Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Poll shift and burden of campaign finance

I was facilitating a training session for party agents last Saturday at the Distance Learning Institute of my alma mater, the University of Lagos, when the news broke that the Independent National Electoral Commission had shifted the scheduled elections for this weekend by six weeks. Holy Moses! I tried to establish the veracity of the news from senior INEC officials that were co-facilitating the training with me and they debunked it. According to one of them, the commission was still meeting and had not yet addressed the press on the issue. I kept getting calls from several friends and family members trying to confirm what had spread like harmattan fire.
Of course, it was not until about 11pm that INEC chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega, addressed a world press conference where he confirmed the purported rumour. Truth be told, like many Nigerians, I am not happy about the postponement of the elections. Not that I believe INEC was fully ready, however, I wanted the brewing electoral storm to berth so that we can puncture the rising political tension and have some peace.
The fellow that broke the news of the postponement of the elections to me at the training venue mentioned something thought-provoking while we were conversing about the implications of the poll shift. According to the fellow who claimed to be a pastor in politics and had taken a leave of absence from the altar to mobilise support for his political party, considering the huge resources expended by his party campaigning since their commencement, another six weeks of campaign at the magnitude his party had done will run their candidates bankrupt.
Indeed, there are several costs to the poll delay. They are social, political, and economic costs. The social cost to the poll shift lies in the doubt it had created in the minds of the electorate about the proficiency of our governance institutions. The situation has created a confidence deficit and cast a pall of distrust on our key democratic institutions such as the electoral management body, political parties and the security agents. The trust of people in these institutions to deliver on their key constitutional mandate is, at present, at its lowest ebb.
To an average Nigerian, our key democratic actors have once again made what should ordinarily be a routine exercise look like a rocket science. We had four good years to prepare for these polls. INEC actually released the timetable for the elections on Friday, January 24, 2014, more than a year ago. I also do know for a fact that INEC has strategic plan 2012 – 2016 with milestones and timelines. Why then is the commission having issues with the procurement and distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards and Card Readers? What role has funding to do in this big mess up?
On the part of the military or better still, security agencies, why are they becoming consistently inconsistent? First, on the issue of the certificates of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd), the Army spokesperson initially told this news medium that the military had copies of Buhari’s certificates only for the same person to deny the same a few weeks after.
Also, just this February 2, the Service Chiefs informed the Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar-led National Peace Committee for the 2015 elections meeting with representatives of different political parties in Abuja that they were ready for the 2015 polls. Yet, 48 hours after, the National Security Adviser wrote to the INEC chairman that the military would not be able to guarantee security for the February 14 and 28 polls and as such demanded a postponement of at least six weeks. Not only that, the NSA and the service chiefs allegedly informed the National Council of State meeting of last Thursday that they were not ready for the polls. Not a few Nigerians believe that the military have been highly politicised and are being used to undermine the electoral process.
As regards the political class, they have been integrity-deficient from time. Trust and confidence of the electorate in politicians have always been very low. Engineering a poll shift against the grain of popular opinion for the elections to run as earlier scheduled has further depreciated people’s faith in the political elite.
In terms of political cost, the postponement has given more time for the political contestants to malign, discredit, abuse, and destroy their political opponents. Thus, the political costs are the tension and disability the six weeks will generate. These costs may be fatal to democracy as it could lead to unpopular change of government if not well managed.
The economic cost is also very huge and wide. According to this newspaper in its February 10 edition, “The postponement of the elections has cast a shadow on the naira’s outlook, pushing the forex market into a panic mood…” Thus, the naira hit an all-time low of 196.30 against the dollar at the interbank segment of the foreign exchange market on Monday, February 9. Some analysts say this situation may persist for the better part of this year. Therefore, the uncertainty surrounding the polls is harming the economy.
At the subnational or private level, candidates and their parties have to re-plan and re-strategise. They have to pay more for the services of their campaign teams such as researchers, event planners, and mobilisers. If they had gone to lease or hire campaign vehicles and aircraft, they have to pay for additional six weeks which was probably not budgeted for ab initio. They have to produce and air new jingles and advertorials; pay more for their private and public security; pay more service charges particularly on electricity, water and communications (telephones and social media).
Even when the elections were fixed for February, many politicians were reported to have sold off their property (houses, cars, landed property, etcetera) in order to raise money for their campaigns while those who did not have much to sell had to go a-borrowing by taking bank loans or borrowing from money lenders as well as friends and families.
The greater implication of extended campaign finance, more so, at this critical juncture where naira has depreciated and revenue from oil is at rock bottom is that political corruption will become an attractive option when these politicians assume power after their elections. Politics, to mainstream politicians, is an investment. For the lucky few who will make it to power after elections, their reward is usually bountiful as they engage in the rat race to recoup their political investment with a wide profit margin.
It will be naïve to think that only the candidates and their political parties will spend more during this poll shift period. The electoral commission and the civil society groups working in the area of elections, including foreign and local observer groups have to look for extra resources to be able to execute their programmes and projects during this period.
However, I pray that this poll shift will not be counter-productive at the end. God bless Nigeria!
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