Monday, August 22, 2011

Rethinking Public Funding of Parties in Nigeria

At a lecture titled ‘Nigeria’s 2011 General Elections: The international dimensions and challenges’, organised by the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs in Lagos on August 8, 2011, INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega inter alia said: “INEC is also having challenges from the 63 political parties. They wanted funding from INEC, there was a legal frame work for it in the past; they have been receiving funding in the past and now the legal frame work has been removed. We have refused to fund them and this is creating problems for us.” Former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Mohammed Uwais recently canvassed for the payment of public grant to political parties by the Federal Government. This, he said, will assist the parties in offsetting their electoral and other bills. Uwais told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja that subscriptions from members were inadequate to fund the operations of political parties. “Ideally, parties should finance their campaigns. But even in advanced countries like Germany and France, grants are given to parties to assist them in contesting elections.’’

Justice Uwais chaired the 22 member Electoral Reform Committee that sat between August 2007 to December 2008. ERC had recommended in its final report that: “Government should continue to fund political parties either directly or through the INEC. The political parties should be encouraged to raise funds of their own through the sale of forms to candidates, fund-raising exercises, individual or corporate donations as well as undertaking commercial activities.” The Committee further proposed that “The funding of political parties should be based on their performance in general elections. After the 2011 election only parties that score a minimum of 2.5 per cent of the votes should be eligible to receive grants from public funds.” (See pages 39 -40 of the ERC Main Report).

The major lacuna with the precondition set by ERC for funding of political parties is its failure to prescribe how the minimum of 2.5 percent of the votes will be computed given the fact that some political parties may not contest for all elective positions during the general election. It would be recalled that only 20 out of the 63 political parties contested the 2011 presidential elections while there were also no gubernatorial elections in about 11 out of 36 states in Nigeria during the polls.

Prior to ERC recommendations, the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria had prescribed in section 228 ( c ) that the National Assembly may by law provide “for an annual grant to the Independent National Electoral Commission for disbursement to political parties on a fair and equitable basis to assist them in the discharge of their functions.” Concomitantly, 2006 Electoral Act in section 91 (1) says “.....the National Assembly may make an annual grant to the Commission for distribution to the registered political parties to assist them in their operation. (2) The Commission shall distribute such grant as follows: (a) 10% of the grant shall be shared equally among all the registered political parties; (b) the remaining 90% of the grant shall be shared among the registered political parties in proportion to the number of seats won by each party in the National Assembly.” It is noteworthy that this sharing formula was contested by Conference of Nigerian Political Parties and the court gave them a favourable judgement asking INEC to share the grant in a fair and equitable manner.

As Nigeria approaches another round of alterations of her electoral laws, it is important for the National Assembly to revisit the issue of public funding for political parties. In line with popular trend around the world, I think public funding of political parties is desirable given the fact that much resources are not coming into the parties from membership dues, fund-raisers and other legitimate sources. Moreover, the Constitution had barred these parties from accepting donation from abroad or from unwholesome sources. The current legal regime, if allowed to stay, will only be beneficial to big parties who have been able to win seats to form government.

N.B: This article was written before INEC's de-registration of seven political parties on 18 August 2011