Thursday, August 2, 2012

Proposals for Political Finance Reform in Nigeria

Nigeria has often been cited by political finance experts as an example of a country with strong laws on political finance regulations. The country’s statutes, viz: the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended; the Electoral Act 2010, as amended; the constitutions of the political parties, the Political Finance Manual and Handbook, the Companies and Allied Matters Act and the Code of Conduct for political parties all contain provisions that aim at regulating political finance in Nigeria. Be that as it may, there are inherent problems with the laws, hence the need for further reform of the legislations. Good enough, Nigeria’s National Assembly is in the process of altering the 1999 Constitution. Aside the weaknesses in the law, there is the challenge of law enforcement by the regulator.  Some of the following proposals are targeted at legislative reform; policy reform and institutional reform.

It is proposed that candidates must have the obligation to submit election expenses report to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the case of general elections and State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) in the case of Local Government elections. The rationale behind this is that candidates spend more on their campaigns than their political parties. More so, the electoral law limits election expenses candidates can incur (Section 91 of Electoral Act 2010, as amended), they should therefore be made answerable for any breach of political finance regulations.

It is also advocated that public funding of political parties should be restored. However, stringent conditions must be set for political parties to access this fund. Political parties could be asked to write a funding proposal to INEC stating what they intend to do with the required fund. This proposal could be assessed by a select committee of internal and external assessors to be appointed by the Commission. The disbursement could be in tranches to be released upon satisfactory performances and achievement of certain benchmarks or milestones. This will ensure that there is value for money remitted to these political parties.

Nigerian law should capture third party spending. It has been discovered that high profile candidates use third parties such as Committee of Friends or other pseudo Non-Governmental Organizations to spend above the permissible limits. In the recently concluded election in Edo State, a TV advert was alleged to have been sponsored by members of one of the parties contesting the election who are based in Dublin, Ireland. Not only does the Constitution in Section 225(3) prohibit possession of foreign funding, the monies spent by third party are difficult to track and pin on the contestants.

For effective enforcement, Nigerian political parties will need to introduce internal control mechanisms in the form of financial agents and managers, code of conduct, accounting procedures, financial checks and balances and ethical committees to help oversee financial management and fundraising activities. Electoral law can be amended to make this mandatory for all registered political parties. Political parties should outlaw separate campaign office by aspirants and candidates. Such practice usually weakens party supremacy, and promotes corruption. Moreover, Nigeria should borrow a leaf from the Liberian example where all party candidates are made to publicly declare their assets before they can be issued a nomination form by their parties. Besides, anyone who wins an election without a financial report will not be sworn in.

It is also imperative to review the Act setting up the Code of Conduct Bureau to declassify the asset declaration forms of all elected public office holders and political appointees This is to enhance transparency and accountability. Furthermore, there should be a law permitting the auditing of campaign donations to candidates; any excess not expended on the campaign should either be forfeited to government or donated in aid of some public cause. The law should be amended to grant Nigerian citizens locus or recognition to engage in public interest litigation on political finance enforcement. This can be hinged on the Freedom of Information Act 2011. Citizens can also go to court to seek order of mandamus to compel INEC to enforce political finance regulations.

On policy reforms, it is imperative to have an impartial and timely enforcement of the existing regulations by INEC, SIECs and anti-corruption agencies that brings at least some kind of sanctions against violators. It is hoped that INEC particularly will take advantage of the prosecutorial powers granted it by S. 150(2) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. INEC needs to make a scapegoat of perpetual violators of political finance regulations by prosecuting them in courts.

There is an imperative need to educate Nigerians on the legal restrictions on campaign finance; damaging effects of political corruption as well as the need to demand for accountability from their political parties and candidates. Political parties should be true to their Code of Conduct as contained in the section on Political Finance. Other Nigerian political parties should take a cue from the Peoples Democratic Party by establishing enterprises and economic ventures that can help boost their internally generated revenue. It would be recalled that a news report in one of the Nigerian newspapers had reported in June 2012 that PDP is planning to set up a holding company that will acquire oil and telecommunications licenses as well as engage in real estate business. The party through its holding company also plans to establish print and electronic media companies. This is exemplary.

In terms of institutional reform, there is a need for robust collaboration between and among INEC, SIECs, Federal Inland Revenue Service (Tax Office), Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), State Security Service, the Police, the Judiciary, professional bodies like the various accounting organizations, Nigerian Bar Association and anti-corruption agencies like EFCC, ICPC and Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) in the crusade against political corruption.
Government at all levels needs to join in the fight against poverty and corruption which are bane of our democracy. It is also imperative to strengthen the capacity of SIECs and INEC to deal with the problem of party finance. The capacity of political parties should be adequately built to keep proper records of financial transactions. The standing Inter-Party Advisory Committee (IPAC) whose duties includes the consideration of any breach of the political finance provisions should be alive to its responsibilities.

The aforementioned are some of the practical ways to sanitize our polity. These, coupled with attitudinal change will reduce the corruptive influence that money currently has on Nigerian politics.