2019 and the politics of campaign finance

May 17th, 2018

Each Governor was reportedly asked by the ruling APC party to bring N250 million ahead of the party’s National Convention. When the public protested, recently, the party disclaimed the news even if it added that it was the responsibility of members to pay outstanding dues. The APC needs N6 billion for its pre-election Convention. In the just concluded Ekiti Governorship primaries, an APC Gubernatorial aspirant who claimed he spent N100 million, got just 11 votes! I wonder how much the eventual winner spent. This story and similar ones, underscore the politics of campaign finance, the threat it poses to electoral integrity and outcomes, the enforceability of electoral laws, and the freedom of the people to choose.
Elections cost money, however. The political party has to set up a party secretariat in virtually every ward, state, and at the national level, pay staff, promote its brand and its agenda, organize meetings, pay sitting allowances, support candidates, run media advertisements, arrange receptions and entertainment, pay for logistics, buy vehicles, pay for air travels and road transportation, the organization of rallies and campaigns, reserve some tidy sum for lobbying at all levels including the lobbying of the media and other groups in civil society. Win or lose eventually, every political party be it in Africa, Europe, America, or Asia knows that money drives the game of politics. This is no rocket science, no matter how unfortunate the implications may be. It is nonetheless for this reason that political parties write into their constitutions, means of raising funds. These include membership subscriptions, payment for expression of interest in elective positions, donations, fund raising activities, and support from friends and the corporate sector.
As it is with the political parties, so it is with the candidates who seek elective offices on the platform of political parties. Their chances are also determined by the amount of money that they are able to raise and spend. In Nigeria, our experience has been that political office holders take loans, borrow money from Godfathers which has to be repaid with interest and at a cost, sell their property if they have any, solicit for money from friends and corporate organisations who are also at best, investors looking for latter-day return on investment. In Oyo state, Lamidi Adedibu fell out with Governor Rasheed Ladoja because he insisted on a share of the Governor’s security vote. In Anambra state, Governor Chris Ngige ran into troubled waters because he refused to share privileges with the man that allegedly put him in power.
This commercialization of the political process is a universal dilemma and part of the crisis of what seems to be the perceived end of liberal democracy. If money makes all the difference, and politicians have to acquire and repay monetary IOUs, then where does that leave the big, liberal, ideas about choice, sovereignty and the power of the majority? Where really, are the people in the entire democratic equation? Before the election, on election-day and even after, the electorate at least in Africa, expect to be paid in cash and kind. The people are encouraged to embrace democracy with cash, they are induced to vote in the same manner and their loyalty is maintained only when it is procured. Countries where democracy still seems to be putative or uncertain are the worst hit and many of them are in Africa. But it must be carefully noted that politicians also spend money elsewhere: in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the United States, Spain, Germany, Italy and so on…. campaign finance has been a problem, to be specific, corrupt campaign financing, poses a threat to the globalization of the democratic enterprise.
The liberal democratic project is based on the assumption that the electorate are granted the freedom to choose, determine the future of their country and their individual/collective future as well. When they make mistakes, they bear the consequences, but a few years later, four, or five, under the constitution, they may also be allowed the opportunity to correct their mistakes and hope for the best within the framework of representational democracy. But a drawback to all that, I argue, has been money, described elsewhere as the root of evil. The connection between evil and money has been a principal bane of democracy, turning democracy, that same vehicle that is supposed to bring good tidings into a vehicle of mixed blessings – the good and the ugly.
In cognizance of this, many countries have written into their electoral frameworks, rules and procedures on campaign finance: to rescue democracy from money bags, the influence of money, also, to prevent the undue use of money, and to preserve the people’s sovereignty. In real terms, these rules which exist in virtually every jurisdiction, include laws and regulations which forbid the unauthorized use of state resources for political purposes, contributions from dubious sources, violation of campaign funding limits as prescribed by enabling laws, the use of money to influence voters and election outcomes, non-disclosure of campaign spending, abuse of media, broadcasting and political advertising rules, and rules on declaration of assets, academic qualifications, health and other disclosures and internal party guidelines and rules.
Accordingly, Sections 222 – 229 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) provides rules and regulations on the operations of political parties, with Sections 225 and 226 thereof affirming the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the country’s electoral body to monitor, inquire into and assess campaign finances, and a party’s source of and management of funds. Section 228 expressly provides sanctions with regard to party finance and campaign finance, and provides the National Assembly statutory powers in this regard. The best that the National Assembly of Nigeria has done in this regard, however, has been the enactment and review of Electoral Acts to guide the conduct of elections in Nigeria (notably the Acts of 2002, 2006 and 2010).
The extant 2010 Electoral Act, as amended, caps spending limits as follows: Presidential election – N1 billion, Governorship- N200 million, Senatorial – N40 million, House of Representatives candidate – N20 million, and House of Assembly – N10 million. Section 92 (3) of this enabling law also requires every political party to submit, six months after every election, an audited revenue and expenditure report of the party, failing which penalties are stipulated. But this has never happened. The first key argument of this commentary, therefore, after the legal, cultural and socio-political, context described above, is that corrupt campaign finance is a big problem in Nigerian politics, and that money poses the biggest threat to our democracy.
Upon his assumption of office in Nigeria in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari recognizing this fact decided that he would focus on the abuse of campaign financing and tackle electoral corruption. The way he has gone about it and the conduct of his own political party, the All Progressives Congress should be a useful global study in how not to tackle the challenge of campaign finance. And it is like this: campaign finance scrutiny and the audit of the electoral process requires a non-partisan, and objective process, but in Buhari’s case, the process began with a determination to discredit and malign the preceding administration based on the assumption that this would automatically make the successor look good. It is a strategy that has failed.

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