Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Challenges and opportunities of campaign finance enforcement in Nigeria

The preparation for the 2015 general elections in Nigeria is at a fever pitch. On October 1 the Independent National Electoral Commission will issue Notice of Election while political party primaries for the nomination of candidates will follow swiftly from October 2 – December 11, 2014. INEC had scheduled the next general polls for February 14 and 28, 2015. As part of the preparations the International Republican Institute in collaboration with Centre for Democracy and Development on August 27 organized a roundtable on how to ensure campaign finance enforcement during the looming general elections.

I was engaged to make a presentation on the topic “Challenges, Opportunities and Strategies of Enhancing Campaign Finance Regulations Ahead of 2015 General Elections”. In that paper, I observed that Nigeria has one of the most robust party finance regulations in Africa nay the world. Some of these legislations are contained in the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amended, Electoral Act 2010, as amended, Code of Conduct for Political Parties, Political Finance Manual and Handbook 2011, Companies and Allied Matters Act (Section 38), etc. INEC has the constitutional mandate to enforce political finance regulation compliance but the commission has not been living up to expectation on this important role. The political parties and their candidates thus continue to act with impunity by refusing to submit the necessary reports and overshooting campaign finance ceilings. The parties in government across the states and at the center also found it convenient to abuse state and administrative resources. The implication of these include: Uneven playing field; best election money can buy; political corruption and deficit in democracy dividends. Thus, the continued breach of campaign finance regulations is a threat to the country’s democracy and good governance.  

In the presentation under review, I articulated the way forward in ensuring campaign finance regulations ahead of the next general elections. I stated that INEC can make a difference by being proactive and rising up to the challenge. This is achievable by being involved in monitoring of political parties and candidates campaign finance; voter education; prosecution of offending political parties and candidates and also by naming and shaming of defaulting parties and contestants. Election and Political Monitoring Department of the commission however needs to be well resourced with human and financial wherewithal to cope with the enormity of the assigned responsibilities. INEC needs to have robust engagements with political parties and their candidates on the need to faithfully and voluntarily comply with campaign finance regulations. The commission equally needs to reach out for support of other stakeholders like the media, CSOs, security agencies, judiciary, legislature, electorates and the donor community. Civil society organizations have role to play as observers and whistleblowers; Security agents can investigate, arrest and prosecute those in breach of campaign finance regulations while the media and National Orientation Agency need to help out with sensitization.

Political parties have opportunity to build their capacity to comply with campaign finance provisions. INEC (particularly The Electoral Institute and EPM Department) is available to train political party financial managers on how to fill the campaign finance reporting forms. There is also BRIDGE trainings they can take advantage of.  Already, UNDP Democratic Governance for Development is training political parties at Nigeria Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS), Kuru in Jos. IFES has also previously collaborated with INEC to carry out trainings on PPF Manual and Handbook.

Political parties indeed owe it a duty to familiarize their members, particularly political aspirants/ candidates, with the provisions of 1999 Constitution, as amended, Electoral Act 2010, as amended and Code of Conduct for Political Parties with campaign finance provisions. The parties also have opportunity to influence their members in the National and State Assemblies to reform the political cum campaign finance regulations in a manner that will be easy for them to comply with. For instance, they may get their elected party members in the parliament to come up with a better campaign finance ceiling formula and even to restore public funding for registered political parties in Nigeria which was removed from the 2010 Electoral Act, as amended. Political parties also have opportunity to network and build synergy with other stakeholders in the electoral process such as the media, security agencies and even the electorates.

There is need to revive the Political Finance Monitoring Group established by IFES in 2006 to discuss party finance issues and blow whistles on breaches. This is a multi-stakeholder group which is inclusive of anti-corruption agencies, media, political parties, INEC, CSOs and academics. Anti-corruption agencies like Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences  Commission ( ICPC) need to work together with INEC, Financial Intelligence Unit of Central Bank of Nigeria, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), security agencies and the judiciary to ensure prompt investigation of breaches of campaign finance provisions. Where a prima facie case is established against any political party or candidate, arrest and prosecution of masterminds of the breaches should follow swiftly.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult, Abuja.