Wednesday, October 31, 2012

BSIEC and Campaign Finance

The Benue State Independent Electoral Commission (BSIEC) plans to hold elections into the 23 chairmanship and 267 councillorship positions of the middle belt state on Saturday, November 24, 2012. Preparation is at the fever pitch since the Commission released the Notice of Election on July 31. As part of the groundwork for the LG poll, the 2007 Benue State Electoral Law was amended in April 2012 while a new guideline for the conduct of the elections has also been issued.   Of greater interest to this writer are the campaign finance provisions in the state’s electoral law and guidelines.

Electoral contest in any country of the world attract some costs. There are both legitimate and illegitimate income and expenditures during the electioneering period. While the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria (as amended)  as well as the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) specify  appropriate ways and means by which political parties and candidates can raise and spend  campaign fund, BSIEC law is silent on these especially how monies are to be raised for the Local Government elections. However, certain deductions can be made on what political parties and candidates can legitimately spend their funds on as well as what they are forbidden from funding. Among the legitimate cost of electioneering are monies spent to rent party and campaign offices, equipping the office and paying the personnel cost. Monies spent purchasing nomination forms at both the political party and BSIEC levels are also factored into the cost. On this last count, though candidates pay to buy expression of interest and nomination forms for national elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, many SIECs in Nigeria also charge other nomination fees.

For instance, Benue State Electoral Law 2007 (as amended) in Section 18 (1) makes this mandatory. The guideline in Section 8.1 and 8.2 specifically put the nomination fee at N200, 000 for chairmanship and N100, 000 for councillorship candidates. This deposit, which is non-refundable, is to be paid into the State Government Treasury. Additionally, the candidates pay a screening fee N25, 000 for chairmanship and N10, 000 for councillorship candidates to the coffers of BSIEC.  The charge of nomination fee by electoral commissions is not peculiar to Nigeria; however, in some countries, such monies are refunded if the candidates’ nomination is rejected or the candidate withdraws from the race. At a civil society event in Abuja on October 4, 2012, Femi Falana, renowned human rights activist and Senior Advocate of Nigeria averred that three courts in Nigeria had ruled against the charge of Nomination Fees. 

Benue State electoral law, in a bid to prevent political corruption and create a level playing field for all electoral contestants, forbids corrupt practices and bribery. These are categorized as electoral offences the details of which are articulated in S. 65 and S. 67 of the law. The penalty for any act of indulgence in corrupt practices is a fine of N10, 000 or two years of imprisonment or both (S. 62 subsection 2). Furthermore, S. 67 (3) says “Where a person found guilty of corrupt practice is elected, such election shall be void and fresh elections shall be held.” Is BSIEC prepared to enforce these provisions?