EMAMEH GABRIEL in this analysis dissects issues relating to the enforcement of ceilings on political parties expenditure ahead of 2019 general elections.
In a bid to stem the tide of illicit campaign spending by political parties and their candidates, the Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently announced its resolve to enforce ceilings on campaign expenditure across political parties and their candidates in next year’s elections.
The INEC, which is vested by Section 91 of the Electoral Act to monitor election spending by political parties, said it is already working closely with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) not only to ensure strict compliance with the standard already set by the commission by an Act but also to track down and sanction erring parties and their members.
Chairman of the commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu who recently spoke to pressmen through his chief press secretary, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, said “The commission is always monitoring the activities of all political parties,” while it has established mechanisms for conducting various activities under its purview, including monitoring campaign spending.
“There is a Department of Election and Party Monitoring. It is their primary responsibility to carry out this activity. And as you know, INEC has offices and staff in all states and local government areas of the country. There are also additional measures that the commission can employ to do the needful when the need arises”, he noted.
“The law also makes it clear that no individual, or any other entity for that matter, shall donate more than N1 million to any candidate. The law prescribes stiff penalties for any breach,” added Oyekanmi in the case of a third party donation.
Corroborating it, the EFCC acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu, said the anti-graft agency is already working with the electoral body to ensure that public funds are not diverted into financing political parties’ campaign.
Magu disclosed this recently while presenting a paper at a one-day retreat for 36 state governors and key election stakeholders.
“We shall keenly monitor the financial affairs of political parties to ensure that the use of public funds to finance political parties and prosecute campaigns at all levels of government is checked” said Magu, who spoke through his Chief of Staff, Olanipekun Olukoyede.
“To minimise corruption and the use of public funds to fund political parties and finance elections, there is need for greater effectiveness in enforcing the provisions of the various electoral laws in Nigeria especially as it relates to penalties upon breach of their provisions.
“Political parties should be required to keep proper records of all incomes, contributions and expenditure, and to open their books for inspection by relevant security agencies after every electioneering cycle”, Magu said.
“In addition, politicians prosecuting campaigns must be required to keep proper records of all donations received by them including the identities of the donors; and to turn their books over to relevant security agencies, and to INEC for inspection after every electioneering cycle, including the costs of litigations arising from the elections and the source of funding for the litigations”, he added.
The standard set spells out clearly in categories the limited amount candidates contesting various positions could spend. For instance, the maximum expenditure by presidential candidates is N1 billion while governorship candidate cannot spend more than N200 million.
Also, senatorial and House of Representatives candidates are not supposed to exceed their expenditure beyond N40 million and N20 million respectively.
The development has generated bickering between the opposition PDP and the ruling APC. The opposition has accused the ruling party of the plot to use the anti-graft agency to stifle their sources of campaign finances so as to give the ruling party space to leverage on.
Analysts have however argued that, beyond monitoring and tracking of campaign funds, what the framers of Section 91 of the Electoral Act did not put into consideration is the fact that the cost of running election could be influenced by the rate of inflation and value of the nation’s currency which continues to nosedive since 2015.
It is also clear that the electoral body has also failed to put into consideration Nigeria’s over exploding population which puts the country today at about 200,000,000 by head counts compared to the 120,000,000 it was when both Section 86 and 91 of 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) came into force.
What then constitutes campaign funding?
While it has been debated on several forums that it would be difficult for the INEC and even the EFCC to monitor campaign funding due to the complex nature in which parties’ campaigns are funded, this however brings to question, what really constitutes campaign expenditure? Does it include fuelling of private jets by a presidential candidate and his party members during their tour to the 36 states of the federation during campaign?
Does this also capture logistics and cost of transporting party faithful from their homes or states to campaign venues? Does it involve the printing of billboards and fliers? Does this also include the cost of foods and drinks used at campaign venues and other side attractions entertainment and the cost of decoration captures?
Does it include the cost of running jingles on TV and radio, newspaper adverts, online adds, media consultancy, strategic planning, salaries for hired staff and other miscellaneous expenses?
If all these and others that are not visible are captured into this conversation, it therefore becomes complex and indefensible for INEC to really defend its position and intent to restrict campaign spending.
The argument is that, apart from the unchecked growing population of the country, the rate of inflation continues to drop of the value of naira in the last ten years, particularly with regard to 2015 till date.
Going further, the argument also is that, when efforts have really been ignored to revisit such extant laws restricting and regulating election funding, INEC has continued to increase its budgetary allocation every year. For instance, in 2015 INEC had requested for N120 billion for the general election and made a proposal of N189.2 billion to the National Assembly for 2019 general elections.
The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Mahmood Yakubu, while defending his presentation during the budget presentation of the 2019 general election at a meeting with the Senate Committee on INEC in Abuja listed increase in number of political parties, increase on voters population and registered voters, high cost of logistics, exchange rates, increase in number of constituencies as reasons for the increase.
‘’Costs must necessarily go up’’, said Ismaila Olokun (Esq) who also attributed it to the continued rise of registered political parties in the country. ‘’Costs must escalate’’, he told LEADERSHIP Sunday.
‘’The political system needs reform. Whilst not advocating restricting the formation of political parties, but certain criteria must be put in place such that a party that does not garner a minimum number of seats in either local or national elections, must of necessity be deregistered. That is a necessary first step’’, he said.
‘’Secondly, how do you monitor donations and presents from shadowy groups? Without prejudice to the octopoidal reach of the EFCC, it will be difficult for it to devote resources to tracking such input. And with our penchant for lax or saint adherence reporting rules and schedules, one won’t be surprised if so much slips through unnoticed.
‘’It’s a tall order. How do you cut costs? The Nigerian political space is one built on disbursement or distribution of hard cash.The electorate see the period of electioneering as their own payback time. Which is why too, it is difficult to hold our political office holders accountable, because their mind set is that ‘after all I bought your votes why ask me now to account for my jumbo pay and other corrupt packages’ “, said Olokun.
Interestingly, Mr Yakubu said the increase in price of petroleum products and high exchange rate as reasons for the increase of INEC funding.
Barr. Kelvin Ayo who spoke with LEADERSHIP Sunday said one sad thing about the handlers of the nation’s legal system is the inability to make reforms and amendments that suit the taste of time, saying the case of INEC is an example.
‘’First, the INEC, owing to various sections in the Electoral Act, is permitted to control and regulate the activities of political parties in Nigeria. This power of control extends to the extent of financial spending by political parties. In this sense, the Act presently places a benchmark on the amount political parties can spend by political parties.
‘’However, the reality on ground is that owing to the economic reality in Nigeria as well as the unstable nature of the Naira, the value of the threshold as stipulated by the legislature in the Act may not be the same as it was when the Act was made.
‘’Therefore, a strict adherence to the contents of the Act relating to the limit in financial spending by political parties may work hardship on the parties due to inflation in the economy and other financial predicaments, said Kelvin who wondered why INEC and relevant law-making bodies have continued to fail to adjust to the reality of the circumstances and time,” he said.
On his part, Labour Party Presidential candidate, Eraigbe Aslem, told LEADERSHIP Sunday in an exclusive interview that though INEC’s intention might be noble, it might be another wild goose chase if the proper thing is not done.
‘’Let me start like an economist. First of all, inflation has watered down the value of goods and services in Nigeria vis-à-vis quantity and quality. How does INEC intend to monitor financial dealings of political parties? INEC does not have access to the kind of funds that are being deployed for electioneering in Nigeria’’.
‘’How do I mean? Political parties don’t even have those funds to their accounts. For instance, if you go to PDP’s official account now, you will not be able to find, let’s say, up to N1 billion but you can be rest assured that the presidential aspirant of the PDP will spend up to N100 billion in this election.
‘’Where am I drawing my statistics from? There are about 36 states and 774 local government areas in Nigeria, so somebody who will want to win 54 million registered voters will definitely spend big.
“That brings us back to vote buying. How has INEC been able to fight vote buying? We have seen it in Ekiti, we have seen it in the most recent Osun election and we are still going to see it in 2019. Has INEC been able to bring any party to book till today?
‘’Mathematically, if you look at the numbers of registered voters in the country, and if both APC and PDP pay each voters N5000 per vote, the election will gulp over N200 billion.
He said there is no way INEC can stop frivolous unless it synergises with the security apparatus of the country and financial institution flows of cash in and out of the country.
He noted that ‘’It is a good thing that INEC and EFCC want to track financial dealings of political parties but is unfortunate that they don’t even know where the bulk of these money are. As we are talking now contracts are being awarded and what do you think they are meant for? Asked Labour Party presidential candidate.
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