On the final day of campaigning before Nigeria's election, an unruly crowd has gathered at the headquarters of President Goodluck Jonathan's ruling party. They aren't there to cheer for him. They are there for their money.
One group from Lagos is demanding 10-million naira, about $50,000 (U.S.) for its campaigning efforts for Mr. Jonathan. Their leaders say they were offered only 100,000 naira, a small fraction of what they want, and they are furiously yelling at the guards at the gate. A separate group of women is seeking payment for attending a campaign rally. "We want our money," they shout.
Money is what makes Nigerian politics go around: money to buy votes, to buy bags of rice as gifts for voters, to buy the support of local leaders, and to buy the wall-to-wall campaign advertisements that have dominated Nigeria's television channels and newspapers for the past three months. Saturday's election – 70 million people are eligible to vote – is widely believed to be the most expensive in African history.
The election advertising is so massive that it squeezes out most other commercials on television. Mr. Jonathan's party and its wealthy supporters paid for a 36-page glossy advertising supplement in major newspapers this week – in addition to the dozens of full-page ads it has bought every day for the past three months. They have even paid for lengthy so-called documentaries attacking the main opposition candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.
A survey of 2,520 randomly selected Nigerians this year, conducted for the Washington-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems, found that 48 per cent of those interviewed said they would "take the money" if offered payments for their vote; 45 per cent of those surveyed said they would not sell their vote under any circumstances. (Perhaps implausibly, most of those people who said they would take the money also insisted it wouldn't influence their vote.)
Giving handouts to voters at campaign rallies is standard practice here. Mr. Jonathan's wife, Patience, often gives out bags of rice to Nigerians at her events.
At lower levels, politics is still costly. To run for a seat in Nigeria's House of Representatives, candidates need a minimum of $500,000 to $1-million (U.S.), according to estimates by observers. A campaign for the Senate is even more expensive.
"Arguably, at the end of the day, elections are bought," said a foreign diplomat in Abuja, who was not authorized to speak on the record and so could not be further identified. "It's so widespread and blatant, and it's such a fundamental part of the problem in Nigeria."
Money might play a key role in the contest between Mr. Jonathan and Mr. Buhari. There are few ideological differences between them, and their platforms are similar in many ways. So the race has become a conflict of personalities and organizations. And it's clear, from the advertising, that Mr. Jonathan's party has far greater financial resources.
Of the 70 million eligible voters, about 82 per cent have picked up the voting cards that will enable them to vote, according to the national electoral commission. About 1.4 million Nigerians have been forced to flee their homes because of the Boko Haram insurgency, and many will be unable to vote. But the election commission said it is setting up voting stations in refugee camps or nearby buildings to allow many to vote.