Monday, December 28, 2015

INEC's lax regulation of political finance

The new INEC Chairman Professor Mahmood Yakubu and five nation­al commissioners were inaugurated on Monday, November 9, 2015 after they had successfully undergone Senate screen­ing and confirmation. It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari at the maiden meeting of the National Council of States held on Wednesday, October 21, 2015 appointed Prof. Yakubu as Chairman of INEC; Mrs. Amina Bala Zakari as mem­ber representing North West; Prof. Anto­nia Taiye Okoosi-Simbine as Commission­er in charge of North Central; Alhaji Baba Shettima Arfo from Borno as Commission­er representing North East; Dr, Moham­med Mustapha Lecky from Edo as Com­missioner representing South-South and Prince Soyebi Adedeji Solomon from Ogun in charge of South West.
Right now the new board is settling down to business. It would be nice to know what Yakubu’s INEC thoughts are on the issue of political finance breaches perennially being perpetrated by Nigeria’s registered political parties. I am saying this against the back­ground of the startling revelations arising from the on-going trial of Col. Sambo Dasu­ki (Retd.) who is the immediate past Nation­al Security Adviser. There are snippets in the media on how funds meant to equip the Ni­gerian Army to fight insurgency were alleg­edly diverted to grease the palms of some politicians ahead of the last general election. I do hope this Dasukigate turns out to be a hoax. If there is one sore point in the tenure of all previous INEC helmsmen, it is their inability to checkmate the excesses of polit­ical parties in the area of campaign finance.
The legal instruments on political fi­nance can be found in the following leg­islations and guidelines. They include 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; Political Finance Manual and Handbook (2015); political party con­stitutions and Guidelines for Political Par­ties (2013). These provisions are very copi­ous so much so that many political finance experts have said that Nigeria has one of the most comprehensive political finance regu­lations in Africa.
Specifically, political finance provisions can be found in the following sections of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, as amend­ed: Sections 15 ( c ) and (d) of Part 1 of the Third Schedule, 221, 225, 226, 228 (c). In the Electoral Act 2010, as amended in Sections 88, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 100, and 124. In the Companies and Allied Matters Act (2004) in Section 38 (2). Political parties are sup­posed to file three reports to INEC. These are annual statements of audited account, election expenses report as well as election contribution report.
Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, as amended in Section 225. (2) states that “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.
(3) No political party shall - (a) hold or possess any funds or other assets outside Ni­geria; or (b) be entitled to retain any funds or assets remitted or sent to it from outside Nigeria. (4) Any funds or other assets re­mitted or sent to a political party from out­side Nigeria shall be paid over or transferred to the Commission within twenty-one days of its receipt with such information as the Commission may require.” The question is how much compliance and enforcement has been witnessed in relation to this omnibus section of the Constitution on party finance regulations? Not much in my opinion.
Section 226. (1) of the Nigerian Consti­tution further shouldered INEC with a stat­utory responsibility. It says “The Independ­ent National Electoral commission, shall in every year prepare and submit to the Na­tional Assembly a report on the accounts and balance sheet of every political party. (2) It shall be the duty of the commission, in preparing its report under this section, to carry out such investigations as will enable it to form an opinion as to whether proper books of accounts and proper records have been kept by any political party, and if the Commission is of the opinion that prop­er books of accounts have not been kept by a political party, the Commission shall so report.” I know for a fact that INEC sends external auditors to examine the account books of political parties and have also been publishing report of its findings for public consumption. In all the previous reports published only a couple of political parties usually keep proper records while majority are in breach. Unfortunately, that is where it ends. INEC has never prosecuted any of the erring political parties neither do the National Assembly to which INEC file the audit reports.
As regards the provisions of the Electoral Act, it places reporting obligations on polit­ical parties and INEC too. Section 89 of the Act is a further elaboration of Section 225 of the Nigeria Constitution quoted above. It requests political parties to submit annu­al statement of political party assets and li­abilities and sources of funds. Subsection 4 of that clause says INEC shall publish such report in three national newspapers. Section 92 (3) stipulates that political parties are to submit election expenses report six months after the conclusion of the polls. Have we seen compliance with these sections after the March/April 2015 General Elections? In section 93 (4) of the Act, a political party sponsoring candidates is supposed to sub­mit report of the financial contributions re­ceived in favour of such candidates within three months of announcement of results of election in which the candidate was field­ed. How much compliance have we wit­nessed in this regard? It has been about eight months since 2015 General Elections was concluded.
INEC in section 92 (8) of the Act sup­posed to make available for public inspec­tion the audit reports submitted by po­litical parties. This has been observed in breach. Sections 91 and 92 as well as 124 of the Act contains penalties for breaches of campaign finance regulations but INEC has never deemed it fit to invoke this pow­er to prosecute parties for flouting of le­gal requirements on campaign and politi­cal finance regulations. Will this impunity continue under Prof. Mahmood Yakubu’s INEC? It needs being emphasized that there is a thin line between political finance and political corruption and unless Nigeria is able to substantially demonetise the elec­toral process by ensuring full compliance with political and campaign finance regu­lations, our efforts at national development may be a mirage.
•Jide is the Executive Director of OJA De­velopment Consult, Abuja. Follow me on twitter @jideojong