Wednesday, November 30, 2011

ENSIEC and Campaign Finance

Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) is one of the 36 state electoral commissions in Nigeria. The Commission is at present making earnest preparations for the conduct of chairmanship and councillorship elections into the 17 Local Government Areas of the State. ENSIEC recently released the official guidelines for the elections. The 3rd September 211 official gazette titled “E.S.L.N. No. 6 of 2011 – Enugu State Independent Electoral Commission (ENSIEC) Guidelines for Local Government Council Elections Scheduled for the 10th December 2011” has a total of seventeen sections. Of greater relevance to this writer are the sections related to campaign finance in the guidelines.

Section 3 (n) of the document states that “each candidate shall pay a non-refundable deposit of two hundred thousand naira (N200, 000) for Chairmanship candidates and fifty thousand naira (N50, 000) for Councillorship candidates.” This same provision was repeated verbatim as a possible ground for disqualification in section 13 (f). It is noteworthy that this clause is neither in the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended), Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) nor does it exist in the guidelines for election by Independent National Electoral Commission which is the statutory body that conducts all other strands of elections apart from the council polls.

My investigation shows that due to the unhealthy state of funding for local government polls by State governors in Nigeria, some state electoral commissions decided to charge administrative fees on candidates running for council elections. It is noteworthy that the levy is not on aspirants but on candidates. Apart from being a source of additional revenue to SIECs, such administrative fee also ensures that only serious candidates contest for council elections. Of course, many political parties and candidates have kicked against such charges which they call illegal and exorbitant. Some of them have gone further to sue the state independent electoral commissions over the issue.

As earlier noted, it is not all the SIECs that charges this non-refundable deposits neither is the amount charged uniform across the states that demand such fees. For instance, River State Independent Electoral Commission (RISEC) charges a token of N5, 000 for Councillorship and N10, 000 for Chairmanship positions. My inquiry reveals that these fees are refundable in certain circumstances. So it depends on how well funded the state electoral commission is that determines whether it explores other sources of income. Quite unfortunately, it is the contestants that bear the brunt of such additional charges as many aspirants would have spent money to purchase their nomination forms from their respective political parties.

Another ENSIEC requirement that borders on campaign finance is contained in section 3(p) (iii) which states that “Candidates for screening shall come along with the following: 3 years tax clearance certificate paid as and at when due preceding the local government elections. The tax clearance certificate must show the seal and the signature of the Board of Internal Revenue (BIR).” This, I think, is to ensure that those coming to govern the local government are responsible citizens who performs their civic duties as at when due.

The guideline in section 4 (h) frowns at vote buying. It states that: “Bribery or other forms of inducement to voters, either directly or indirectly, shall be avoided by candidates and their agents.” This is one of the ways ENSIEC hopes to create a level playing field for all the contestants. A curious provision is contained in section 6 (a) of the guideline. It states that “The candidates may print posters of any size not exceeding 14*16 inch size for the elections.” Why the specification?

Two possible grounds on which a candidate can be declared unfit to contest as councillor or chairman of a local government in Enugu State is if he or she is bankrupt and /or has been indicted for embezzlement by a panel of enquiry. In the past, indictment by any panels of enquiry has been used to weed out unfavoured candidates. In tandem with what now obtains at the federal level, it would have been better if ENSIEC disqualifies candidates based on indictment for corruption by court of competent jurisdiction.

Section 8 (4) of the guideline also bars chairman of a local government in Enugu State from holding “any other executive office or paid employment whatsoever, during his tenure of office” This is possibly aimed at preventing conflict of interest. This plethora of regulations notwithstanding, does ENSIEC has the manpower, resources and the technical knowledge to enforce these guidelines?