Friday, February 1, 2013

Philanthropy as Political Investments

A news item in The Punch newspaper of January 1, 2013 caught my attention and sent me thinking of the ingenious ways many politicians use philanthropy as political investments. The referenced report has it that “A political group, the Omo-Ilu Foundation, has commenced the distribution of 500 vehicles, 1,000 motorcycles and 1,800 bags of rice worth N800m to members of the Peoples Democratic Party in Ogun State. The Foundation also said plans had been concluded for the installation of 33,000-litre kerosene tanks in various locations to dispense the product at N50 per litre to the people in the 236 wards in the 20 local government areas of the state.”

The leader of the Omo-Ilu Foundation and PDP financier in the state, Mr. Buruji Kashamu was quoted as having said that the gesture was aimed at empowering members of the party to enable many of them to start their own private businesses. He commented further that since inception in 2009, the Foundation has given out over 700 vehicles free.

It is noteworthy that many politicians have used this strategy to actualize their political ambition. Rochas Foundation set up by the incumbent Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State since 2001 has been giving free education to primary and secondary school students across the country. Information gleaned from the website of the Foundation says it builds schools that offer free education to the poorest of the poor in the society. Apart from the five colleges and one primary schools established by the Foundation, it also  provides free health services to its  students and  pupils, staff and host communities. The Foundation’s Economic Empowerment Programme assists underprivileged young Nigerians to start small scale businesses, by empowering them to be self-reliant. It has also provided free motor vehicles and motor bikes through free-interest loans to beneficiaries.

There are other politicians who do not have a formal structure of Foundation but nevertheless embark on acts of philanthropy like digging boreholes or supplying potable water through water tanker vehicles to communities that have no potable water.           Some others donate electricity transformers to communities that do not have lights; some offer to sponsor hundreds of people on yearly pilgrimages to ‘holy lands’ (Mecca for Muslims and Jerusalem for Christians); yet some others build community health centers or bring in health practitioners to offer free medical services to the sick in their communities. The list of these acts of charity is endless and is done over a number of years but usually gather momentum between six to three months before elections.

 One of the persons who reaped bountifully from his acts of charity was the late Bashorun MKO Abiola, the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential election in Nigeria. For many years Abiola was philanthropy personified. He was ever willing to help support the needy. He built schools and offered scholarships to indigent students, make endowments to several tertiary institutions across the country, pay medical bills for the sick, established a football club known then as Abiola Babes FC of Abeokuta. Aare-Ona-Kakanfo Abiola was almost always invited to high profile fundraisers and he never disappointed his hosts as he made generous donation to any worthy cause. The payback for him came when he contested and won, with a landslide, the 1993 presidential election but was denied victory by the military that annulled his election.

These acts of philanthropy, strictly speaking, do not amount to campaign finance if not done within the electioneering period (usually when the notice of election has been issued by the election management body. See section 91 subsection a, b, and c of Electoral Act 2010, as amended for exemptions to candidate’s campaign finance expenses). However, it is one creative strategy political elites employ to nurture their political dreams. It is also not uncommon for incumbent political office holders’ such as  president, governors and local government chairmen to engage in sudden act of charity in the pre-election period. They churn out contract awards for all manner of projects from road construction to building new hospitals. Some even take it a step higher by announcing salary increase and bonuses. Some clever ones also use the opportunity to employ more staff and commission phony and uncompleted projects; all in a bid to cajole the citizenry to retain them in power at the next election.