Thursday, May 19, 2011

Anatomy of the role of money in Nigeria’s 2011 elections

THE 2011 General Elections are over with local and international acclamation to the electoral commission. The elections were not flawless; however, Nigerians and foreign witnesses are unanimous that the just concluded polls were held in substantial compliance with the nation’s electoral laws. It is too early to pre-empt the political parties on the veracity of the election expenses they will submit to INEC in the next 6 months. But then, is six months not too long? I should think three months after the polls is okay, more so as candidates, who spend the bulk of the campaign money, are not yet under obligation to submit election expenses report.

This post election period, two major things must happen. The first is for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to rise up to its constitutional duty to enforce political finance provisions as contained in the statutes viz. the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) as well as the Political Party Finance Manual and Handbook. The second matter of urgent national importance is the amendment of these laws to make them more enforceable. The current legal framework requested three reports from the political parties. The first, according to section 89 of the Electoral Act 2010, is the annual statement of assets and liabilities, analysis of their sources of funds and other assets as well as their statements of expenditure. INEC is mandated to publish the report in three national newspapers.

The other report which is of greater interest to campaign finance experts is stated in section 92 of the current electoral act. Sub-section 3 of the clause says "Election expenses of a political party shall be submitted to the Commission in a separate audited return within 6 months after an election and such return shall be signed by the party’s auditors and counter signed by the chairman of the party and be supported by a sworn affidavit by the signatories as to the correctness of its contents". Sub-section 5 states that the return shall show the amount of money expended by or on behalf of the party on election expenses, the items of expenditure and the commercial value of goods and services received for election purpose. Sub section 6 mandated the political parties to publish this report in at least two national newspapers. The third report is requested of political parties in section 93 (4) and it states that "A political party sponsoring the election of a candidate shall within 3 months after the announcement of the results of the election, file a report of the contributions made by individuals and entities to the Commission". Hitherto, these provisions have been violated with impunity.

If the truth will be told, the last general election in Nigeria was the most expensive in the annals of our electoral democracy. Given the resources deployed by some of the wealthy candidates during the elections, there is no gainsaying the fact that the contestants showed scant regards for the provision of section 91 subsections 2 – 5 of the Electoral Act 2010 which placed a cap on the amount of money they are to spend on their campaigns. During the party primaries, campaigns and elections, humongous sum of money was deployed by the contestants to outdo each other. Apart from the legitimate spending on hiring campaign offices and staff, procuring office equipment and vehicles, running jingles and adverts, printing bill-boards and posters; there were also illegal expenses such as bribery of election officials to manipulate election figures, hiring of political thugs to foment trouble at polling centres, as well as outright vote buying.

Furthermore, many incumbent political office holders grossly abused the state and administrative resources (SARs) in their care thereby creating uneven playing field at the polls. It was an open secret that government aircrafts, vehicles, personnel, media and security agencies were used by the incumbents to the disadvantage of their co-contestants. This is in breach of provision of section 100 (2) which reads "State apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party and candidate at any election". The good news is that in spite of these misuses of SARs some incumbent political office holders still lost at the polls. This happened during the gubernatorial polls in Oyo, Nassarawa, Zamfara and Imo States.

What played out during the last general elections was foretold by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo when in his address at the INEC-Civil Society Forum on 27 November 2003 he rightly observed thus: "we prepare for elections as if we are going to war, and I can state without hesitation, drawing from my previous life, that the parties and candidates together spent during the last elections, more than would have been needed to fight a successful war. The will of the people cannot find expression and flourish in the face of so much money directed solely at achieving victory. Elective offices become mere commodities to be purchased by the highest bidder, and those who literally invest merely see it as an avenue to recoup and make profits. Politics becomes business, and the business of politics becomes merely to divert public funds from the crying needs of our people for real development in their lives"

He further said "With so much resources being deployed to capture elective offices, it is not difficult to see the correlation between politics and the potential for high level corruption. The greatest losers are the ordinary people, those voters whose faith and investment in the system are hijacked and subverted because money, not their will, is made the determining factor in elections. Can we not move from politics of money and materialism to politics of ideas, issues and development?" How prophetic! Eight years after the above statements were made, little or nothing has changed. We mustn’t forget that a former Senate President corroborated the above assertion of Ex-President Obasanjo when he said that many of them sold their property to contest elections and had to recoup their investment. Any wonder that 50 years after independence we still grapple with no light, no water, epileptic education sector, comatose health sector, death-traps called roads and mind-boggling unemployment? The incoming political office holders will most likely towed the path of their predecessors in office unless we, the masses, demand for transparent, accountable and good governance.

I couldn’t agree more with the Daily Independent editorial of May 12, 2011 which counselled that "As part of the process of strengthening our democracy, the country’s campaign finance laws must be tightened and enforced. At the moment they are only observed in the breach. The situation is rather ominous because our political establishment has found it unattractive to make the machinery of government less financially attractive. The near total absence of sensible accountability makes it even more dangerous." In reforming the campaign finance laws, candidates must be made to submit their audited election expense reports to INEC since they run flamboyant independent campaign offices outside their party secretariats.