Just a year to Nigeria’s 2019 elections as the political parties and gladiators are making preparation for the epic contest, once again issues related to the election season are rearing their heads up. Chief among them is the matter of election campaign finance. Campaign finance refers to all funds raised to promote candidates, political parties, or policy initiatives and referenda. According to G. Alexander Heard, Campaign finance deals with “the costs of democracy”, a term coined by for his famous analysis of campaign finance in the U.S.
Democracy is a system in which the government is controlled by the people, and in which people are considered equals in the exercise of that control. However, unequal access to political finance contributes to an uneven political playing field. Campaign financing has been a major concern in Nigeria. Significant and unregulated campaign financing often creates an uneven playing field in election contest. Large sums of money give certain parties or candidates undue advantage over others. Very often the candidates with the most money always win the election or party nomination process. Wide discrepancies in levels of funding between parties and candidates constrains opportunities for political competition and tend to disenfranchise challengers. Women candidates in particular suffer disproportionately from lack of access to campaign finance.
Political campaigns have much expenditure, such as the cost of travel of candidates and staff, political consulting, and the direct costs of communicating with voters via media outlets. The need to raise money to maintain expensive political campaigns diminishes ties to a representative democracy because of the influence large contributors have over politicians.
The financial requirements for entry to electoral competition appears to be getting higher and higher, resulting in political exclusion of those who cannot afford the cost. Another concern has been that elected officials are becoming more accountable to those who finance their campaigns than to their constituents. Large corporate or single donor funding for parties and candidates, dominates political decisions and political corruption is a national problem, posing a threat to the Nigerian economic growth, democracy, and the stability of the country. Nearly all major financial and corruption scandals in recent times have been linked to campaign and political financing. Candiådates invest large amounts of their private savings to contend in the elections. This means that only individuals willing to invest large amounts of money become candidates. Money distorts the candidate selection process within parties and largely influences who wins the elections.
Evidence shows that large portions of the electorate around the world are left with the perception that their politicians are more concerned about money than about representing citizens’ interests. In Nigeria, we have seen the phenomenon of god fatherism, where by a politician is sponsored by some heavy weight money bag with the agreement that upon ascension to the political throne, this elected politicians would give back to their godfathers in the form of direct disbursement, contracts or appointment to office of individuals chosen by this supposed godfather. Also, what has come to be called stomach infrastructure, whereby politicians induce the people into voting for them by providing them with some of their daily basic needs such as foodstuffs.
According to INEC In 2011, all the opposition parties put together spent whooping N2.04 billion in traceable expenditure, while the then ruling People’s Democratic Party PDP spent N5.01 billion. In 2015, all the opposition parties spent N2.91 billion while PDP spent N8.74 billion,”
Most often, the uneven playing field results from the fact that the ruling party or the incumbent candidate control the political apparatus and uses it to its own advantage and to the disadvantages of challengers. The rapid growth of campaign expenditure in many countries has exacerbated this problem and fuels the perception that wealth buys political influence and threatens political equality. The huge amounts of money involved in some election campaigns makes it impossible for those without access to large private funds to compete on the same level as those who are well funded
The major political parties in Nigerian politics today are little more than grand agglomerations of the respective electoral ‘machines’ of the leading political financiers.
According to the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security, the need to regulate uncontrolled, undisclosed and opaque political finance is a major challenge to the integrity of elections in emerging and mature democracies alike. The Commission argued that poorly regulated political finance can diminish political equality, provide opportunities for organized crime to purchase political influence, and undermine public confidence in elections. Indeed, a failure to regulate political and campaign finance threatens to hollow out democracy and rob it of its unique strengths. Citizens all over the world want political parties and governments to represent their views and be responsive to their needs. However, all too often parties are disproportionately representative of the interests of the donors who have largely financed them. If large corporations and rich individuals are able to buy greater influence through large campaign donations, then citizens can lose faith in, or be marginalised from, the political process. This is compounded by a lack of citizen participation in political parties, which further adds to people’s alienation from politics.
With the return of Democracy in Nigeria there was a recognition of this fact, For example, the 2002 Electoral Act, which guided the conduct of the 2003 general elections had an ambiguous provision, especially as it relates to election expenses. For instance, section 84(2) stated that: Election expenses incurred by a Political Party for the management or the conduct of an election shall not exceed in the aggregate the sum determined by multiplying 20 naira by the number of names appearing in the final voters’ list for each constituency where there is a candidate sponsored by the political party.
This provision was not just ambiguous but also very confusing. For instance, it attempted to address campaign financing within respective constituencies but failed to address the finances for presidential and gubernatorial candidates. This is because presidential and gubernatorial candidates have the entire country or state as their constituencies. Besides, a cursory interpretation of that provision would suggest that for constituency elections candidates were not expected to spend monies in excess of the number of people registered by INEC within that constituency. What this meant is that if a state constituency had fifty thousand voters, this would be multiplied by N20, which would amount to N1 million only. Most state and federal constituencies did not have up to that number of voters in their registers. In addition, section 79(2) required political parties to submit all campaign expenses to INEC, not later than 90 days from the date of the elections. More worrisome was the penalty to be imposed on political parties that flouted that provision. For example, political parties in breach of this provision were liable upon conviction to a fine of N100, 000, payable jointly or severally by the leaders of the political party. This penalty was so mild that it would have been more profitable to breach this provision, all things being equal.
To make the electioneering process relatively transparent, the 2006 Electoral Act tried to address the ambiguity in the 2002 Electoral Act by clearly stipulating the maximum limits of campaign expenses by candidates for respective political offices. For instance, section 93(1-12) of the 2006 Electoral Act clearly stipulates the ceiling of elections expenses. This is intended to curtail the influence of money in electioneering process. Also, presidential candidates had the highest spending limit of N500 million during electioneering campaigns, while governorship candidates had a ceiling of N100 million. Next in that order were candidates for Senate and House of Representatives who could not spend more than N20 million and N10 million respectively. Contestants into State Houses of Assembly had N5 million spending limits, while Local Government chairmanship and councillorship position spending ceiling were put at N5 million and N500, 000.00 respectively. The same Act (section 93(9) also limited individual and corporate donations to any contestant to N1 million. A novelty in this law is the limit of individual and corporate donations to any candidates put at not more than N1 million [see Section 93(9) of the 2006 Electoral Act. In the same vein, the 2010 Electoral Act as amended has similar provisions to that of 2006. The major difference being that the spending limits during electioneering campaigns was reviewed upward in the Act. The 2010 Act does not only grant INEC the power to place a limit on the amount of money or other assets, which an individual or group of persons can contribute to a political party, it also stipulates spending limits to candidates [See section 90(1)]. For instance, section 91(2) of the same Act puts the spending limits for Presidential candidates at N1 billion, while candidates for Governorship election are required not to spend more than N200 million [section 91(3)]. Similarly, the maximum elections expenses to be incurred in respect of Senatorial and House of Representatives seat are N40 million and N20 million respectively. Furthermore, “in the case of State Assembly election, the maximum amount of election expenses to be incurred shall be N10 million.
The Act also requires all political parties to separately submit audited election expenses to INEC within 6 months after an election [section 92(3)]. A political party which contravenes the provisions of section 92(3) commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N1 million. In the case of failure to submit an accurate audited report within the stipulated period, the court may impose a maximum penalty of N200, 000. 00 per day on any party for the period after the return was due until it is submitted to the commission. Specifically, section 92(7) clearly stipulates the penalty political parties shall face when they contravene section 93 (2-5) thus: A political party that incurs election expenses beyond the limit stipulated in this Act commits an offence and is liable on conviction to maximum of N1, 000,000.00 and forfeiture to the Commission of the amount by which the expenses exceed the limits set by the Commission.
To further check the fund-raising activities of political parties, section 93 (3) of the 2010 Electoral Act stipulates that: A political party shall not accept any monetary contribution exceeding N1, 000,000.00 unless it can identify the source of the money or other contribution to the Commission.
However, information on election campaign expenditures are difficult to get but available reports detail the extent to which political parties flagrantly abused the Electoral Act. For instance, in the run off to the 2003 elections, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, President Olusegun Obasanjo and his running mate, Vice President Atiku Abubakar, raised over N5.5 billion naira as campaign finances. This amount overwhelmingly exceeded the maximum limits fixed by the 2002 Electoral Act. Similarly, former governors of Delta and Lagos states, James Ibori (PDP) and Bola Tinubu of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), who were the governorship candidates in that same election raised N2.3 billion and N1.3 billion respectively as campaign funds during the 2003 governorship election. Also, Bukola Saraki (PDP), in Kwara State raised N160 million, while Lucky Igbinedion (PDP) in Edo state raised N500 million. Others include the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Na’ Abba (PDP) and his deputy, Chibodom Nwuche (PDP), who raised N150 million and N500 million respectively. Great Ogboru (AD), governorship candidate in Edo state raised N200 million. It should be noted that apart from Saraki and Ogboru, all the other candidates were holding public offices and contesting gubernatorial elections for a second tenure.
The campaign funds raised by these candidates in the 2003 elections raises other fundamental questions. First, there were also no indication that political parties who failed to submit their election expenses to INEC where punished as provided for in section 79(1-2) of the same Act. The second issue is moral and ethical: what were the sources of these individual contributions? How did political office holders such as the President, Vice President, governors, ministers, legislators, etc in whose monthly emoluments were in the full glare of the public raise such huge sums of money to contribute to election campaign finances of candidates? What were the philanthropic posture of some of the companies that donated to these campaigns?
A financial adviser for the International Foundation on Electoral Systems confirmed this when he explained that no reliable information exists for how much money was spent during the 2011elections. The situation was not in any way different in 2015. Quite often, much of the donations that candidates and political parties receive are classified, while it is also difficult to track and quantify those that come in kind. For example, it is difficult to quantify the amount of money expended on media advertorials, which consumes a chunk of campaign finances. This is largely attributed to the haphazard nature the adverts were given out by political parties and the respective candidates. The 2010 Electoral Act (amended) requires political parties not only to submit their campaign expenses to INEC within six months after an election but shall ensure that same is published in at least two national newspapers [section 92(6)]. Regrettably, this is hardly the case. As one commentator puts it: “it is a fact that Nigeria has a history of not coming out with election spending figures, and data are equally unavailable on the actual spending of politicians on campaigns” In this connection, much of what is available is derived from newspaper reportage.
For instance, the PDP organized a fund raising dinner for its presidential candidate, President Goodluck Jonathan, at which it raised more than N22 billion, From just one fund raising dinner, Jonathan breached the maximum limits prescribed by the 2010 Electoral Act. Though the donors attempted to dodge these laws claiming their donations were made on behalf of groups, the Nigerian electoral law in section 91 (2)and 91 (9) clearly stipulate that neither individual nor group/entity may donate over N1 million.
However, a report of the campaign expenditure of both Jonathan and Buhari indicated that they both breached the maximum limits encapsulated in the Act.
The point being established here is that by our estimation, both candidates breached the income and expenditure limits set up in the 2010 Electoral Act. Despite spirited efforts by the PDP to cover up for the campaign funds it raised, their expenditure profile clearly shows that the two main political parties flagrantly flouted laid down laws on campaign financing since they both raised and spent more than N1 billion.
How campaigns are financed and what candidates and political parties does with donations can be the source of many integrity problems. It is believed that corruption and abuses related to the financing of elections and political parties are among the common dangers confronting democracies today. In Nigeria it is hard to forget the controversies surrounding how $2.1bn purportedly earmarked for acquisition of military hardware to prosecute the war against Boko Haram insurgents or the so- called security vote was allegedly diverted to finance the re-election campaign of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
In the United States, a cap is placed on the amount of money any individual can contribute to a political party and the parties must disclose the source of such donation. The maximum donation an individual can give to a political party or candidate is $1000 an equivalent of about N140, 000 in Nigeria. For any donation, which is above $200, the name, address and other information about the individual are furnished by the party to the relevant agency.
This practice in the U.S is in relation to federal election. The respective states in the U.S have various political finance laws, some of which are similar to the federal law. The information relating to donations are disclosed or filed with the relevant agency by political parties and Political Action Committees (PAC) who raise money for candidates. The efficiency of this system is further guaranteed by the strict enforcement of sanctions on defaulters.
In Canada, The financing of political campaigns has been an important electoral reform issue since at least the early 1970s. It has been the subject of much debate and examination, and prompted a number of studies and reviews by various bodies, including the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing (Lortie Commission). The issue has been driven largely by a growing concern over the cost of election campaigns, campaign spending by political parties and candidates, and the fundraising activities of political parties and candidates. Underlying the push for reform has also been a desire to introduce some degree of financial fairness among candidates and parties.
The 1974 Election Expenses Act introduced significant changes to the way election financing is regulated and effectively established a new regime for the financing of federal elections. Greater controls were imposed on election spending, notably in the areas of: spending limits; disclosure of campaign expenses; partial public financing of election campaigns; regulated political broadcasting and tax deductibility of electoral contributions to encourage individuals to contribute to parties and candidates.
To ensure campaign finance laws are respected a credible and effective system is usually an integral part of campaign regulation package. According to researcher on electoral systems, Michael pinto Duschinsky, “where high stakes are involved and where ambitious, clever politicians vie against each other; they will always try, often successfully to evade the law or at least to circumvent the aims of the law. To maintain the fairness of the electoral process and integrity in campaign finance system, good enforcement of well designed regulation is critical.
Last year, the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) announced it will henceforth sanction political parties that overshoot the ceiling of campaign funds as provided by law. The Chairman of INEC, Prof. Yakubu Mahmood, made the disclosure at a roundtable with the European Union delegation on election mission to Nigeria and West Africa which was attended by civil society organizations and other stakeholders in the electoral process.
There is no doubt that the plan by the electoral body to enforce the guidelines on campaign funding after eighteen years of restoration of democracy which has witnessed four major periodic elections is coming rather late. Nevertheless, it has become apposite to strengthen Nigeria’s political and electoral processes through a funding regime that is open to statutory monitoring and evaluation for the purposes of compliance, public scrutiny, and transparency.
In the past, attention have been drawn to the threats posed to the growth of the Nigerian economy by election spending, contending that there is an inextricable link between election spending and the health of the economy. In 2015, a consortium of CSOs noted that with the shift from governance and a lot of expenditure on campaign, the state of the economy in terms of depreciating exchange, inflation and reduced economic growth rate were bound to occur. One will have to wait to see if INEC has the commitment to match their words with action.