If there is a provision of the electoral act that most political parties in Nigeria, including the front-running APC and PDP, as well as reforms-touting ones, have perpetually breached unchecked, it is the financial disclosure to the electoral commission, INEC.
Before its amendment, section 93 of Nigeria’s electoral law provides that “a political party sponsoring the election of a candidate shall, within three months of the announcement of the results of the election, file a report of the contributions made by individuals and entities to (INEC).”
In clear violation of the provision, only four parties, of the 73 that sponsored candidates for the 2019 general election, had submitted the financial details as of August of that year, six months after the announcement of the results.
The compliant parties were Action Democratic Party (ADP), All Grassroots Alliance (AGA), Liberation Movement and YES party, documents seen by this medium showed at the time.
Two years on, a source in INEC familiar with the matter told PREMIUM TIMES that some political parties who participated in the last elections are yet to submit one or more of their financial reports as stipulated by the constitution.
“Between you and I, the truth is that only a few of those parties have submitted the reports you are asking for. Some are still collating fragments of their spending,” the official said.
With INEC still uncertain about how to compel parties to comply, as the current electoral law does not state any punishment for defaulters, the topup of the campaign spending benchmark in the revised version of the electoral act by the National Assembly last month means that the commission has its work well cut out for it.
The new campaign spending ceilings in the bill passed by lawmakers has been jacked up from between 150 per cent to 400 per cent.
The spending limit, if signed into law by President Buhari, will now allow presidential candidates to increase their cash haul from the current N1 billion to N5 billion (400 per cent increase), while governorship candidates will be able to rake in N1 billion from the current N200 million.
For senatorial candidates, they are poised to be able to legally raise N100 million from the previous N40 million (150 per cent increase), while candidates to the House of Representative are set to accept N70 million from the current N30 million (133 per cent increase). And for the State Assembly, candidates would be free to fork out N30 million from the previous N10 million (200 per cent increase).
One of Africa’s largest think-tank, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD-West Africa) had said increments like this may congeal “the problem of moneybag politics” and highest bidder.
The group also noted that it may relegate citizenry with little means and dwarf inclusiveness in the political process. Marginalised groups like women, youths and persons with disabilities would potentially find it more difficult to run for office.
It said that its experience has shown that the expensive nature of politics in Nigeria is a major hurdle to the political advancement of women and young candidates.
“Where such high limits on campaign financing are maintained,” the group said, “major political parties are highly likely to be disinclined toward nominating individuals deemed incapable of making significant contributions to their campaign or attracting heavy donations to fund the campaign.”
While the increment, in a way, has unsettled election monitor groups, it puts more financial regulatory tasks around the neck of INEC, although with less prosecutorial power.
In the past, there have hardly been any sanctions for erring parties.
Even though a retired director of political party monitoring and liaison of INEC, Regina Omo-Agege, told PREMIUM TIMES’ sister organisation, PTCIJ, during a webinar in June that “there was this year that over 28 parties were deregistered in a day… because they were not keeping to the rules, which included financial rules,” such are not pronounced.
Nonetheless, she noted, political parties’ resolve to cover their expenses track makes it difficult for INEC to adequately monitor them and as a result unable to determine and sanction erring parties.
Why parties would rather not comply
Defaulting is cheaper, this is why political parties would rather default than comply, another panellist during the PTCIJ webinar and former member of the House of Representatives, Sani Zorro, said.
He added in June that because it was “more profitable for somebody to exceed or break the law than staying within the law,” the buck lies on the table of the National Assembly to make laws that are clear and decisive.
Perhaps, this may change. Section 87 of the amended electoral law stipulates a maximum fine of N10 million and “forfeiture of the amount donated” for defaulting parties, and a fine five times the excess amount donated for erring individuals.
Also, unlike in the past where an individual donated billions of naira to parties, donations from individuals can now no longer exceed N500 million, else candidates risk forfeiture or a year jail term, or both.
Parties are expected to turn in their audited report “within six months of the election” as failure could amount to N5 million fine upon conviction, or N200,000 daily from due date till submission, when an accurate report is not submitted within the stipulated period.
Narrow definition of election expenditure
Section 89 defines election expenses as expenses incurred by a political party “within the period from the date notice is given by” INEC to conduct an election “up to and including the polling day in respect of the particular election.”
Again, this serves into the hands of candidates due to, as CDD described it, the “narrow definition of election expenditure.”
This, experts say, is likely to plunge the electoral process in the country into legal loopholes, as candidates could spend considerable amounts of money before the official start of the campaign period without any known law breach.
Putting parties in check becomes even dire when full-fledged campaigning begins as candidates can use third parties to campaign on their behalf without these being included as part of the candidate’s expenditure.
CDD said this could have a far-reaching effect on the nation’s elections by “aggravating the unwholesome and corrupting effect of big money on competitive party and electoral politics” while also mainstreaming already rife vote-buying.
“The money that politicians spend under the table in Nigeria is much more than what the electoral act contemplates,” Mr Zorro said.
“If you are going into the House of Representatives, in some states or parts of the country, and you don’t have a war chest of N1 billion, don’t try it, irrespective of your popularity or what you can contribute to the country’s development.
“Forget about it, if you don’t have that N1 billion, they will stone and ridicule you in your village.”
(This report is a partnership between Premium Times and the Centre for Democracy and Development focused on strengthening Nigeria’s electoral system)
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