Monday, January 25, 2010

Questionable Fundraiser for Soludo

There are three primary motives for writing this article. The first is that this administration prides itself as being based on rule of law, hence it is imperative to hold it accountable to its commitment; second reason is to sensitize Nigerians on the principles of political finance as we prepare for 2011 elections and the third is to alert the National Assembly Constitution review committees to plug the loopholes in our political finance laws as they amend the 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2006. At a fundraiser held on Tuesday, January 12, 2010 for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) candidate in the February 6 gubernatorial election in Anambra State, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, a princely sum of N2 billion was claimed to have been realised at the event. However, there are questions arising from the event which need to be addressed. Before raising the posers, let’s refresh our minds about the story.
Most of the Nigerian dailies of January 14, 2010 reported the fundraising dinner held in support of Charles Soludo by the PDP Finance Committee headed by Governor Isa Yuguda of Bauchi State. Dignitaries present at the dinner were Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, PDP governors, ministers, PDP National Assembly members, Speakers of State Houses of Assembly among others. Details of donation at the event shows that the Chief Launcher, Prince Arthur Eze made a donation of N250 million, followed by Chairman of the occasion, Sir Emeka Offor, who donated N100 million. Chief Ifeanyi Ben Okoye and Chief Ikechi Emenike donated N10 million respectively. The PDP Governors jointly donated N1.5 billion.
The questions are: from which purse did the PDP governors take their N1.5 billion joint contribution? Is it their States’ coffers or their private pockets? Are the organiser and donors at the event aware of Nigeria’s campaign finance regulations? I asked these questions because section 93(2) of the Electoral Act 2006 states that “the maximum of election expenses to be incurred by a candidate at a Governorship election shall be (N100, 000,000).” Is the two billion Naira raised by PDP for candidate Soludo not an infraction on this provision? Section 93 (9) also said “no individual or other entity shall donate more than (N1, 000,000) to any candidate” Is it not obvious going by this section that all those who donated above N1 million at the aforementioned fundraiser did so in clear breach of the law?
The issue of political finance has been a serious challenge in Nigerian politics. It is under-reported either out of ignorance of its effect or nonchalance. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, a political finance expert, gave a broad definition of political finance as inclusive of thirteen different things. These are Election campaign funds; Political party funds; Grants to elected officials; Political organization funds; Pressure and interest group funds; Political lobbying funds; Litigation funds in politically relevant cases; Partisan mass media funds; Corrupt political funds; Unofficial payments to elected officials; Unofficial payments to civil servants; Unofficial payments to the mass media and Payments intended to improve the electoral process. Thus, it is obvious that the wide gamut of political finance covers both legal and illegal income and expenditures. Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution and the Electoral Act 2006 as well as the Political Finance Handbook and Manual are replete with clauses that meet international best practices. As usual, our challenge has been that of faithful implementation.
1999 Constitution states in section 221 that “no association, other than a political party, shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any election or contribute to the funds of any political party or to the election expenses of any candidate at an election. This section has been observed more in breach as many private and public organizations are known to donate monies and gifts to the campaign funds of some of the political parties and candidates. During the 2003 general elections campaigns, many banks, construction companies and even the Nigerian Stock Exchange came together under the pseudonym of Corporate Nigeria to donate billions of naira to the campaign funds of some presidential and gubernatorial candidates.
One key aspect of political finance is the use of State and Administrative Resources to pursue electoral contest. These SAR could be financial or in-kind resources of government. Using State and Administrative Resources for personal aggrandizement or purposes for which they are not meant is an abuse. These abuses manifest in form of misuse of financial, regulatory, legislative, media, institutional and coercive resources of government. For example, the Electoral Act 2006 made it clear in S.103 (2) that: State apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election” Yet, instances abound where incumbent public office holders monopolize the public media to the disadvantage of their opponents.
There is a thin line between political finance and political corruption. We are all living witnesses to what unregulated political finance caused Anambra State between 1999 and 2006. The truth is that ‘nothing is free, even in Freetown’. Those who donated tens and hundreds of million Naira to the Soludo fundraiser are not doing it for altruistic purpose. It is a business investment which must be duly repaid with huge interest on assumption of office of the candidate, if he wins. This is part of the reasons the law attempts to regulate party and campaign finance. A major lacuna in the extant political finance regulation is lack of provision to compel candidates to submit audited election expenses report to Independent National Electoral Commission as presently required of political parties.
PDP candidate is not the only one out of the 25 contesting the gubernatorial polls in Anambra that may have breached the political finance laws; all the high profile candidates are likely to have spent above the approved benchmark. Will INEC, as the regulator of political party activities in Nigeria, enforce the rules?