Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The controversial N21bn PDP fundraiser

The December 20, 2014, Peoples Democratic Party fundraiser has expectedly generated heated debate. However, much of the anger expressed are borne out of ignorance of campaign finance laws in Nigeria. Even before the Monday, January 5, clarifications by Prof. Jerry Gana, who was the chairman of the fundraising committee, that the funds realised at the event were not for President Goodluck Jonathan per se but for the Peoples Democratic Party, newspaper reports had earlier quoted the President on the day of the fundraising dinner as saying that, “The money was for the PDP”, stressing that the amount generated would help to run the PDP better.
For the reader’s information, even if all the N21bn were to be spent on the presidential campaign, the PDP will still not be in breach of the law. How do I mean? Whatever a political party spends on the campaigns of its presidential candidate is not factored in as part of the N1bn ceiling placed on candidates by Section 91(2) of Electoral Act 2010, as amended. This is because subsection 8 (c) of that section of the Act exempted whatever political parties spend in respect of their candidates from such calculations. It is also unknown to the public if the provision of Section 92 (2) which states that “Election expenses incurred by a political party for the management or the conduct of an election shall be determined by the Commission (INEC) in consultation with the political parties” has been adhered with. The point is, has the Independent National Electoral Commission and the 28 registered political parties in Nigeria agreed to a ceiling on their election expenses?
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Section 90 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, says that, “The Commission (INEC) shall have power to place limitation on the amount of money or other assets, which an individual or group of persons can contribute to a political party.” It is unknown and doubtful if INEC has done this.
Having said that however, the fundraiser nonetheless breached some legal provisions. For instance, Section 93 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, says that, “A political party shall not accept or keep in its possession any anonymous monetary or other contribution, gift, or property, from any source whatsoever.” Also, subsection (2)(b) of the section says: “Every political party shall keep an account and asset book into which shall be recorded:- the name and address of any person or entity that contributes any money or other thing which exceeds N1,000,000.00.” At the PDP fundraiser, there was no full disclosure of the donors as expected in that section of the Act. What we heard were donations from “players” in some sectors of the economy, unnamed friends, associates and partners. This is unacceptable!
Interestingly, these so-called players consist of majorly government contractors whose performances and services have been less than satisfactory. We know the thievery that is going on in the oil and gas sector in terms of the opaque nature of their activities, subsidy fraud and even illegal bunkering. The power sector has remained largely comatose in spite of all the chest-beating privatisation and commercialisation slogans. The power situation has become more deplorable and in spite of that, electricity tariffs are being increased. Was the donation to the PDP by the “power sector players” to curry favour from the government? Nigerians are also not ignorant of the inflated cost at which our roads are being constructed and the substandard nature of some of them. Having players in these sectors contributing humongous sums of money to the ruling party should therefore worry all well-meaning Nigerians.
Moreover, Section 38 (2) of the Company and Allied Matters Act criminalises political donations by private companies. It reads: “A company shall not have or exercise power either directly or indirectly to make a donation or gift of any of its property or funds to a political party or political association, or for any political purpose; and if any company, in breach of this subsection makes any donation or gift of its property to a political party, or political association, or for any political purpose, the officers in default and any member who voted for the breach shall be jointly and severally liable to refund to the company the sum or value of the donation or gift and in addition, the company and every such officer or member shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine equal to the amount or value of the donation or gift.” Invariably, all the public quoted companies and private enterprises that made political donations to the PDP on December 20 are in blatant breach of this section of the CAMA.
Questions also have to be asked about the N50m donated by the 21 PDP governors as well as the N15m contribution by the Niger Delta Development Commission. Were these donations budgeted for in the 2014 appropriation act? If not, what they have done is in clear breach of the law. Isn’t it highly irresponsible that some state governors who are claiming not to have money to pay workers’ salaries are finding it convenient to donate to the coffers of their political parties? Also, are the individuals and companies who made mind-boggling donations to the PDP paying commensurate taxes, as and when due?
It is noteworthy that what was done by the PDP is a clear infraction of part of the 2013 Code of Conduct for Political Parties. Section 11 of the code states that: “All political parties shall separate party business from government business. No political party shall use state vehicles, or other public resources for any electioneerings or any other party business.” The use of the old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, for partisan interest is also a clear breach of the code as well as Section 100 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended which says that, “State apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election.”
What the PDP did at its last fundraiser is a clear abuse of power and privileges. It can lead to political corruption as there is no “free lunch” anywhere, not even in Freetown. All the donors to the party coffers are bound to get something in returns be it contracts, waivers, appointments, immunity from investigation and prosecution for financial crimes, etc. It’s pork-barrelled politics given the rent-seeking nature of Nigeria’s politics. There is also the element of abuse of state and administrative resources to this as government buildings, personnel, media and time are being used for partisan interest to the detriment of other political parties and contestants. Thus, this kind of fundraiser creates an uneven playing field as it puts the incumbents in clear advantage over and above opposition candidates.
INEC is also culpable as the commission has been lethargic in its responsibilities as placed on it by sections 90 (1) and 92 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, which asks it to place a ceiling on the amount individuals and groups can give to political parties as well as consulting and agreeing with political parties on the amount they can spend on their election expenses.
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