Thursday, April 28, 2011

Campaign Finance and Nigeria’s 2011 Elections

Nigeria is at the threshold of breaking the jinx of her election debacle. With the elections already held and adjudged by local and international observer groups as largely free, fair and credible. Majority of Nigerians have also endorsed the credibility of the polls. It is not yet a perfect election but the verdicts of compatriots and foreign observers on 2011 General Elections are indeed heartwarming. In spite of the positive reactions on the about to be concluded elections, two major challenges still need to be surmounted. The first being the pockets of election related violence in some parts of the country. The second is that of enforcement of campaign finance regulations as contained in different legal frameworks viz. 1999 Constitution as amended; Electoral Act 2010 as amended; Companies and Allied Matters Act 1990 and Political Finance Manual and Handbook 2011.

Some of the frontline candidates, in a bid to escape the breach of the various electoral codes, resorted to third party spending. Few of the presidential candidates deeply involved in third party spending are: President-elect Goodluck Jonathan of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); Gen. Mohammadu Buhari of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Malam Nuhu Ribadu of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Malam Ibrahim Shekarau of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). For instance, most of the jingles and adverts of Candidate Goodluck Jonathan were credited to groups such as Neighbor to Neighbor for Transformation, One Nigeria Coalition, Voice of the Electorates (VOTE), PDP Integrity Vanguard, Mass Interest Project and Nigerian Progress Forum. Given the very robust campaigns ran by these big four presidential candidates, there is every likelihood that they may have overshot the N1 billion ceiling placed on presidential campaign finance by section 91 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended.

Even for the gubernatorial elections, the governors of Lagos, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom and Imo States have been spending humongous amount on their re-election bid. Of the lot, Governor Babatunde Fashola is the biggest spender. Major television networks, radio, newspapers and bill-boards are filled with adverts and jingles of the amiable Lagos State Governor. If the aforementioned 4 governors could spend so much on adverts and jingles alone, one wonders how much they have spent on their campaign rallies some of which were transmitted live on T.V networks. It will be hard to believe that they are still within the N200 million threshold stipulated as the ceiling for governorship candidates in section 91(3) of Electoral Act 2010. Of course, many of these governors, like their colleagues that contested the presidency, engaged in third party spending. For instance, some of Governor Fashola’s adverts were allegedly sponsored by Committee for Better Lagos and The Achievers Collective.

Besides, there have also been all manner of unsubstantiated allegations of vote buying particularly in Adamawa, Kwara and many of the south-east states. For example, Gen. Buba Marwa (Rtd.) the CPC candidate for the governorship election in Adamawa State alleged in the Daily Trust of February 15 that “The Adamawa State government is buying up voters’ cards at very ridiculous prizes as low as N100, N200 and so on. But it does not end there, to the surprise of many, these cards are being destroyed”. Desperate politicians are also inducing some electoral officials to manipulate election results in their favour. One of such instances was that of Paul Uwugiaren, an INEC collation officer in Ugbogui Ward 8 of Ovia federal constituency of Edo State who allegedly admitted to have been given N5 million to falsify result of the parliamentary elections held on April 9, 2011.

Moreover, many incumbent political office holders have been using state and administrative resources for their campaigns. Government aircrafts, vehicles, personnel, media and money are often used to oil their campaigns. For example, ex- Governor Rashidi Ladoja of Oyo State threatened to petition the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) when the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS) consistently rejected his political advertisements. The good news is that the NBC had sanctioned a total of 33 broadcasting stations for breaching section 101 (1) of Electoral Act 2010 as amended by airing political advertisement 24 hours to election. It is hoped that the Independent National Electoral Commission will start enforcing political finance regulations in Nigeria.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Issues in Nigeria’s 2011 Budget

The 2011 budget is supposed to signal the beginning of fiscal consolidation, but we now have another expansionary budget which is unimplementable. If we are to build our economy on a solid foundation and avoid the boom and burst of the past, it is critical that we embrace discipline in the way we manage public finances. We cannot continue like this – Olusegun Aganga, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance

Even in this electioneering period, we must not lose focus of governance. Budget is key to governance and in Nigeria; it has been an albatross, as perennially, the country keep experiencing low budget implementation. On Wednesday, 16 March 2011, both chambers of the National Assembly passed a harmonised budget of N4, 971,881,652,689. Out of the sum, N2,467,168,724,129 is for recurrent expenditure, N1,562,999,158,775 is for capital expenditure, N445,096,682,115 was earmarked for debt servicing, and N496,617,087,670 for statutory transfers. The budget has oil price benchmark of $75 per barrel, crude oil production of 2.3 million barrels per day, exchange rate of N150 to the Dollar, $5.4 billion for joint venture production, and seven per cent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) target.

Meanwhile, when the budget was presented by President Goodluck Jonathan on 15 December 2010, the total expenditure estimate for 2011 was N4.2 trillion out of which N1.005 trillion is for capital expenditure, N2.481 trillion was projected for recurrent (non-debt) expenditure, debt service got N542 billion with N196 billion for statutory transfers. Key economic assumptions in the budget provided for an oil production of 2.3 million barrels per day at a benchmark oil price of $65 per barrel. Exchange rate was put at N150 per USD$ while Joint Venture Cash Calls was $5.4 billion with a projected growth rate of 7 percent. Projected budget deficit was 3.62 percent of the GDP.

Just like the Finance Minister, I have issues with Nigeria’s 2011 budget. It would be recalled that during the budget presentation ceremony, the Senate President, David Mark vowed that the National Assembly (NASS) will slash overheads expenditure for all agencies under the three arms of government in order to release more funds to capital projects. According to Mark, “based on realities of our economic situation and the need to channel our scarce resources towards nation building, we must drastically cut down the cost of running government vertically and horizontally in the three arms of government as well as the three tiers of our federating unit.” He also observed rightly that the cost of running government has been increasing at an unsustainable rate and that we must all rise together and address it.

It is therefore shocking to learn that the National Assembly not only hiked the budget by over N700 billion, NASS unilaterally increased its budget from the initial N111.23 billion to N232,736,480,135. Part of the reasons advanced by the parliamentarians for the overall budget increase was the additional proposals received from the executive branch with adjustment, differentials and errors in the sum of N312 billion to augment Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs) key priority expenditure. It does seem the executive branch was not fully ready as at the time it presented the budget to the parliament in 2010. The explanation by chairman of House of Representative Committee on Appropriation, Hon. Ayo Adeseun that NASS hiked its budget “in order to establish the independence of the legislature and ensure its ability to check the excesses of the Executive” is very nauseating and ridiculous.

The second issue was that the appropriation bill was passed in spite of the declaration by the Speaker of House of Representatives that the parliament will not pass the appropriation bill unless the budgets of the 31 government agencies such as Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) are submitted to the parliament. This is in accordance with provision of part 4, section 21, sub-section 1 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act. It is startling that government agencies can act with such impunity and disdain for rule of law, transparency and accountability and due process.

The other concern I have with the passed appropriation bill is the lopsided budget in favour of recurrent expenditure as against the capital vote. A nation that wants to achieve Vision 20: 2020 in nine years time cannot continue to put more resources on salary and allowances at the expense of infrastructural development. While the capital vote increased marginally from the initial N1. 005 trillion in December 2010 to N1.5 trillion in March 2011, the recurrent expenditure remain essentially same while there was a quantum leap in the statutory transfers from N196 billion to N496 billion. A whopping N446 billion has also been earmarked for debt servicing. In spite of oil windfall arising from the political uprising in North Africa and the Middle East, Nigeria in January floated a $500 million Eurobond while $900 million loan from the Export-Import (EXIM) bank of China was secured for the implementation of the $500 million Abuja-Kaduna Railway project and the $400 million National Public Security Communications project. Steadily, Nigeria is sliding into debt burden again.

Under recurrent (non-debt) expenditure, I found the N63,252,948,842 budget for the office of National Security Adviser, N67,604,822,204 for the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and N29,583,128,892 for the Presidency quite bloated and out of tune with the present economic realities. On the capital expenditure, I do not quite understand what the N100 billion allocated for presidential intervention project was meant to achieve. Already, the 2010 budget has lapsed on March 31 and the president is yet to sign the new budget as at the time of writing this piece in April. Gradually, the ground is being prepared for another failed budget. More importantly, I pray that all these huge figures will transform to better lives for Nigerian suffering masses.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Nigerian youths and 2011 elections

Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfil or betray it – Frantz Fanon

The zero hour to the Nigerian April 2011 polls is imminent. According to the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, the Commission is fully ready to deliver on credible elections. He however posed a poser for other democratic institutions: Are the political parties ready? Is the media ready? Is the judiciary ready? Are the security agencies ready? Are the civil society organisations ready? As part of the preparations for the general elections, INEC has released the guidelines for the elections as well as the Notice of Polls in accordance with section 46 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). According to the notice, the April elections will hold as follows: April 2 - National Assembly elections (i.e. Senate and House of Representative); April 9 - Presidential elections and April 16 - Governorship and State House of Assembly elections.

All the three elections will commence with accreditation from 8am to 12noon while actual voting will commence by 12:30pm and ends when the last accredited voter on the queue casts his/her vote. Only those who registered between January 15 and February 2, 2011 are eligible to vote. April elections will hold in approximately 245,000 voting points, 119, 973 Polling Units, 8,809 Ward Centres, 774 Local Government Areas, 36 States and FCT. There will be a maximum of 300 voters allotted to each Voting Points and 420,000 ad-hoc and regular INEC staffers have been trained to conduct the polls. Balloting will be via finger-printing and not thumb-printing. This means voters can use any of their fingers to mark their choice political party.

I have been reflecting on the preparation for the election and have come to the conclusion that the April 2011 election is one in which the Nigerian youths are poised to play a pivotal role. President Olusegun Obasanjo in a foreword on the National Youth Policy and Strategic Action Plan 2001 gave a comprehensive attributes of youths.

According to the elder statesman: “Youths are the foundation of a society. Their energy, inventiveness, character and orientation define the pace of development and the security of a nation. Through their creative talents and labour power, a nation makes giant strides in economic development and socio-political attainments. In their dreams and hopes, a nation founds her motivation; on their energies, she builds her vitality and purpose. And because of their dreams and aspirations, the future of a nation is assured.” How true!

Since the beginning of the preparation for the 2011 elections and in clear affirmation of the saying that “life is a unity of opposites”, Nigerian youths have been playing both noble and ignoble roles. However, let us first examine the entire parameters of the involvement of youths in the forthcoming elections. If we agree with National Youth Policy that put the age bracket of youths in Nigeria at between 18 and 35 years, we will discover that the bulk of the INEC staff (both permanent and ad-hoc) who will conduct the coming general elections are youths. In fact, as a matter of policy, INEC had entered into a memorandum of understanding with the management of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) scheme to use the Youth Corps members as ad-hoc staff for the elections. It would be recalled that about 80 per cent of the workforce mobilised for the conduct of the voters registration exercise in January were those on national service. These youth corps members have also been trained for the conduct of April polls.

About 313 civil society organisations have been accredited by INEC to observe the coming general elections. Assuredly, between 70 to 80 per cent of the accredited observers and journalists to be deployed for the elections are youths. Similarly, officers and men of the security agencies that will maintain law and order during the elections are also going to be youths. Even the party agents that will observe the conduct of the elections are going to be youths while adolescences have been most active in many of the campaign organisations that have been floated by political parties and their candidates.

Indeed, some of those who are nominated candidates in the elections are actually youths. This is because according to the 1999 Constitution as amended, a youth can be a Governor as section 177(b) puts minimum age of a Governor at 35 years; Section 65 (1a and b) peg the minimum age of a Senator at 35 years and that of a House of Reps at 30 years; Section 106 (b) puts the minimum age of a member of State House of Assembly at 30 years. Youths are also at liberty to contest for Chairmanship and Councillorship of Local Government and Area Councils when the time comes.

Furthermore, section 147 (5) and 192 (4) of 1999 Constitution, by inference, have put the age limit for Ministers and Commissioners at 30 years. Some of the lawyers and perhaps judges who will be involved in the election dispute resolution process might be youths while there is no gainsaying the fact that the bulk of potential voters in the April elections are youths as they form more than half of the 73.5 million persons on INEC’s National Register of Voters. Thus, given the above analysis, the credibility or otherwise of the April general elections rest squarely on youths as they can make or mar the polls.

Hitherto, while some youths have been deeply involved in fomenting electoral violence through wilful and malicious destruction of lives and property; other youths have been playing noble roles. Some of those youths have organised themselves into groups such as ‘Enough is Enough’; Light Up Naija; Reclaim Naija; Youngstar Foundation etc. These youth groups were involved in massive voter education and mobilisation during the voters registeration exercise. They came up with acronyms such as RSVP which means Register, Select, Vote and Protect and POMP meaning Pray, Organise, Mobilise and Participate. These youth groups are using different strategies to mobilise electorates to exercise their franchise come April. These include using social networking media such as facebook, twitter, blogs, e-mail, SMS etc.

As the d-day approaches, it behoves Nigerian youths who will participate in the conduct of the 2011 elections to remember that what Nigeria is about to witness in April is our own revolution the kind of which currently goes on in North Africa and Middle East. It is in their hands to effect positive change in our polity. History beckons!