2019 and the politics of campaign finance, by Reuben Abati
Each Governor was reportedly asked by the ruling APC party to bring N250 million ahead of the party’s National Convention. When the public protested, recently, the party disclaimed the news even if it added that it was the responsibility of members to pay outstanding dues. The APC needs N6 billion for its pre-election Convention. In the just concluded Ekiti Governorship primaries, an APC Gubernatorial aspirant who claimed he spent N100 million, got just 11 votes! I wonder how much the eventual winner spent. This story and similar ones, underscore the politics of campaign finance, the threat it poses to electoral integrity and outcomes, the enforceability of electoral laws, and the freedom of the people to choose.
Elections cost money, however. The political party has to set up a party secretariat in virtually every ward, state, and at the national level, pay staff, promote its brand and its agenda, organize meetings, pay sitting allowances, support candidates, run media advertisements, arrange receptions and entertainment, pay for logistics, buy vehicles, pay for air travels and road transportation, the organization of rallies and campaigns, reserve some tidy sum for lobbying at all levels including the lobbying of the media and other groups in civil society. Win or lose eventually, every political party be it in Africa, Europe, America, or Asia knows that money drives the game of politics. This is no rocket science, no matter how unfortunate the implications may be. It is nonetheless for this reason that political parties write into their constitutions, means of raising funds. These include membership subscriptions, payment for expression of interest in elective positions, donations, fund raising activities, and support from friends and the corporate sector.
As it is with the political parties, so it is with the candidates who seek elective offices on the platform of political parties. Their chances are also determined by the amount of money that they are able to raise and spend. In Nigeria, our experience has been that political office holders take loans, borrow money from Godfathers which has to be repaid with interest and at a cost, sell their property if they have any, solicit for money from friends and corporate organisations who are also at best, investors looking for latter-day return on investment. In Oyo state, Lamidi Adedibu fell out with Governor Rasheed Ladoja because he insisted on a share of the Governor’s security vote. In Anambra state, Governor Chris Ngige ran into troubled waters because he refused to share privileges with the man that allegedly put him in power.
This commercialization of the political process is a universal dilemma and part of the crisis of what seems to be the perceived end of liberal democracy. If money makes all the difference, and politicians have to acquire and repay monetary IOUs, then where does that leave the big, liberal, ideas about choice, sovereignty and the power of the majority? Where really, are the people in the entire democratic equation? Before the election, on election-day and even after, the electorate at least in Africa, expect to be paid in cash and kind. The people are encouraged to embrace democracy with cash, they are induced to vote in the same manner and their loyalty is maintained only when it is procured. Countries where democracy still seems to be putative or uncertain are the worst hit and many of them are in Africa. But it must be carefully noted that politicians also spend money elsewhere: in France, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the United States, Spain, Germany, Italy and so on…. campaign finance has been a problem, to be specific, corrupt campaign financing, poses a threat to the globalization of the democratic enterprise.
The liberal democratic project is based on the assumption that the electorate are granted the freedom to choose, determine the future of their country and their individual/collective future as well. When they make mistakes, they bear the consequences, but a few years later, four, or five, under the constitution, they may also be allowed the opportunity to correct their mistakes and hope for the best within the framework of representational democracy. But a drawback to all that, I argue, has been money, described elsewhere as the root of evil. The connection between evil and money has been a principal bane of democracy, turning democracy, that same vehicle that is supposed to bring good tidings into a vehicle of mixed blessings – the good and the ugly.
In cognizance of this, many countries have written into their electoral frameworks, rules and procedures on campaign finance: to rescue democracy from money bags, the influence of money, also, to prevent the undue use of money, and to preserve the people’s sovereignty. In real terms, these rules which exist in virtually every jurisdiction, include laws and regulations which forbid the unauthorized use of state resources for political purposes, contributions from dubious sources, violation of campaign funding limits as prescribed by enabling laws, the use of money to influence voters and election outcomes, non-disclosure of campaign spending, abuse of media, broadcasting and political advertising rules, and rules on declaration of assets, academic qualifications, health and other disclosures and internal party guidelines and rules.
Accordingly, Sections 222 – 229 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) provides rules and regulations on the operations of political parties, with Sections 225 and 226 thereof affirming the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the country’s electoral body to monitor, inquire into and assess campaign finances, and a party’s source of and management of funds. Section 228 expressly provides sanctions with regard to party finance and campaign finance, and provides the National Assembly statutory powers in this regard. The best that the National Assembly of Nigeria has done in this regard, however, has been the enactment and review of Electoral Acts to guide the conduct of elections in Nigeria (notably the Acts of 2002, 2006 and 2010).
The extant 2010 Electoral Act, as amended, caps spending limits as follows: Presidential election – N1 billion, Governorship- N200 million, Senatorial – N40 million, House of Representatives candidate – N20 million, and House of Assembly – N10 million. Section 92 (3) of this enabling law also requires every political party to submit, six months after every election, an audited revenue and expenditure report of the party, failing which penalties are stipulated. But this has never happened. The first key argument of this commentary, therefore, after the legal, cultural and socio-political, context described above, is that corrupt campaign finance is a big problem in Nigerian politics, and that money poses the biggest threat to our democracy.
Upon his assumption of office in Nigeria in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari recognizing this fact decided that he would focus on the abuse of campaign financing and tackle electoral corruption. The way he has gone about it and the conduct of his own political party, the All Progressives Congress should be a useful global study in how not to tackle the challenge of campaign finance. And it is like this: campaign finance scrutiny and the audit of the electoral process requires a non-partisan, and objective process, but in Buhari’s case, the process began with a determination to discredit and malign the preceding administration based on the assumption that this would automatically make the successor look good. It is a strategy that has failed.
The biggest focus of the Buhari administration has been simply this: to prove to Nigerians that the preceding Jonathan administration used public funds to finance the 2015 general elections, and that the public funds involved were meant for the prosecution of the war against the Boko Haram: Nigeria’s biggest security challenge. We have been fed with details of thieving officials, money given to prayer-warriors of different denominations, the media, the civil society, traditional rulers, politicians and other stakeholders, but here is the take-away: the Buhari war against corruption has been utterly selective and selfish. His government is just as terribly guilty.
The 2015 general election is in retrospect, a test case for Nigerian democracy. The truth is that the dominant political parties – the PDP and the APC – both violated the laws on campaign finance, before and after the fact. I am not aware for example that either of the political parties complied with the aforementioned Section 92(3), or Section 92(6) of the Electoral Act 2010, (as amended), or that even INEC itself bothered to take up the matter. In every election since 1999, contribution and spending limits have been exceeded and the relevant laws have been observed in the breach by political parties and politicians at all levels. In 2015, the Jonathan campaign at a fund raising dinner breached the fund raising limit, for example by collecting more than N20 billion! The APC would later claim it spent just a little above N1 billion in the 2015 Presidential election, but this has not yet been investigated, and I don’t think anybody believes it. Some of the state Governors who later became big men in the Buhari Government have been accused of making untidy donations to the Presidential campaign without any investigation. Businessmen, who associate with any government in power, hedging their bets, protecting dubious advantages, have also been known to donate money to politicians as protection fees.
This lack of equity and transparency, is principally the reason the Buhari government’s effort to address the challenge of corrupt campaign financing is considered hypocritical, one-sided, fake and dishonest. Most of the Jonathan men and women who are today in the dock are there for campaign finance reasons – Sambo Dasuki and his team – they are accused of using state security funds to organize political campaigns, Olisah Metuh – he is accused of taking state money to help Jonathan’s re-election, part of which he allegedly diverted, Femi Fani-Kayode and Nenadi Usman are accused of using state funds to run political campaigns, but not even one person from the APC wing has been similarly charged, or accused, and yet the same APC also gave money to politicians, journalists, persons in civil society, including spiritualists and thugs, and there are self-styled Godfathers in that party who have been quarreling over the redemption of the IOUs they incurred.
This essay is not about the APC, however. It is about corrupt campaign financing and the bona fides of the current Nigerian government in that respect and it is something the incumbent President should begin to worry about. Whoever comes to equity so the law says, must do so with clean hands. In Nigeria, the ruling APC party and its principal, Muhammadu Buhari may have been trying to claim a moral high ground in the last three years particularly in relation to matters of integrity and governance but they seem to belong more to the valley. Nothing makes this more obvious than the APC ward congresses and Local government elections held last week in which there were accusations of vote buying, harassment, violence, parallel congresses, anti-party activities, and corrupt practices. Defeated opponents have complained about “too much money” deployed by persons with government connections, and the abuse of state resources to impose outcomes. There is also widespread anxiety about the emerging crisis within the APC – the implosion within, the crisis of leadership and the apparent advertisement of sheer incompetence.
The APC is the coalition, the special purpose vehicle that brought President Muhammadu Buhari to power. It is turning out to be his nemesis. In the recent APC congresses and elections, the APC discredited its own President and repudiated everything that he claims to stand for, including the integrity of campaign finance. This is my point and I consider that to be very sad. President Buhari discredited President Jonathan on the grounds that his aides, either authorized or unauthorized, deployed state funds hoping to bring him back to power. I hope President Buhari is aware that his own aides were all over the country in the last week trying to grab positions using both state resources and power. In Rivers Sate, to cite just one notorious example, feuding APC chieftains sacked the High Court in Port Harcourt and destroyed public property. Judges and lawyers had to flee. The Federal Government has not yet issued any statement condemning this assault on the judiciary. That is unacceptable.
I write this piece in the expectation that President Buhari will be made to be aware (since he is said not to be aware of many things) that his own men are destroying the very foundation of his government. He needs to wake up and act. A few months to the 2003 elections, President Olusegun Obasanjo asked all members of his cabinet who were interested in political positions to step aside. Six months to the 2015 elections, President Goodluck Jonathan did the same to ensure a level playing field. President Buhari owes us a duty to do the very best to prevent the abuse of positions for political gain: a limited proposition perhaps, but he needs to be seen to be honest about his own campaign finance proposition. He should deal with the situation by repositioning enforcement mechanisms. The nation will gain a lot from a further reform of the campaign financing process, to give room for the election of more competent and qualified persons for the betterment of the nation.
President Muhammadu Buhari also needs to make a choice between being a joke or a hero. It is up to him. He may in fact choose to concede heroism to either Goodluck Jonathan or Olusegun Obasanjo who right now looks like Nigeria’s qualified version of Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammed. Whatever happens, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) can make all the difference by choosing to be independent and effective in the discharge of its monitoring and sanction powers as contained in the Constitution and the Electoral Act.