Imperative of campaign finance reforms (1)
It is an acknowledged fact that politicking and campaigning require a lot of money. Political campaigners need to spend money on rallies and face to face contacts with the electorate. The cost under this heading will include hiring of large venues, public address systems, transport, and accommodation expenses, etc. Large expenses are also incurred in the print and electronic media to send out messages to the populace. In these days of the social media, expenditures are also incurred on that front. Again, resources are spent on campaign offices, billboards, posters, handbills, hire of offices, campaign staff and logistics to reach out to the electorate. After the election results have been declared by the electoral umpire, election petitions go through the gamut of the courts and are usually fought on behalf of candidates by very senior and expensive to hire lawyers who earn very fat fees.
Most times, these costs cannot be borne by the candidate alone. His party and men and women of means, incorporated organisations, all manner of associations, etc., come in with very large donations and of course, they expect returns when their candidate wins the election. Even third parties without a resort to the candidate and his campaign organisation spend money to facilitate the campaigns. These persons will eventually be paid back, not with the salary of the office holder but through public revenues which belong to all.
Relevant laws and regulations govern the conduct of elections and campaign finance in Nigeria. They include the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended); the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended); Code of Conduct for Political Parties; Guidelines and Regulations for Political Parties; Political Parties Finance Handbook and Manual; and other regulations made by the Independent National Electoral Commission in the exercise of its powers under the Electoral Act. These laws regulate the quantum of resources candidates are authorised to spend in an election. They also fix penalties for spending above the ceiling. Also, the laws provide that state and administrative resources shall not be used to the advantage or disadvantage of any candidate or political party at any election. This raises the poser; do these laws, rules and regulations make any meaning beyond the ink and paper on which they are written?
The answer to the above poser, which is established by empirical evidence, is that no one takes these laws seriously. Evidence from the author’s campaign finance monitoring experience shows first, the inadequacy of enacted laws and regulations and second, the reluctance of political class to play by the rules and third, the lack of capacity and seeming reluctance of the electoral umpire to enforce the laws. Monitoring experience from the 2007, 2011 and 2015 presidential elections and governorship elections in 2012 and 2016 in Ondo and Edo and the 2013 Anambra election show clear contempt for the laws and regulations made thereunder.
Impunity was the norm as serial violations were recorded over the years. Vote buying has been going on shamelessly. The security agencies do not take any interest in stopping vote buying that occurs at polling centres on Election Day as they do not consider it to be part of their mandate at the polling stations. Candidates and parties openly brand food items like rice and sugar and distribute the same as inducement to voters contrary to clear provisions of the Electoral Act. At fundraisers, party supporters and political contractors donate incredible sums of money to campaigns whilst the electoral umpire looks the other way.
Candidates still spend above the ceiling and this has been done brazenly and with impunity. State administrative resources were used to the advantage of the candidate of the opposition parties. Booked venues were made unavailable by the state days and hours to the kick-off of opposition rallies whilst official vehicles and aircraft were used for the rallies of the incumbent parties. The use of fiscal policy through the increase of the minimum wage at the critical campaign hour was introduced to sway voters in a state. There is nothing wrong in increasing workers’ salaries but everything is wrong with using the same as a campaign tool. It questions the sincerity of government.The flaws identified in the Electoral Act and other enabling laws and regulations remained and posed a challenge to the credibility of elections.
Opaque and inconclusive campaign finance rules mean that there has been no paper or banking trail on candidates’ expenses; neither was there a ceiling on how much an individual could give to a political party. Also, there has been no limit on how much a party could spend to get its candidate into office and this paves the way for possible transfer of funds from the candidate to the party, to spend on their behalf once the candidate hits or is about to hit the expenditure ceiling. The ceilings are still not based on any empirical evidence. The penalties for expending beyond the ceiling remained weak even though there was no enforcement of the law. Citizens still cannot get tax rebates for supporting candidates and the political parties. Tracking media expenditure is still a difficult assignment as there is no legal obligation on media houses and the media regulatory agency to provide information on the actual amount of expenses incurred by the candidates for their media exposure.
There was no evidence that candidates complied with the disclosure requirements in candidates campaign office, fundraising rules made by INEC in 2013. If the candidates compiled the books demanded under the rules, it would have clearly shown that they spent above the expenditure ceiling and would be liable to sanctions. But who cares?
It has therefore become imperative that as INEC has released the schedule for the 2019 elections, issues of reform of the campaign finance and use of state administrative resources regime be mainstreamed into the amendment of the Electoral Act and other enabling laws and regulations. This is not a task to be left for the electoral umpire and the National Assembly alone. The civil society must become more interested and mount pressure for this reform to happen. The executive branch of government needs to understand that anti-corruption reforms must be strategic and clear headed and nip violations in the bud by removing the political context that drives corruption in governance.