ELECTION 2011 CAMPAIGN FINANCE: A SERIOUS CHALLENGE
There are issues beyond the constraint of time that INEC has identified with regard to the 2011 general elections which also need to be addressed, considering the implications for electoral outcomes and the integrity of elections, with consequential effect on governance. The first of these is the cost of elections, from the collection of nomination forms all through the campaigns and eventual election into office. The country experience has been that the monetization of the electoral process has resulted in such a situation whereby every candidate sees election expenses as an investment, and should he or she get elected, the immediate objective in office is to re-coup the investments made, thus providing a curiously self-serving justification for corrupt conduct.
One prominent Senator once publicly confessed, following allegations that he had collected a N50 million bribe to facilitate the passage of a Ministry’s budget, that his mission as a lawmaker in Abuja was first and foremost to recover his election investments, and that no one should talk about service. Past testimonies have revealed that many political office aspirants took loans, or sold their property or relied on the sponsorship of Godfathers and corporations to be able to meet the required high financial outlay. In many instances this resulted in embarrassing outcomes with the most celebrated perhaps being the Chris Ngige-Chris Uba crisis in Anambra state, and the Rasheed Ladoja-Lamidi Adedibu face-off in Oyo state, with the Godfathers (Uba and Adedibu) insisting that their clients needed to pay back the investments made by giving them a share of the security vote in addition to other privileges. The refusal of both clients resulted in their summary removal from office. The root of that crisis is the monetization of election processes which makes poor but qualified aspirants utterly vulnerable. This is one problem that electoral reform, now a postponed aspirational objective, could have solved. But now, we are going into another round of general elections, with so much emphasis on money both officially and otherwise.
The genesis is official. What the law stipulates is rather high given the level of poverty in the country. It amounts to saying that only the rich can aspire to political offices. Section 84 of the Electoral Act 2002, Section 93 of the Electoral Act 2006 both deal with election expenses; the same subject is addressed in Section 91 of the Electoral Act 2010. There is a quantum 100% increase in stipulated election expenses between 2006 and 2010 whereas the objective of the law should have been to make elections less expensive. For example, whereas Section 93(2) of the Electoral Act 2006 requires a Presidential candidate to spend no more than N500 million total, Section 91(2) of the 2010 Act stipulates N1 billion for Presidential candidates, and the same quantum percentage increase applies to other offices- Governor (N200 m, up from N100 million in 2006), Senatorial seat (N40m, formerly N20m); House of Representatives (N20m, formerly N10m), House of Assembly (N10m, formerly N5m), Local Council Chairman (N10 m, formerly N5m) and Councillorship (N1m, previously N500,000). Section 91 (9-12) of the 2010 Act which is in pari materia with Section 93 (9-12) of the 2006 Act, outlines penalties for the violation of these regulations.
Both in the past and now, and in utter disregard of Section 95 0f the 2006 Act, and now Sections 92-93 of the 2010 Act, politicians and political parties have routinely abused the rules on campaign finance and deliberately raised the cost of participation. This speaks to the failure of regulation and the reluctance to ensure campaign finance reform. There is no record of anyone being punished for violating the rule on election expenses. The twin issue of donations to political parties and likely undue influence was addressed in Yusufu v. Obasanjo (2003) 16 NWLR pt.847 but generally there is neither a structure nor mechanism in place for tracking campaign finances and enforcing INEC’s rules as spelled out in the Electoral Act. INEC officials at the end of their recent retreat in Calabar asked among other things, for an Electoral Offenders Commission, but until that emerges, there are already existing rules and penalties which only need to be enforced. The neglect of the rules on election expenses creates the room for the hijack of the process by moneybags; it results in the exclusion of otherwise capable and well meaning but poor aspirants, and provides the basis for corruption.
The political parties often do not shy away from demanding the equivalent of ransom from candidates, this forms part of the total expenditure stipulated by the Electoral Act, but almost always, so much money is spent beyond the legal limits. Out of all the 62 political parties vying for offices in the 2010 general elections, the ruling People’s Democratic Party was the first to roll out its guidelines and an outline of required fees. What has been done in this regard so far before the suspension of other activities in the light of the imminent review of the election timetable, illustrates the continuing monetization of elections. The PDP National Headquarters in Abuja requires aspirants to pay the following to pick up nomination forms: Presidential (N10 m), Governors (N5m), Senate (N3 m); House of Representatives (N2.5 m); state Houses of Assembly (N1 m). But so much more is spent, that at the end of the day, every aspirant has to look for money by all means or borrow or steal, or pay through the nose.
In the PDP example, the state branches collect the nationally stipulated fees from aspirants, but they also add their own charges. In Anambra state, the request for an additional two per cent nomination and expression of interest fee already caused a row within the party (The Guardian, September 21, at p.5). It is worse in other states. The standard fees, and initial expenses in the PDP say for the position of Senator and what is called "formalization of political intent" is as follows: N0.2m for the expression of interest form, N2m for the nomination to contest primary election form; state chapter administrative charges -N300, 000, another N150, 000 is paid to the state branch for "intent formalization form". Every candidate is also required to present tax certificates for three years: this is about N100, 000 per year (total N0.3m). For the nomination to contest primary election form to be accepted, the aspirant must be sponsored by 30 persons drawn from different wards in all the local councils in the senatorial zone – each of these persons must be a registered member of the party and they all expect to be paid for their services!
The party also requires a lorry load of documents which have to be photocopied thus creating a boom for owners of the ubiquitous business centres in our towns. The sociology of this matter is that the moment an aspirant declares his interest in a particular office, he is immediately surrounded by a group of sycophants who immediately start addressing him or her as "your Excellency", "Distinguished Senator," "Honourable!" this of course includes the usual team of thugs or able-bodied men as they are more respectfully known: all of whom expect to be paid and fed, even if they have more than one client! The aspirant is also required by convention to visit and pay homage to traditional rulers within his constituency, the police chief, the SSS Director and so on, and everywhere he goes, he is required to pay some unstated charges. By the time the aspirant becomes a candidate, he spends even more. In the PDP, female aspirants are allowed to collect nomination forms free, but they also have to pick up all the other additional expenses. Technically, every candidate spends a lot more than the limit prescribed in the enabling law. Adopting a rule of thumb assessment, even a formal, public declaration of political interest could cost more than the total amount prescribed by law for that particular position. But who will enforce the law?
Election finance is an important issue for reform. We cannot afford to run elections on a profit-motive basis: profit for the business centres, thugs, political Godfathers, the party, traditional rulers, market women and others who are given free clothes, the media, rented crowds, printers, sycophants, cash-collecting voters, and the banks; the general assumption that election time is harvest time and boom time turns the whole event into a commercial undertaking rather than an opportunity for nation-building. ThisDay newspaper has reported that within ten days of selling nomination and expression of interest forms, the PDP raked in N3.5 billion (ThisDay, September 25, p.1). It stands to make more. In 2006, the party made N4 billion from the sale of forms alone. The excuse is that the party needed funds for the elections, but in 2007, the party soon announced that it was broke (didn’t it?) and yet there was no clear indication that the party complied with the section of the law requiring each political party to submit its audited accounts for vetting by INEC, and of course in the Nigerian context, it is not the parties that fund individual campaigns, the candidate is required to do so. The PDP has also talked about preventing a bandwagon effect whereby every Peter and Janet would express interest in political office because it is easy to obtain a form. This kind of snobbery translates into deplorable politics of exclusion, one that is driven by financial muscle and sheer illiberality. It should be possible for anyone that is interested in political office to gain access to express that interest. The ultimate choice must be made by the people and this must not be a function of cash.
The 1999 Constitution spells out the grounds for qualification for particular offices at Sections 65,66, 106, 107, 131, 137, 177, 182: the key highlights of which include the fact that the person must have attained a particular age, and a particular level of educational qualification, must be of sound mind, must be a citizen of Nigeria, must not be bankrupt and must not have been indicted for corruption by an administrative panel of inquiry, must not have been convicted for an offence, and must not be a member of a secret society. When political parties erect additional barriers, they invariably make the process of leadership recruitment rather exclusive; when their emphasis is on financial muscle, they prepare the grounds for future compromises; they reduce politics to the level of big money fit only for the highest bidder.
The monetization of the nomination process in the PDP is perhaps "good" for the polity, if it would encourage the other political parties to be more liberal and less business-minded, and if that would encourage aspirants who for financial reasons cannot access the PDP to go to the opposition parties and strengthen them. Unfortunately in Nigeria, party politics has not worked that way before now and may not even now. The political aspirant is not driven by ideology or public-spirited beliefs; he is interested in winning by all means and if the PDP is the party that he or she believes can bring him closer to his or her dream, he or she would be prepared to make the investment, knowing that after winning, the treasury is available for looting. This corruption-driven political culture is what must change for Nigeria to raise the integrity of the election campaign process. It is one challenge that INEC should begin to consider even as it struggles to gain the breathing space it so desperately seeks.