youth, and parochial organizations also pledge support for one candidate, or the other, in exchange for some financial support or promise. They usually serve as the eyes and ears of these candidates at the polling stations on election days. Even professional and vocational bodies, like mechanics, drivers unions, lawyers, the disabled, market women, etc., declare their supports for some candidates, who, in turn, provide them with funding for a few political gatherings mostly in violation of their organization’s code of ethics; but, who cares, as long as everyone gets a cut.

Elder Statesmen & Women: There is a class of retired politicians and senior civil servants in Nigeria classified as elder statesmen and women; some of these people still command respect, and wield considerable influence in their communities and social clubs. Politicians, recognizing the election benefits of these influences, strive to establish and maintain close connection with these people, by putting them on special compensation lists through the governors and regional political party structures; in return, during political campaigns, these elder statesmen and women, lend their voices and support to specific political parties or candidates.

Though not every sector is represented here, like private security companies and the legal profession, one can easily deduct that election seasons in Nigeria pump large sums of money into the economy, through the many professions and sectors listed above; while the season presents opportunities for corporations to increase revenue, it is also an opportunity for individuals to make much-needed extra income to support their families. So, while many social organizations complain about the huge amount of money candidates spend to finance a run for public office, and the negative effects such increase in money supply on the economy, they must remember that the bulk of this money is recycled throughout all sectors of the economy, and the people are the beneficiaries in the end.

Felix Oti

Arlington, Texas

[email protected]

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