Friday, July 31, 2015

How do we reduce cost of elections in Nigeria?

It was a rainbow coalition of academic juggernauts. They came from private and public universities. Vice chancellors, professors, doctors as well as those who have their PhDs in view, all of them gathered to brainstorm on the recently held Nigeria’s 2015 general elections. The two day forum held in Abuja on July 27 and 28, 2015 was organised by The Electoral Institute arm of the Independent National Electoral Commission.  The event was tagged “National Conference on The 2015 General Elections in Nigeria: The Real Issues.”  In attendance at the opening ceremony were the former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Hon. Justice Muhammadu Lawal Uwais, the chairman of the Board of Electoral Institute, Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku, the Director General of TEI, Prof. Abubakar Momoh, some national commissioners of INEC, Directors in the electoral commission, members of the donor community, and INEC partners. Prof. Adele Jinadu gave a keynote address.

I was there too, even though I felt like a fish out of water, not being a thoroughbred academic. However, I was privileged to have had my abstract accepted and got the nod to draft a paper titled “Nigeria’s 2015 General Elections and Political Finance”  About 95 of us made it through as paper presenters out of 391 abstracts received after the initial call for papers. According to the DG of TEI, the over 90 papers received will be published in four volumes by TEI after they must have been peer reviewed. This initiative by Prof. Momoh is laudable and unprecedented in the history of electoral commissions in Nigeria.

My paper which is one of the several presented on political finance dwelt on how the issue of party and candidates campaign finance panned out in the lead up to the 2015 general elections. In the work, I did a brief introduction on the  research topic. Thereafter, I examined some of the international and national legal instruments guiding political finance. These include the Article 7 (3) of the United Nations Convention against Corruption as well as Article 10 of the African Union Charter on Preventing and Combating Corruption which stated that each State Party shall adopt legislative and other measures to: (a) Proscribe the use of funds acquired through illegal and corrupt practices to finance political parties and (b) incorporate the principle of transparency into funding of political parties.

Among the national legal instruments examined were  the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended; the Electoral Act 2010, as amended; Companies and Allied Matters Act (2004); Code of Conduct for Political Parties (2013); Political Finance Manual and Handbook (2015); and INEC  Guidelines and Regulations  for Political Parties (2013) ).

I submitted that in the lead up to the 2015 General Elections, Nigerian political parties adopted five prong methods to raise monies for their electioneering campaigns. These are: Expression of Interest and Nomination fees; Fundraising luncheon and dinner; Electronic donation platform (particularly All Progressives Congress); Membership fees and Use of state and administrative resources. I chronicled with examples that some of the political finance abuses recorded during the 2015 electioneering period include: Illegal expenditure including vote buying; Funding from infamous sources; Abuse of state and administrative resources; Personal enrichment (bribery of delegates to party primaries); Political contributions for favours, contracts, or policy change (activities of Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria, Door-to-door campaign group,  etc) and Limiting access to funding for opposition parties.

I asserted that Nigeria’s 2015 elections were the most expensive in the country’s history of electoral democracy. However, in spite of the huge resources deployed by candidates and political parties to capture electoral victory, the paradox of the elections was that financial ‘war chest’ was not able to guarantee the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) success at the polls especially given the election tsunami that swept the party off its presidential seat and control of the National Assembly. PDP also lost 20 gubernatorial seats to the rival All Progressives Congress (APC) out of the 29 where governorship elections were held in April 2015.

The paper also dwelt on INEC’s campaign finance control measures taken ahead of the elections. These include:  Restructuring of the Political Party Monitoring and Liaison Department. This department was merged with Election Monitoring and Observation Unit to form Election and Political Monitoring Department; Publication of “Guidelines and Regulations for Political Parties 2013”; Drafting of seven Political Party and Candidate election expenses tracking forms;  Review of the 2011 Political Party Finance Manual and Handbook; Training and deployment of political finance tracking officers to monitor the campaign finance of political parties and candidates as well as actual tracking of campaign fund  of  8,173 candidates that participated in the March/April 2015 general elections. I also mentioned the collaborative efforts of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems as well as Centre for Social Justice in this regard.   I ended the paper with 20 legal, policy and institutional reforms needed to enhance disclosure and control of political finance in Nigeria.

The paper was well received. However, I asked a nagging question during the interactive session that followed. The poser is, how can Nigeria reduce the cost of elections? I asked given the fact that there was unanimity of views that the last general election was held at a prohibitive cost. I didn’t get a satisfactory answer. Perhaps, you, my reader, knows.

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