2023 Elections: When Stakeholders Gather to X-Ray Campaign Finance

0
218

By Ekpeh Vera Abah

KEY stakeholders committed to bringing sanity and order into the conduct of elections and the entire electoral process in Nigeria gathered in Abuja on Friday, 21st January, 2022 for a one-day discourse on how to strengthen the electoral process particularly in the critical area of political campaign finance.

Dr Kole Shettima, African Director, MacArthur Foundation, giving his goodwill message at the Policy Roundtable.

Tagged, “Policy Roundtable on Political Finance,” the gathering is a collaborative effort of the Initiative for Research, Innovation and Advocacy in Development (IRIAD), the Electoral Forum and MacArthur Foundation, bringing together civil society advocates of free and fair elections, including the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) all stressing the need for greater attention on the activities of politicians and political parties in tracking  sources of campaign financing.

The tone of the theme for the conversation was set in the welcome address by Princess Hamman-Obels, the Director of Electoral Hub and IRAID, who asked participants to critically engage issues as they were very crucial to the governance process in the country and through which the country will be able to harness solutions to the myriad of leadership problems facing the country.

This point was further stressed by the Chairperson of the roundtable, Professor Adebayo Olukoshi, who in his opening remarks stressed the need to retrieve the country from the grip of rich as what obtains now is more or less a “government of the rich, for the rich, by the rich.”

Ms. Princess Hamman-Obels, Founder and Director of The Electoral Hub, and member of The Electoral Forum at the Policy Roundtable.

INEC, the electoral umpire, did not mince words on its readiness to take head on the challenge of campaign funding when Prof Ajayi Kunle, INEC’s National Commissioner in-charge of party monitoring committee, who represented INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, stated that the commission would monitor the movement of money on election days to help tackle vote-buying at polling units.

According to the INEC Chairman, through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), commercial banks would be mandated to report all suspicious transactions ahead of the election while threatening to prosecute any bank that failed to cooperate.

“As long as we have not notified anybody that the race to the 2023 general election has started, we are not unaware of what anybody is doing. We follow the law strictly. We have not officially declared notice for the 2023 general elections, but when we so declare, we will put our monitoring committees to motion like the central banks, DSS, EFCC, ICPC, the banks and other law enforcement agencies. We have that plan already.

“Every candidate must be made to declare his bank asset. That is where they draw out their money so we will make them to present their statements of account right from the onset. We will make it mandatory for them to turn in their bank statements so that if they say they are doing billboard and the account remains the same, then there is a problem,” Prof Mahmoud said.

Speaking on the naughty issue of vote-buying, Mahmoud said: “We are going to establish finance monitoring teams and they will be among the electorate but they (politicians and political parties) won’t know. We are going to do it in a way that the influence of money will be reduced, because we want to make the electoral field a level-playing ground for both rich and poor candidates and electorate. Everybody will be on equal level so that you won’t influence the voting pattern.”

He further argued that apart from the Electoral Act, the Nigerian Constitution empowers INEC to also make any other regulations that will assist its efficiency.

Prof Attahiru Jega, participated virtually.

Essentially, the INEC Chairman stressed the need on how political campaign finance could be regulated in a way as to provide solutions to nagging challenge of godfatherism so as to provide a level-playing ground and make the electoral system highly inclusive for men, women and youths, rich and poor.

Prof. Attahiru Jega, former INEC Chairman, who made his intervention virtually, said INEC should be encouraged to establish an inter-agency body to monitor and track election expenses of parties and their candidates. He identified the lack of accountability and transparency in political campaign financing as key factors behind some challenges facing Nigeria’s electoral system.

“If we insist on accountability, then you can begin to somehow sanitise the way political parties raise funds. I think what has happened is that we paid too much attention to the issue of electronic transmission of results, and somehow they quickly passed the sections about raising the threshold. The civil societies did not pay much attention in their advocacy against this particular issue. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t advise or recommend that we delay the passage of the bill on account of this particular issue. What we should be exploring are ways and means of ensuring that there is accountability about how these funds are raised and the spending ceiling is met as well as how the expenditure is done.”

For Dr Kole Shettima, Director of the Africa Office of the MacArthur Foundation, the issue of moderating campaign finance is not only very vital in neutralising the undue influence of the rich in the political economy of Nigeria, it is even more so a critical step that should be taken to restore sanity in our democracy.

On his part, Prof. Mohammed Kuna, Special Adviser to the INEC Chairman, there is the overwhelming need to take into consideration how funds for political campaigns are not only raised but how they are spent as uncontrolled fund-raising and fund-pending can undermine democratic process.

Prof Kunle Ajayi, standing, represented the INEC Chairman. On his left is Prof Adebayo Olukoshi, Chairman of the Electoral Forum.

He argued that rigorous regulation of campaign financing is an important factor in the mechanism for the protection of freedom of expression as fund donation is a form of political expression and which has the capacity to impede on the rights of others just as it is an impetus to corruption in the governance process.

The National Chairman of Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Engr. Yabagi Sani, on his part called for a strict enforcement of the regulations on election funding so as to prevent the monetisation of the electoral process and improve the level of trust between the electorate and party candidates.

The IPAC Chairman, represented by IPAC’s National Treasurer, Barrister Obidike Okolo, said the need to step up enforcement of the regulation on election financing was born out of the compelling need for sanity and integrity in elections, and that failure to do so could degrade the voting process to the level of selling “a commodity to the highest bidder.”

He said while the controversial Electoral Amendment Bill (2020), if eventually assented to by President Buhari, will usher in the upgrading of what a presidential candidate can spend at elections from N1 Billion to N5 Billion, representing a 400% increment amongst others, there was a need for its enforcement to ensure compliance with the provisions of the law on political campaign finance. He said this will enable the country to avoid a situation where the country’s democracy is undermined in the long-term.

“After the restoration of democracy, the Nigerian parliament enacted the first statute regulating election funding in 2005 and followed with an amendment to the Act in 2018. Yet, another amendment with more comprehensive prohibitions came about in the 2020 Electoral Amendment Bill, still in the works as a result of disputes between the legislative and executive arms over certain clauses and provisions.”

close
newsletter

Let's Keep you updated

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER AND STAY UP TO DATE

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here