Some experts and politicians have canvassed the resolution of loopholes surrounding campaign financing, if Nigerians are to enjoy the benefits of democracy.
They spoke at a webinar held by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) on Thursday.
The experts include a retired INEC Director in charge of political party monitoring and liaison; Regina Omo-Agege, the National Public Secretary of the Allied People’s Movement (APM), Sidi Ali, and a former member of the House of Representative member and former President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ), Sani Zorro.
The trio were members of a panel that discussed campaign financing and election expenses in Nigeria at the webinar.
They agreed that if the nation’s party system must work and if elections would matter, the loopholes around campaign financing must be resolved to enable Nigerians enjoy the dividends of democracy.
Ms Omo-Agege, in her opening remarks, provided a landscape of campaign expenses as all monies spent by political parties on campaigns.
This excludes election expenses which are all monies political parties spend immediately after INEC announces poll.
She reiterated the constitutional rights of political parties to spend money in an election but berated the reluctance of parties to disclose their expenses due to inability to account for revenue generated.
In his characterisation of the current regime of campaign finances, Mr Ali hinged the cause of the loopholes on the weakness of the law guiding the spending of political parties as well as the vacuum in moral ideology driving political parties in the country.
“We have laws but the punitive measures are supposed to be taken by the National Assembly. When you exceed the Electoral Act, it is the National Assembly that stipulates what measures should be taken.
“In the last Electoral Act, there is a specification for punitive measures of mere N100 thousand for someone who has exceeded his (campaign finance) limit with over N100 million. In this sense, it is more profitable for somebody to exceed or break the law than staying within the law,” he said.
He said the Nigeria political space had grown so large in the negativity of overriding laws without adequate punishments because the lawmakers who should make the laws effective attained the seat by committing the same offences or to protect the interest of their sponsors.
“If the ideology is missing and the laws are there, even if the parties are to work within the conference of the law, if these parties have missing ideologies, there is no umpire that can regulate these parties to work in proper terms,” Mr Ali noted, lamenting the debasing system of money politics rather than good ideology.
Mr Zorro admitted to the vulnerability of Nigeria’s parliament and reflected on the complexity of law-making, a factor that he opined affects electoral act amendments.
The former lawmaker disclosed that a lot of manipulations and interests converged when the subject of law-making was concerned.
He said, “In our attempts to amend the Electoral Acts in 2018 to pave a way for the 2019 general elections, the executive arm of government had apparent interest. For instance, in the order of election proposed earlier, the National Assembly wanted to revert to the other elections held in 1999, at the beginning of the First Republic, so that election will start with the National Assembly elections, then presidential election.
“But I can tell you that the executive arm of government uses all its powers, including under the table (bribery) and ensures it doesn’t happen, just as President Obasanjo turned the table in 2003 to ensure that the presidential election came first.”
Mr Zorro fingered other stakeholders in a widespread conspiracy against Nigeria democratic processes.
He lamented the age-long decadence at the country’s National Assembly which paved ways for sorts of unpatriotic outcomes Nigerians received from committees set up to look into citizens’ concerns.
Members of the panel, in their recommendations, identified politicians and electorates as the first line of way out of the loopholes found around the country’s campaign financing and solicited the unbundling of Nigeria’s electoral body, INEC, to ensure effective monitoring of the spending of political parties.
“I agreed 100 per cent that INEC should be unbundled. I am sure the commission itself wants to be unbundled because the work burden on them is too much, Ms Omo-Agege said.
“For more than 10 years now, we have been talking about an agency that will be responsible for registration and monitoring of political parties.”
She also raised concerns over non-governmental organisations tasked with the job of monitoring political parties’ excesses forming affiliation with some of the parties.
Having agreed with other members, Mr Zorro recommended total independence of media space from political ownership or stakeholders. This, he said, would enrich the country’s democratic process.
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