Tuesday, February 3, 2015

INEC monitors campaign finance

In an unprecedented manner and in consonance with its statutory functions, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has trained and deployed campaign finance monitors in all the states of the federation in Nigeria. The training of the Commission’s Political Finance Desk Officers took place at Hotel De Bentley, Abuja from December 22 – 23, 2014.  The training workshop was conducted by INEC in collaboration with Centre for Social Justice, Abuja. The facilitators at the training were Executive Director of CSJ, Eze Onyekpere, a veteran journalist and lawyer, Charles Odenigbo and I. It was a highly participatory and illuminating two days with a lot of enthusiasm shown by the participants. It is true that the capacity building workshop was late in coming, more so as the campaigns had already started weeks before the deployment of the monitors, it is still commendable that INEC decided to take this giant step. This initiative is being complemented by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) which in partnership with CSJ had earlier deployed campaign finance observers to track the election finance of the presidential candidates in the lead up to the February 2015 General Elections.

It is noteworthy that the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in section 15 (c) of the Third Schedule of the Constitution says   “The Commission shall have power to - monitor the organization and operation of the political parties, including their finances.” In addition, section 225 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria also gave wide powers to INEC on monitoring of political finance. For instance,   S. 225 (2) says  “Every political party shall submit to the Independent National Electoral Commission a detailed annual statement and analysis of its sources of funds and other assets together with a similar statement of its expenditure in such form as the Commission may require.” Subsection (5) says “The Commission shall have power to give directions to political parties regarding the books or records of financial transactions which they shall keep and, to examine all such books and records.”

It would be recalled that monitoring campaign finance had been one of the weak points of INEC as the Commission has hitherto demonstrated incapacity to perform this onerous task. In spite of capacity building and technical support from organization like IFES the Commission has largely limited itself to annual audit of the finances of the registered political parties. This lackluster performance has attracted wide condemnation as many see INEC’s  inability to perform this statutory function as part of the reason Nigerian politics has become highly monetized or what some analysts have referred to as ‘cash and carry’. With the restructuring of the Commission after the 2011 elections comes the merging of the Political Party Monitoring and Liaison Department with the Election Monitoring and Observation Unit to form Election and Political Monitoring Department.

The current leadership of the EPM has taken a number of practical steps in order to enforce campaign finance regulations. It decided to wield the power given to it in section 153 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended to issue subsidiary legislations, guidelines and manuals. In 2013, the Commission published “Guidelines and Regulations for Political Parties.” There is a part of the guidelines which stipulated procedures for candidate financing. This section states among other things that all candidates shall notify INEC of all fund raising events at least seven days before such event; disclose to the Commission records of all contributions and other sources of funds for their campaign, as well as records of expenditure in a prescribed format issued by the Commission and that all candidates shall submit detailed audited returns of their campaign expenses to the Commission within six months after an election.  This is novel and noble!

It is noteworthy that before the coming into force of this guideline, only political parties are under obligation to submit audited annual report and campaign finance report to INEC. Not only has the Commission come up with this new guideline, it also drafted seven Political Party Finance Tracking Forms. PPFT 1 is meant to track Billboard Advertisement; PPTF 2 is for monitoring of Electronic Media Advert; PPFT 3 is for tracking Print Media Expenses; PPFT 4 is for tracking expenditure at Campaigns and Political Rallies; PPFT 5 is for Campaign coverage by electronic media; PPFT 6A is Political Party Disclosure Form (Summary on expenses) while PPFT 6B is Candidate Disclosure Form (Summary on expenses). I was involved in the review of these forms as well as the Political Party Finance Manual and Handbook which had earlier been published by the Commission with support from IFES. I dare say that though these documents are not foolproof, they constitute useful instruments for curbing impunity in our political systems through enforcement of campaign finance regulations.

Now that INEC has decided to wake up to its constitutional responsibility on party and candidate finance, it is hoped that the Commission will publish for public consumption the report of its campaign finance tracking.  Should it find any of the political parties or candidates culpable of having breached any of the campaign finance regulations it should apply the appropriate legal punishment. Only then can the culture of impunity that currently pervades our polity be broken.

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