A case for campaign finance reforms – The Guardian

By The Citizen

The presidential election campaigns are in top gear but not without a blight: a corruption of the electioneering process as exemplified by political parties' mobilization of huge funds, which sources are suspect, to run the campaigns. This does not bode well for democracy and an end must come to this blatant commercialization of the electoral process. Campaigns, of course, come with reasonable cost implications but what the country has witnessed in the current dispensation is too much of a shame to stand. In a country struggling for economic survival and where the majority wallows in abject poverty, this phenomenon demands soul-searching among all Nigerians as it calls to question the morality of those seeking to lead the nation.

That businessmen, interest groups and sundry individuals raised, within a few hours, for instance, the billions of naira to support campaigns for an elective office of an individual in a clime where millions of people are unemployed, is a tragic drama in which money is suddenly gaining ascendancy and reason thrown overboard, this is highly unacceptable.

Glaringly, the donors to all parties have sent a strong message that they have only played their cards face-up for selfish interests, the implication being that such donors would be key actors in the control of the nation's economic levers upon a successful run of their beneficiary in the election. In this part of the world at least, this has been the trend but never has the country seen such inane display of irresponsibility as is being witnessed now. This culture of impunity must stop and Nigerians too must be ready to demand responsibility and accountability from their leaders.

Some of the big-time donors or supporters are only taking the people for a ride through questionable contributions. It hurts further when some indefensible amount is announced as anonymous or coming from 'unnamed friends'. Who are the faceless friends who are shy of being identified with a good cause, if this was?

Worse still, are those governors and other government functionaries deploying public resources in their care to fund partisan political interests. Some 21 governors of the ruling party at the centre during a fund-raising dinner reportedly donated N50 million each amounting to N1.05 billion. Ironically, workers in some of the states in question are yet to be paid salaries for months at the time of the senseless donations. What manner of leaders are these that are so uncaring about the people they swore to cater for?

In addition to direct donation to parties and candidates, many have used public funds to place political adverts, financed rallies and other political activities and this cuts across all the leading parties.  In financial matters, the constitution has always been abused especially by those in the executive branch. While approved donations are recognized in any budget, the ceilings are constantly scaled by those in power. And this is done in active connivance with lawmakers. Any governor, who unilaterally donates huge public funds without the authorization of the lawmakers after all, ought to be made accountable, but this is never done since the lawmakers themselves are part of the deceit and are totally in the governors' pockets.

In the immediate past dispensation, a governor's spendthrift disposition on public funds earned him the sobriquet 'The Sheikh.' Such is the odium some leaders have brought their exalted seats to. Yet, many more get elected or re-elected, a development that puts a question mark on the integrity of the Nigerian followers.  Elections are no doubt becoming increasingly expensive in the country, while the economy is suffocating, struggling for a fresh breath just as it is facing diminishing returns from the crushing effect of slide in global oil prices.

Beyond that, a more fundamental point is the gradual erosion of democracy when groups and individuals practically hijack the system using their ill-gotten wealth. When money plays such a major role as it does now, the building blocks of democracy are dismantled, democratic culture suffers, and by extension, people.  This development highlights the weakness of the followership as the people's refusal to question their leaders means complicity.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should work hard at tightening the regulations on election expenses or work for strengthening of those institutions or organs to monitor individuals, groups and political parties.

Henceforth, political parties should be compelled to publish the sources of their campaign funds and purposes for which they would be deployed. The system must not encourage use of illegal funds for elections. A strong appeal for campaign finance reform has always been made by Nigerians but there has been no positive response to this suggestion over the years. If political parties boast of millions of members in their folds, they should be able to devise ways of inclusive funding which gives every member, no matter the status, that sense of belonging to the party to contribute to fund campaigns.

That is the real foundation for democracy, which all Nigerians must seek to build.