Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Another look at the public funding of Nigerian political parties

On June 22 and 23, 2015, the Political Parties Leadership and Policy Development Centre (PPLDC) of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru in Plateau State  organized a stakeholders conference on 2015 elections with a theme “Political Parties and the 2015 Elections: Lessons Learned and Way Forward.” The conference was held with the support from United Nations Development Programme, Democratic Governance for Development II.    Present at the two day dialogue which was held in Abuja were party chairmen and their secretaries, academics and members of the civil society.  I have the honor of participating as one of the panelists that discussed the paper presented by Professor Abubakar Momoh, the Director General of The Electoral Institute of the Independent National Electoral Commission. The session was chaired by the renowned academic, Professor Etannibi Alemika of the University of Jos.

At the colloquium, the chairman of the Inter Party Advisory Council, Dr. Yunusa Tanko advocated, among other things, for the restoration of public funding for the registered political parties in Nigeria. His colleagues in IPAC echoed the same thought in their various interventions. They blamed their poor showing during the 2015 elections on paucity of funds and the use of the State and Administrative Resources by some of the parties who are in control of government offices at state and federal levels. This they said put them at a very great disadvantage as it created an uneven playing field.

The political parties were not alone in their lamentations. Some of the academics also supported their call for the restoration of public funding for political parties. One of such is Prof. Sam Egwu of the Department of Political Science, University of Jos.  According to the scholar, public funding may be helpful in two important ways: 1) Reducing the roles of elected presidents , governors and godfathers who finance party activities and ii) Re-emphasizing the public nature of political parties in order to strengthen the hands of regulatory bodies, civil society and citizens in demanding for a more transparent party system. Prof. Adele Jinadu from Babcock University in his presentation at the conference also advocated for public funding of political parties as a way out of dealing with the debilitating issue of lack of internal party democracy arising from the hijack of the political parties by few moneybags or oligarchs which are regarded as godfathers in local parlance.

Historically, public funding of political parties was introduced in the Second Republic by the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Section 205 of the Constitution empowers the National Assembly to make laws “for an annual grant to the Federal Electoral Commission for disbursement to political parties on a fair and equitable basis to assist them in the discharge of their functions.” During the aborted Third Republic, the military regime of Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (Retd.) not only promulgated two political parties, Social Democratic Party and National Republican Convention, into existence, he also built party offices for them in all the local governments, states and federal level. According to Prof. Victor Adetula and Ezekiel Major Adeyi in a paper titled “Money, Parties and Democracy in Nigeria” (published in Political Parties and Democracy in Nigeria edited by Olu Obafemi , et al: 2014) “Under the guise of discouraging political ‘godfatherism’ , the two parties were funded by government which literally turned the political parties to government parastatals.”

Contextually, public funding of political parties has been thrice introduced in Nigeria and has been thrice banned. This happened in 1983, 1993 and 2010.  I must hasten to explain that the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria re-introduced public funding of political parties in section 228 (c) which says the National Assembly may by law provide “for an annual grant to the Independent National Electoral Commission for disbursement to political parties on a fair and equitable basis to assist them in the discharge of their functions.”  The 2002 and 2006 Electoral Act specified the sharing formula among the parties. However, the 2010 amendment of the Electoral Act expunged the provision of public funding for political parties as stipulated in section 91 of the 2006 Electoral Act. Since then, INEC has ceased to provide funding for political parties.

It is worth mentioning that it would seem that the public funding of political parties was an incentive for the multiplication of the organization in Nigeria. How do I mean? In 1999 there were three political parties that contested the elections. In 2003 the floodgate was opened as the number swelled to 30. By 2007 there were 50 political parties in Nigeria while the number snowballed to 63 by 2011. The 2010 Electoral Act amendment empowers INEC to deregister political parties who submitted false documentation to get registered or fail to win any elective positions. That led to the deregistration of over thirty political parties. As at the time of conducting the 2015 elections, the number of the political parties has been pruned to 29.

To my own mind, there is still provision for public funding of political parties in Nigeria in as much as section 228 (c) is still extant though similar provision has been expunged in the Electoral Act. However, given the very parlous state of Nigeria’s economy it is most unlikely that the new government will heed the clarion call for the public funding of Nigeria’s political parties.