Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Creating level playing field for 2011 elections

WITH the passage of the amended 1999 Constitution and Electoral Act 2010, the nomination, screening and inauguration of the board of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the release of timetable for the 2011 polls by INEC on September 7, 2010, the stage is gradually being set for the next general elections which may hold January or April 2011.

As we are in the season of political declarations and endorsements, it is important to remind our political elite to play by the rule. If the forthcoming election will be adjudged free, fair and credible, all attempts must be made to regulate the influence of money on the outcome of the polls. How political parties and contestants raise and spend money must be closely monitored to ensure that it is in strict compliance with the extant political finance regulations. Political finance covers both legal and illegal sourcing and spending of money in a political process. It also covers the use of State and Administrative Resources (SARs). These are resources of the State meant for good governance. During the electioneering process, abuse of state and administrative resources is very rampant. Misapplication of SARs includes the use of state finances or government money as well as other tangible and intangible resources of the State to gain undue advantage in the electoral contest. These resources include regulatory, legislative, media, institutional and coercive resources of government.

Ahead of the 2011 elections and in order to create a level playing field for all the actors in the electoral process, particularly the contestants, the Electoral Act 2010 attempted a ban on the misuse of SARs. Section 100 (2) of the new act explicitly says “State apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election”. Subsection 3 says: “Media time shall be allocated equally among the political parties or candidates at similar hours of the day”. Subsection 4 states that “At any public electronic media, equal time shall be allotted to all political parties or candidates during prime times at similar hours each day, subject to the payment of appropriate fees”. Sub section 5 reads: “At any public print media, equal coverage and conspicuity shall be allotted to all the political parties”. Sub section 6 fixed penalty for breach of subsections 3 and 4 of this clause at N500,000 in the first instance and N1million for subsequent infractions.

What the aforementioned S. 100(2) attempts to do is to place a blanket embargo on the use of all forms of state apparatus be it institutional, coercive, legal, media or any other to the favour or disfavour of any political party or candidate. Thus, it is wrong to use State resources such as government funds, aircraft, vehicles, personnel, building or offices, and agencies for politicking or campaigns.

This provision is not new. It was in Section 103 of the Electoral Act 2006. However, it was observed more in breach. State apparatus were fully deployed by many political office holders during the campaigns for the 2007 elections and indeed all previous elections. Remember the government’s sudden declaration of two days public holiday on 12 and 13 April 2007 ostensibly to allow people to travel to their hometowns to vote but really in order to frustrate Supreme Court adjudication on former Vice President Atiku’s case about his eligibility to contest the 2007 presidential polls. We must not also forget the alleged biased role some of the government agencies like the police, State Security Services, public media and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission were made to play in the last general election.

Will things be different this time around? I doubt. It is good to know that President Goodluck Jonathan publicly said on Monday, September 27, 2010 that he has never and would not use State funds for his presidential campaign ahead of the 2011 polls; however, on that same day in Owerri, Imo State, the Igbo Political Forum made up of prominent politicians from Igboland were locked out of Imo Concorde Hotel venue of their conference. This is because they were perceived to be working against the interest of the political establishment in the State and at the federal level. Attempt to secure other Hotel facility around for their meeting was also thwarted by security agencies. This is clearly a case of abuse of state and administrative resources.

The other clause of the Electoral Act 2010 which disapproves the exploitation of State and Administrative Resources is Section 87. This clause dictates the candidates’ nomination process for political parties. It emphasised the need for voting in the choice of party flag- bearers. The most interesting part of this provision is subsection 8 which says: “No political appointee at any level shall be a voting delegate at the convention and congress of any political parties for the purpose of nomination of candidates for any election”. Hitherto, most, if not all, political appointees are automatic delegates to most of Nigeria’s party primaries. Little wonder some of them appoint hundreds of aides without portfolio. The nobility of this clause, if implemented, is that it will ensure that incumbent political office holders do not have undue advantage over other aspirants at party primaries.

As the election approaches, relevant stakeholders in the electoral process such as the media, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and the election management bodies (INEC and SIECs) must brace up to educate political parties and candidates on these vital provisions and blow whistle when there is a breach. The umpire, which is INEC, has an added responsibility of enforcing compliance of political parties and candidates with the above-mentioned and other political finance regulations.