Friday, February 4, 2011

The Nexus between campaign finance and electoral violence

Preparation for the fourth successive elections since Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999 is in top gear. In recent weeks, particularly from November 26, 2010 to January 15, 2011 all the 63 registered political parties in Nigeria have taken turns to organise their party congresses and conventions for the nomination of their candidates. In the process of organising these party primaries, political observers have witnessed two major incidents. First is the mind-blowing spending spree by the aspirants and their political parties. Second, there was also an unprecedented incident of electoral violence be it physical, psychological or structural. This piece is an attempt to establish the nexus between campaign finance and electoral violence.

As this is a season of high wire politics, it is therefore not surprising that those competing for positions at the general elections in April 2011 jostled to out-spend one another in order to get nominated as flag bearers of their political parties. Not only did aspirants campaign offices sprout with alacrity, there was also a significant increase in the number of bill-boards, newspaper and television adverts, radio jingles, live telecast of party congresses and conventions, automobile branding, stickers, engagement of social networking media such as facebook, twitter etcetera, all in a bid to solicit votes from the delegates meant to pick the parties candidates. These are all legitimate spending in any serious political contest.

On the flip side however, just as many of the aspirants spent legitimate amount contesting for the tickets of their political parties, some of them additionally employ the Machiavellian principle of ‘the end justifies the means’ by funding thugs to kill and maim their opponents or to disrupt party primaries. Most of the Nigerian dailies are replete with news of incidences of electoral violence. For instance, Vanguard newspaper reported in its December 29, 2010 edition that crowd violence marred the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Ward congress in Benue State and that scores of people were also injured at the campaign rally of Beimo Rufus-Spiff, a governorship aspirant under the platform of PDP in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
On December 30, 2010, the factional leader of the Oyo State National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Alhaji Lateef Salako (aka Eleweomo) was murdered in Ibadan at the venue of PDP Local Government congress. A medical doctor, Dr. Akpan Akpudo who was an aspirant to the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly was murdered on Saturday, January 1, 2011. Furthermore, suspected thugs on Friday, January 7, 2011 attacked the Labour Party governorship aspirant in Bayelsa State, Mr. Timi Alaibe and his supporters at his country home at Opokuma area of the state killing four persons while Daily Trust newspaper of Friday, January 14, 2011 also reported that six persons were killed in various parts of Edo State during the Action Congress of Nigeria’s (ACN) primaries held from January 12 – 13, 2011. The list is by no means exhaustive; I have cited these few instances to show that Nigerian politicians have devised all sorts of foul means to edge out their opponents in a contest that ordinarily should be devoid of rancour since the commonly mouthed objective is to serve the people.

The aforementioned has shown that there is a strong connection between campaign finance and electoral violence. The rationale behind the resort to violence during campaigns is multifarious. Top on the list is the perks of political office in Nigeria. In terms of salaries, the Nigerian political office holders receive reasonable wages. However, the allowances are too many and very enticing. Aside the emoluments are the high level of influence a Nigerian political office holder peddles. Due to the weakness of democratic institutions perhaps traceable to the about three decades of military interventions in Nigerian politics, the checks and balances that are supposed to moderate the inter-agency and inter-governmental relationships is virtually non-existing or better still, not very effective. These ineffective checks and balances created several loopholes for operators and regulators of Nigeria’s political systems to take advantage of. This accounts for the high incidences of corrupt practices in Nigeria so much so that the country in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index in 2010 ranks 134 amongst 177 countries.

Politics, as it were, is the biggest and most rewarding industry in Nigeria. The dividends are higher than that given by telecommunications or oil and gas industry. A pauper of yesterday, if he plays his game right and gets elected into any political office, within few months, such fellow would start to indulge in ostentatious living to the envy of his peers outside politics. This is the main attraction why political office seekers abandon decorum to engage in politics of gangsterism or ‘do or die’. Concomitant to this is the high cost of electioneering in Nigeria. The legitimate cost incurred contesting for political office is too high and this makes aspirants not to brook failure of their ambition. Injustices meted out by party executives to some of the aspirants could also warrant violence as there were many reported cases of imposition of candidates and all manner of sharp and malpractices during the just concluded party congresses and conventions. Considering the fact that all the aspirants were made to pay huge sums of money for Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms as well as incurring other sundry expenses it is unfair to exhibit preferential treatments for some of the aspirants.

The ultimate solution to the phenomenon of electoral violence in Nigeria is for the government to block avenues for corrupt enrichment in politics, reduce the cost of electioneering as well as observe the principles of internal democracy in political party administration.